Monday, August 21, 2017

Signs and Portents

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See, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion... They will turn their faces upwards, or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

                                                                            Isaiah 8

I was too late in searching out those odd glasses which millions of people across North America tomorrow to observe the solar eclipse. In the early afternoon I will be averting my gaze to preserve my sight but I have been pondering what all this means.

Through the millennia humans have associated solar and lunar eclipses with "signs and portents" of the gods, or God. Perhaps because of the apparent extinguishing of our star's powerful and all-encompassing light solar eclipses have been seen as signs of divine disfavour. Even in the 21st century some Christian congregations will be makin' hay while the sun don't shine, with eclipse events taking on an ominous tone. There are roughly a dozen biblical passages which use this heavenly imagery to speak of God's judgement of the wayward and unfaithful.

What came to mind for me was an aspect of the crucifixion story in three of the gospels where after Jesus' death on the cross the skies darkened. Astronomers have explored whether there was a solar eclipse which coincided with the crucifixion but the evidence seems to suggest that this was poetical rather than factual. There is a verse in the spiritual "Were you There?"which picks up on this theme, often sung on Good Friday which picks up on this theme:

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

For me the eclipse is a reminder that in the midst of this strange time of political turmoil, not to mention faces constantly focused downward on the trivia of our phones, we live in a universe of grandeur and remarkable celestial events which transcend our pettiness. I figure that our Creator wants us to remember that "the heavens declare the glory of God" so it really is good for us to note this portentious day.

Will you be looking skyward or skulking about like me today? What do you think about the heavenly hoopla? Are you old enough to remember Carly Simon?

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse, naturally, won
Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not, you're with some underworld spy
Or the wife of a close friend,
Wife of a close friend, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, you're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you?
Don't you?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Abbey in the Trees

We spent four weeks on Change Islands, Newfoundland this summer, as many of you are aware. These two adjoined islands are alongside the better known Fogo Island, but we appreciate their relative anonymity. There aren't as many short-visit tourists as is the case with Fogo. Many of the people from "away" have purchased homes which have been empty for years, renovated them, and spend the summer.  

We had lovely visits with a number of residents who have been on Change Islands their entire lives. Our long-time association with the area gave us that "in." We also met some of the seasonal newcomers, including Wayne and Denis, a couple from Montreal. We went to their creaky old saltbox house for brunch on our last day there. They too explore many of the coastal trails of the islands and we got into conversation about the spirituality of walking, agreeing that it is a form of prayer. 

Denis, who works for a Quebec publisher, told us about a book project he's working on for a Fall release about the redevelopment of what was the Oka Trappist monastery in Quebec. We may be vaguely aware of the community because of the cheese, which they no longer produce. The book, with plenty of photos, will be entitled Val Notre Dame: L'Abbaye dans les Bois - it is the abbey in the trees.  This is the community's description of what has transpired through its history and over the past fifteen years:

In 1881, faced with threats of being expelled by an anti-religious government, the Trappist monks of the Bellefontaine monastery, still active in France, came to Oka, in Canada, to found La Trappe d’Oka, which flourished in the 1950s with a total of 177 monks. The monastery will become famous for its cheese: the Oka cheese.

In 2002, there were only some 30 monks left in the community. Since the premises had become too big and the surrounding area too noisy, the monks decided to move to the Lanaudière region and establish themselves in Val Notre-Dame, at the foot of the Coupée mountain. In this enchanting site and in a bright monastery of sober and modern design, they continue to search for God, still guided by the Rule of St. Benedict.

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I was intrigued by this relocation because it reflects the pattern of a number of monastic communities in the 21st century. Traditional monasteries and convents are choosing to reinvent themselves because of declining numbers and a much more secular society. Many are choosing to develop a Creation-care focus, working with architects to create new buildings which are energy efficient and in tune with their surroundings. You can see the green roof in the photo above from Val Notre Dame. They are also  opening their guesthouses to those who have a spiritual yearning even though they may not be Roman Catholic, or even Christian.

