Friday, March 31, 2017

The Wall and the Crosses

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
the shadow of a mighty rock
within a weary land;
a home within the wilderness,
a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat,
and the burden of the day.

                         Beneath the Cross of Jesus

I have a wall of a dozen crosses in my study which have come from all around the world. From time to time I make myself ponder them, so that they don't just become invisible "pretty" artwork. The cross was a gruesome but effective means of execution during the Roman Empire. Death took a long time, the punished suffered, and by choosing public places for this form of death it acted as a chilling deterrent. Efficient. Ruthless.
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I came across the top photo with its array of crosses and I was immediately drawn to them, in part because I saw the picture without no context. This is a section of the existing border wall between the United States and Mexico. Why are these crosses placed here? Have people died along this section of wall? When I went looking I realized that there are other arrays of crosses in other places.

I pray that they represent the heartache of those who have attempted the crossing and been turned back, or the separation of families by this barrier. As difficult as these realities may be, they're still better than perishing. Some areas that the existing wall passes through are remote and desolate. Between 6,000 and 7,000 migrants have died in the attempt since the year 2,000, roughly 400 to 500 per year. Perhaps the crosses do represent persons, each created in God's image and each loved by the Christ who is "the very dying form of one who suffered there for me."

Now the wall will be more of wall, a "beautiful wall" according to President Trump. The back-pedalling has already begun in terms of building an impenetrable physical structure, but billions of dollars will be spent to give the impression of total exclusion. Who knows, disgruntled Canadians may be next in calling for a similar structure.

Christian nations. Jesus must weep.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Climate Change & an Inconvenient President

Tuesday was a black day for those with green aspirations and hopes around the planet. The Trump administration in the United States began the process of dismantling Environmental Protection laws created during the Obama era. The hope was that greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced for the sake of a better future. Instead Emperor Trump has the goal of reviving a coal industry that was dying a natural death, as well as dismantling protections for the Great Lakes and other waterways. This is more than incompetence in my estimation, it is evil.

A movie poster displays industrial smoke stacks whose emissions form a hurricane eyewall

In the midst of this come the press releases for a follow-up documentary to the influential An Inconvenient Truth, which is now nearly eleven years old. That doc was not without its critics because of its rather dry, PowerPoint lecture approach. Of course it was former vice-president Al Gore who was the professor. Still it caught the attention of millions and explained climate change in terms that most could comprehend. While there were some errors leapt upon by the climate change skeptics, most climate scientists agree that its core points are accurate.

The new film is called An Inconvenient Sequel. One reviewer has described it as "catching up with Al," featuring Gore for most of the first half. There is a more hopeful message this time around, which we probably all need given inconvenient president Trump's assault on the environment. Putting climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State doesn't inspire me with confidence.

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We are already hearing that some large American cities will follow their own courses of action on climate change. The state of California will chart its own path as well, and it has a population equivalent to Canada.

Would you watch An Inconvenient Truth again, all these years later? I'm considering showing it here at Bridge St. How about An Inconvenient Sequel? It will be released at the end of July.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Lies of Domestic Violence

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There are the haves and the have-nots of this world, those with HBO and those wishing they did. Okay, this may be an exaggeration, but I regularly see movies and series which appeal to me, at least through the frosted pane of glass.

I saw a newsy thing claiming that Keith Urban, country star, is appalled by the bruises on the body of his wife, actor Nicole Kidman. He didn't inflict them. They are the outcome of her role as an abused wife in the HBO series Big Little Lies. Apparently there is some method acting going on here. The character Kidman plays is in an outwardly ideal marriage but she is subjected to the physical abuse of her husband, played by Alexander Skarsgård. Big Little Lies has been described as a dark comedy mystery drama, which is intriguing.

I wonder what the comedy part might be? It's been years since any comedian would dare to suggest that abuse of a partner is humorous. Old episodes of The Honeymooners make us a little queasy as Ralph threatens to send Alice to the moon with an upraised fist.
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Just the same, we are still doing a mediocre job at best of ending the stigmas attached to domestic violence which will free persons --mostly women -- to leave their abusers. I chatted briefly with a young lawyer about this on a street corner this morning. We agreed that the law doesn't protect women in these circumstances and trials can end up humiliating the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Churches and other faith groups are behind as well, although concerted efforts are being made in some of them. As many of you know, my wife Ruth was a crises counsellor in a women's shelter for years and some of her clients have been members of congregations. Again, the perceived social stigma of their circumstances meant that they were reluctant to let anyone know what was going on in their lives.

I'm hoping that I get to see Big Little Lies sooner or later. I also hope that the church is not the place where we choose not to recognize the lies of self-protection and victims are hidden in plain sight.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Called to Ministry

There are lots of aspects of ministry which fly under the radar of general observation in a congregation. At times I have been exasperated by those who figure that if they don't see it happening it isn't happening. In our United Church clergy are often involved in other "courts" of the broader church. Through the years I've taken on roles in Presbytery, Conference, and General Council.

Early on I trained to supervise students for the ministry and have done so in all six of my congregations, including in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. Bye and large I've enjoyed the experience with men and women, young and "mature." Most of the young'uns have been quite mature, but you get the picture.

I'm currently supervising a ministry candidate who has a lot to offer the United Church. She grew up in the Pentecostal tradition where women can provide leadership and even preach on occasion but can't  be ordained to ministry. She is bright, thoughtful, and has a deep Christian faith. She is also at a  stage of life when many of us in ministry are pondering retirement but after years in academia she feels called to ministry. I feel that her call is genuine, no less valid than for a younger person. I'm glad that the United Church can give her the opportunity as a mature woman.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Slide 6 of 32

I just saw a photo piece on the "new normal" of the retail apocalypse. As online sales of just about everything grow almost exponentially, "bricks and mortar" retail locations suffer. This includes shopping malls, many of which are bleak with shuttered stores. There is a growing phenomenon of closed malls which are falling into ruin. Some of us have lived through the rise of the shopping mall, which squeezed out smaller retailers in communities. Now they're getting their comeuppance, it would appear.

Slide 22 of 32

Isn't it an eye-opener that the institutions we figure will be around forever have their day? We hear of school boards announcing the closure of neighbourhood schools because of aging populations, much to the dismay of parents whose kids live near them. Schools tend to be neighbourhood and community hubs hosting a range of activities.

The same can be said for churches and their buildings. Congregations struggle to let go, even as their numbers dwindle. So many of these consecrated church structures have a beauty that transcends utility, as well as a deep patina of celebration and sorrow going back generations.

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Are there easy answers to what happens with our buildings? Nope. Will changes and closures be inevitable? They've actually been happening for decades. Drive along back-country roads and you'll see "re-purposed" schools and churches, sometimes alongside each other.

We'll grieve their loss, but not much stays the same anymore.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

A Living River

Members of the crew rest their paddles after paddling with Prince Harry on the Whanganui River during a visit to Putiki Marae on 14 May 2015 in Wanganui, New Zealand.

 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it...

Psalm 24:1 (NRSV)

Today the Trump administration in the United States summarily dismissed protests, consultation, and the Obama decision to halt the Keystone pipeline by giving permission for its construction. By doing so Alberta tarsands oil can make its way to the southern United States for refining. The pipeline will cost billions to construct at a time when there is a glut of oil on the market and prices are low.

The pipeline will also cross many rivers in Canada and the United States, as well as the huge Ogallala aquifer.

This decision brought to mind a recent unprecedented decision by the New Zealand government to grant a river the same legal rights as a person. Here is how a BBC article describes the decision:

The New Zealand parliament passed the bill recognising the Whanganui River, in North Island, as a living entity.Long revered by New Zealand's Maori people, the river's interests will now be represented by two people. The Maori had been fighting for over 160 years to get this recognition for their river, a minister said."I know the initial inclination of some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality," said New Zealand's Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson."But it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies."
The Whanganui River, New Zealand's third-longest, will be represented by one member from the Maori tribes, known as iwi, and one from the Crown.

The recognition allows it to be represented in court proceedings. "The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river," said MP Adrian Rurawhe, who represents the Maori."From a Whanganui viewpoint the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people and so it is really important that's recognised as its own identity."

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Humanity consistently treats the environment with utilitarian contempt, some thing to be used for our benefit, whatever the consequences. This legislation invites a different perspective, and one which I can only pray will set a precedent. Actually, a small number of countries have granted legal rights to the environment. In 2008, Ecuador passed similar ruling giving its forests, lakes, and waterways rights on par with humans in order to ensure their protection from harmful practices.

The bible doesn't suggest personhood for the creatures and systems of the planet, but there are many places where we are reminded to "live with respect in Creation."

God help us all to do so.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Water Justice

First Nations Water
Yesterday was United Nations World Water Day and there was plenty in the news about the ongoing challenge of providing clean water. We are reminded that at least 800 millions people, the majority in developing nations around the world, don't have access to clean water. It may actually be twice that number.

Canadians brag about how much fresh water we have, regularly over-estimating how much of the world's supply is contained within our borders. We have some of the largest lakes on the planet within Canada, or we share them with the United States.

The wonderful reality is that we can turn on the tap and expect the water which flows to be immediately drinkable. We can bathe in it and use it for a variety of purposes.

The exception to this is for First Nations where, as the image above suggests, about three quarters do not have access to contaminant-free water. Although this graphic is several years old, boil-water orders are still in effect across the country.
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I certainly believe that as a wealthy nation Canada should be involved in water projects in developing nations as an aspect of foreign aid. It must also be a high priority to get our own house in order. There is growing concern that the Federal government is distancing itself from this responsibility for clean, safe water on First Nations by contracting with for-profit, private companies to provide it.

There was an interesting letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail newspaper yesterday:

Bottled-up  inequities
Re Stuck On The Bottle (Life & Arts, March 22): Since Nestlé leads the Canadian bottled-water industry, which generates “$2.5-billion in annual sales,” perhaps the company could send bottled water (complimentary?) to our First Nations that do not have safe drinking water.
It is a travesty that our government has allowed these areas to suffer with contaminated water, while companies such as Nestlé are raking in billions of dollars as they usurp our precious resource.
Jeffrey Manly, Toronto

Inter-denominational organizations such as KAIROS have been raising concerns about First Nations water issues for years, as a matter of justice, and I'm glad that our United Church is part of this coalition.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Creative Bible Expression

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I have my Salvation Army officer grandfather's well-worn King James Version of the bible. It is marked in many places and underlined. My father underscored key verses in his bibles as well, although he used a ruler for precise lines. Despite these precedents I have been reluctant to "mess up" my bibles. It's always felt sacrilegious somehow, even though my undergraduate degree was in art history and I use visual images in worship every week. I have loosened up a little through the years, discreetly using a yellow highlighter, but I never DRAW or PAINT in my bible!

So, when I was contacted by a publisher offering a review copy of Complete Guide to Bible Journaling: Creative Techniques to Express You Faith (how is that for a title!) I offered an unqualified...maybe.
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The publisher bravely sent a copy of this book by Joanne Fink and Regina Yoder just the same. At first look I thought "nah, this isn't happening for me." It was so colourful, and rather splashy, not what I imagined myself doing at all. But the more I leafed through, the more I enjoyed the creativity of the various artists featured throughout the pages.

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I'm not sure whether their  imaginative "holy doodling" inspires me or intimidates me. For some of this art work pages need to be prepared so that bleeding doesn't occur. Hmm, that's a strange term to use given aspects of the gospels.

It occurred to me that the book is a refreshing modern take on the notion of the illuminated manuscript, the decorated copies of the scriptures from medieval and renaissance times. More recently the St. John's Bible was created as the first calligraphed bible since the invention of the printing press. (immediately below) This is certainly an encouragement to engage imaginatively with scripture texts and to literally colour outside the lines. It's a lot better than having our bibles gathering dust on shelves.
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 If you would like to see my copy of the Complete Guide to Bible Journaling, and are close at hand, let me know. Otherwise, order a copy. Hey, it includes stickers!

What are your thoughts about "desecrating" your bible? Do you underline or jot in notes when you read? Do you ever doodle in the margins like a medieval monk?

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Down Syndrome & God's Love

Down Syndrome Flyer

Until I arrived at Bridge St. UC this morning I wasn't aware that this is World Down Syndrome Day, or that there is a such a day, for that matter. There is a family which is very much a part of our congregation with three children who have Down Syndrome, although they are becoming adults in a hurry. One is in his mid-twenties, is a successful athlete, and is training in a culinary arts program. The two daughters are teens now, and the older of the two assists in the nursery. All three are open, active persons, affectionate and friendly, and I admire their parents for the commitment to give them every opportunity to be engaged in every aspect of life, including Christian community.  Bridge St. wouldn't be the same without them, nor would other congregations I've served with members who have Down Syndrome.

I have mentioned before that both Ruth, my wife, and Isaac, our son, have worked in group homes with Down Syndrome residents. These folk have their own personalities, likes and dislikes, as well as loves. They are persons, made in the image of God, deserving every opportunity to grow and flourish.

It's important that societal attitudes have changed over time and it hadn't occurred to me that there is a new challenge for those with Down Syndrome. As genetic testing in  the womb becomes more sophisticated there is a greater possibility that Down fetuses may be aborted.

A conference held yesterday that included Down speakers explored this difficult topic. There is now a “non-invasive” prenatal blood test which gives parents a 99% indication of the Down’s status of their baby. It is being heavily promoted throughout the world and many governments have started implementing it into public healthcare.

When our daughter-in-law was pregnant with their first child they were made to feel uncomfortable by a doctor who was quite insistent that she have this test. They declined, in part because of the work Isaac had done in the group home, and also on the basis of their moral and faith convictions.

Any observations or comments this World Down Syndrome Day?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten Journey to Forgiveness

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Thanks to "on demand" we've now seen all nine Academy Award nominees for Best Film. They were all worthwhile with excellent acting, although Ruth and I differed on Fences in terms of our appreciation of the film. We also came to different conclusion about which one was best. She agreed with the Oscar nod for Moonlight, which was powerful. The film which touched me most deeply was Manchester by the Sea. I found it to be a fascinating exploration of the meaning of forgiveness within a community, between individuals, and of oneself. There is a scene where Lee, the central character who has done the "unforgivable," is offered forgiveness and grace from his former partner, who still loves him. He cannot or will not receive this gift and so the opportunity for reconciliation is stillborn. He acts out his self-loathing with destructive drinking and reckless bar fights.

I have a row of books in my study on the subject of forgiveness, and I've led a number of studies on the subject through the years. New titles appear regularly, although I pause in purchasing them so close to retirement. This new book by Martha Nussbaum intrigues me.

Anger and Forgiveness

I've had many conversations with those who wrestle with whether forgiveness is possible. They speak about anger and forgiveness for the living and dead. A fair number have been about self-forgiveness, and there are no easy paths.

What I do know is that forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, and the story of the crucifixion we will repeat a few weeks from now on Good Friday. Jesus spoke about forgiveness with his disciples and uttered the words, "Father, forgive them" from the cross.

Did you see Manchester by the Sea? What did you think? How is it going with forgiveness in your life? Are you forgivable?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Precious to God

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God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets His tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know He loves me, too.


He loves me, too, He loves me, too,
I know He loves me, too;
Because He loves the little things,
I know He loves me, too.

Snowstorms in Canada this past week resulted in the deaths of several people in different provinces.  he roads become treacherous and accidents occur and some individuals die. We are saddened by these deaths and usually relieved to hear that they have been kept to a minimum even though the pile-ups might be scary in scope.

What constitutes a tragic loss of life? Every death is significant, we are inclined to say, but do we subconsciously feel that some lives matter more than others?

At the beginning of the week I read that a massive mound of garbage collapsed at the edge of the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa. The dump had been scheduled to move, but the people who depended on the festering mountain of refuse wanted it to stay because it is a source of livelihood. Portions had been bulldozed to mine for methane, which probably destabilized it. Those who lived in shacks at the edge of the dump were inundated. I've been searching reports all week. The first death count was in the thirties, nearly all women and children. Each day the grim tally has increased and now stands at 110.

One hundred and ten desperate yet valuable lives snuffed out in one incident within minutes, yet we've heard so little about it. Can we even find Ethiopia on a map? We are better informed about the skiers or snowmobilers who go out of bounds and are killed by avalanches than about incidents such as these.

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The children's hymn above fell out of favour, in part because of the male language to describe God, but it did remind us of the passage in Matthew where Jesus, who was eventually crucified on a hillside near a garbage dump,  says that even lowly sparrows are precious to God, so each hair on our heads are counted and we truly matter.

If this is true, then we should all pause for a prayer to honour the precious lives of those who died at the edge of a dump.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Come from Away

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touches his heart while speaking to the audience before a performance of the Broadway musical Come From Away in New York City on Wednesday. In his remarks, Trudeau praised the people of Gander, N.L., for their efforts to help stranded passengers after the Sept. 11 attacks.

We were living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when the terrible events of what is now called 9/11 unfolded. We offered St. Andrew's church building for Americans grounded when their planes could not return home. It turned out that armed forces base in Greenwood and the churches in Dartmouth could accommodate everyone who landed at Halifax Airport.

Gander, Newfoundland, where our son was born, received by far the greatest number of stranded passengers, roughly 7,000 in a town of under 10,000 population. Other communities including Lewisporte received these displaced and bewildered persons, but Gander had the biggest logistical challenges. The locals responded with the sort of hospitality and kindness for which Newfoundlanders are renowned.

Now, improbably, there is a Broadway musical about this response called Come From Away which instead of being an earnest flop has taken New York City by storm. It opened to excellent reviews and standing ovations.

Last evening Prime Minister Trudeau was in attendance and even spoke to the audience before the curtain rose. It was interesting that Ivanka Trump was there as well, because of one scene. An Egyptian man offers to help with meal preparation but it viewed with suspicion because of his ethnicity. When it's revealed that he is a chef attitudes change. Ivanka watched this on the day that her father, President Donald Trump, was rebuffed again, this time by a judge in Hawaii, after reintroducing a travel ban which is widely described as a Muslim ban.

My prayer is that the Trump administration experiences relentless resistance from the judiciary, and from city and state legislatures. Will he prevail? It's hard to say, because we know he is persistent. But it's worth the fight. And what is happening in the United States is contrary to values of freedom and the message of Jesus, to which many of Trump's followers pay lip-service, a message which affirms that we all have a place in God's reign.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Vigilance on Behalf of Oppressed Christians

A nun cries as she stands at the scene inside Cairo's Coptic cathedral, following a bombing, in Egypt December 11, 2016.

The photo above is taken in a Coptic Christian church in Cairo, Egypt after a bombing early in December of 2016. Human Rights Watch tells us that there have been more attacks on Christians in Egypt since then, including seven murders in towns in the north of Sinai which have probably been carried out by ISIS assassins:

The recent attacks in al-Arish – and earlier killings there and in northern Sinai towns such as Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayd – are not communal, or provoked by a particular incident. Gunmen targeted Christians apparently not for who they were – a veterinary surgeon, pharmacist, teacher, shoe merchant – but apparently to frighten the small Christian communities to flee en masse. And in the context of protracted fighting between Egyptian security forces and ISIS, to demonstrate Egypt’s incapacity to protect lives and property.

Although I have written about incidents like this before I will continue to share these grim reports because we can easily forget or push to the back of our minds the persecution of brothers and sisters in Christ in places where they are in the minority.

In other countries Christian organizations are pulling up stakes because of hostile conditions. We've heard recently that a number Christian aid organizations are leaving India because of what is an increasingly negative governmental response to their work, even though there are no attempts on their part to proselytize.

Persecution or exclusion on the basis (including travel bans) is a blight, regardless of the religion. We need to be vigilant and aware of how it is expressed here in Canada and around the world. We must stand in solidarity with oppressed Christians who often have no voice.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ethics of Today's Underground Railroad

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The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus  19:34

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, Matthew 25:35

There has been so much in the news about refugees and undocumented immigrants making their way across the Canadian border in the cold of Winter, seeking asylum.

Not long ago I heard about a house in Buffalo New York which has become a safe haven for  immigrants hoping to leave the United States for the safe haven of Canada --or so they hope. The house, called Vive, occupies a former schoolnext door to an abandoned church with boarded-up windows. More than a quarter of the nearby properties are vacant “zombie homes,” and the area contains some of the cheapest real estate in America. According to the New Yorker article about this safe house " residents rarely venture into the neighborhood. A staff member told me, “Agents from the Border Patrol circle the building all the time.” So far, the schoolhouse has not yet been subjected to a raid, which would require a warrant."

The Canadian border is only seven kilometres away, so Vive has become the modern version of the Underground Railroad. As is so often the case with refugee organizations, Vive had its origins with a religious group, founded by nuns more thirty years ago, although the staff is now mostly secular. Remarkably,more than a hundred thousand refugees, from about a hundred countries, have passed through. In an earlier era Harriet Tubman, herself a former slave, led groups of fugitive slaves across a suspension bridge that spanned the gorge. Allegedly, some slaves braved the rapids of the Niagara River, swimming to the other side.

We probably agree that there needs to be a process for immigration into this country which is orderly and doesn't encourage queue-jumping. At the same time people are afraid and desperate because of the changes to laws and attitudes in the United States and other countries  of the world. The sense is that when the weather warms (it will warm, won't it?) the flow of asylum seekers will probably increase.

Will our welcome for refugees and immigrants wear thin if the numbers jump dramatically? What is your reaction to the existence of Vive, and shelters like it? Are we more comfortable with the Underground Railroad as a historical footnote than a present reality? What is the role of Christians in "welcoming the foreigner?" I think we're given a fairly clear picture by Jesus.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Good Funeral

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Last year I presided at the funeral service of a wonderful member of our Bridge St. UC congregation who had been involved in the funeral industry for six decades. Harry felt that we had a lot in common because he viewed the work he did as a calling. While he had retired as a funeral director and national representative for his company, he still offered his perspective and wisdom to students at funeral colleges.

We agreed that there had been many changes through the years, including the corporate takeover of so many private funeral homes. I have a great deal of respect for the majority of the funeral directors I've worked with, many of whom have been active members of Christian congregations. I've been less than impressed with the big-business approach to the funeral biz because it tends to depersonalize what is a very vulnerable time for families and to be profit-driven to a degree that is less than comforting.

Last night CBC Market Place did a hidden camera investigation of one of these international companies called Arbor Memorial.

Arbor Memorial Inc. has revenues of over $140 million annually and a 10 per cent share of the Canadian market, with branches in every province except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.  It owns and operates 92 funeral homes, 41 cemeteries and 28 crematoria and it's expanding.

The results aren't flattering, which is why the episode is called Death Inc. The "family counsellors" are salespersons whose job is to "up-sell" their products and encourage add-ons which might not be necessary. While this doesn't impress me, there is the bigger question of how we got here in the first place. How did the respectful burial of human remains become such an elaborate industry? I visited a monastery years ago and the monk who picked me up at the train mentioned that one of the elderly brothers had just died. For three days the plain coffin built by a local carpenter sat in the midst of the worship space before he was buried in the simple monastery graveyard.

Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch, one a theologian and the other a funeral director, have written a book called The Good Funeral which thoughtfully examines all aspects of burial. In a time when people in our society are decreasingly connected with faith communities, the discussion about how we take our leave from loved ones is even more important, it seems to me.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Residential Schools, Forgotten?

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We continue to hear disturbing stories out of the Canadian senate, and one which baffled and angered many was the defence Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak offered for the residential school system for Aboriginal children on Tuesday. Beyak lamented that the "good deeds" accomplished by "well-intentioned" religious teachers have been overshadowed by negative reports documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is a portion of what she said:

"I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part."

The reality is that there were kind and devoted teachers and administrators in the Residential Schools. Some of them were United Church members who continued to have meaningful relationships with former students for years after they left the schools. Some of the former First Nations students have spoken with affection about these people through the years. But Beyak is tone-deaf to the larger grim reality of Residential Schools, which is a national shame.
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Her embarrassing speech was made all the worse in that Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the Red Chamber and had to listen to her. While he was gracious in response, he was also shocked by her perspective. It appears that Beyak was defending the imposed Christianization of Native children, for which our United Church has apologized.

Were there some decent slave owners in the American South? Perhaps. Did some guards in Nazi prison camps act with compassion? Maybe. Yet we would never attempt to downplay the horrors of slavery or the Holocaust. If this sounds like a comparative overreach, remember that as many as 6,000 Aboriginal children died while in Residential Schools.

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It's sad that someone serving in the Senate who has received every opportunity to become educated about Residential Schools could rise to speak, ignore the issue at hand (the over-representation of Aboriginal women in prisons), and be so offensive. Remind me again why we still have the Senate?


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Cognitive Frailty & God's Love

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When I visit my 91-year-old mother these days I'm not sure where the conversation will go. More and more she struggles cognitively because of Parkinson's related dementia, as well as a series of small strokes. My brother comments that I am the strong one in the emotional moments with her, such as our visit on Christmas Day. In truth I manage to marshall my skills from many years of visiting those with dementia when I'm with her, but when I find my way to my vehicle I so often sit in the sadness and grief.

So, as I prepare a four-part study and discussion series called God in the Shadows: Dementia and the Spiritual Life it is personal as well as professional. We have a lot of people in the Bridge St. congregation with varying degrees of dementia, yet we seldom speak about it. Why don't we want to fess up to the growing reality of dementia in our society (roughly 750,000 Canadians) or in our aging churches? Image result

During the weeks of the study we'll take a look at available resources, including the inspiring documentary Alive Inside. We'll hear from a guest from the Alzheimer's Society.  I'll have a conversation with a member of the congregation whose husband has Alzheimer's about her journey from home care to the difficult decision to move him to a nursing home. We will look at the recently passed Canadian legislation called Bill C-233 which will result in a national Dementia and Alzheimer's strategy. I'm hoping that we'll talk with Rob Oliphant, one of the members of parliament who is behind this bill who is also a United Church minister.

We'll also explore the thoughts of Rochelle Graham who was recently interviewed in the United Church Observer is a piece entitled "the body has dementia, but the soul doesn't."  I spoke with Rochelle after I read it and together we wondered why we have chosen to label this spectrum of illnesses "dementia." How unkind. She says that she uses the term "cognitive frailty," which I much prefer.

I suppose this is an infomercial for this study group -- blogmercial -- but I hope you'll join us. I've been doing a lot of pondering about the meaning of personhood as one of God's children, and I imagine you will to, should you show up.


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