Mainline Protestant congregations would do well to emulate what is happening in these Roman Catholic communities, in terms of reimagining their purpose. It will take courage, yet there is tremendous opportunity to nurture the contemplative life in those who are searching. We can also demonstrate our commitment to environmental justice and celebrating Creation.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

We Cannot Forget

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As I drove around doing errands the other day I heard a CBC Radio piece featuring a young woman and her grandmother. The younger family member had visited Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem to six million Jews whose lives were extinguished by the Nazi regime during WWII. She realized that her grandmother was a survivor and took to heart the observation that hers is the last generation to be able to speak to those who lived through this atrocity.

Upon her return the young woman visited her grandmother whose memory is fading. The grandmother was taken to an extermination camp when she was fourteen, and while she has trouble remembering lunch, she can recall grim aspects of that distant time in her life. I didn't hear any more because of my next errand and I'm not sure I'll find the interview.

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This was a reminder that I have visited Yad Vashem on several occasions. The memorial to the children who perished was particularly affecting. I have also spoken with those who survived the camps, even though family members didn't.

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As we see images of "Christians" in Charlottesville Virginia strutting around in their pathetic uniforms waving Swastikas we should be sickened. When we see one of the organizers of the rally shedding tears at the prospect of being criminally charged we should not hate -"do not repay evil with evil" Jesus said -- but we should feel no pity. There are no "nice" Nazis, past nor present, because the ideology is antithetical to human decency and the gospel.

Those of us who claim to follow Yeshua the Jew, born to a Jewish mother, educated in a Jewish synagogue in the way of the prophets, must be vigilant. The legacy of those who died, and that of our brave forbearers who fought to end Nazism cannot be forgotten.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Dreams of Immigrants

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I've just read Behold the Dreamers an award-winning debut novel by Imbolo Imbue. Imbue is originally from the African nation of Cameroon, which most of us couldn't find on a map, if we're honest. The novel is about the immigrant experience, for a Cameroonian couple, Jende and Neni, who are barely making ends meet in New York City. Jende lands a job as the chauffeur for a Wall Street investor with Lehman Brothers, one of the companies which eventually collapsed during the economic crisis of nearly a decade ago. It seems like a dream job but the undercurrents of American society in a time of greed and turmoil are fascinating.

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Both Jende and Neni come to love NYC  and aspire to greater things, working hard, dedicated to achieving a higher education. Of course I can't reveal too much about this compelling story, but I was intrigued that Neni becomes part of a congregation which is accepting, even though she isn't sure if she is a Christian. The worship is subdued compared to the exuberance of her experience back home, but she finds a place there.  The female pastor is wise and encouraging  and willing to help.

It occurred to me the church described in the novel, Judson Memorial, is quite real and I did a bit of research. It turns out that author Mbue has spoken there since the success of her book. I wonder what she association with the congregation might be.  While the church scenes are a minor part of the overall narrative, it was encouraging that the congregation is portrayed in a positive light. The novel as a whole is even more timely given the harsh shift in American immigration policy in the short time since it was published. We certainly have our own challenges with asylum seekers at the moment.

I certainly recommend Behold the Dreamers. Has anyone else read it?  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Losing Ground

A street person sleeps right on the S/W corner of King and Bay St. as people, cars, and limos pass by within inches of him.
Lost amidst the general outrage about Donald Trump's ridiculous comments about the deadly white supremacist rally in Virginia last weekend was the release of a report on the growing gap between rich and poor in this province of Ontario. The study called Losing Ground was researched by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It found that the top half of earners grew their share of income from 78 to 81 per cent from 2000 to 2015, while the share for the bottom half of earners fell from 22 to 19 per cent. The bottom half of income earners didn’t even keep up with inflation.

In this same week Premier Kathleen Wynne took major heat from a gathering of municipal leaders who told her that upping the minimum wage will require tax hikes in order to pay for the increases. The food chain Metro announced that it will move toward automation to reduce the number of workers in its stores. And rural business owners argue that raising the minimum wage will eliminate entry level jobs in communities where the owners are lucky to be making $15 an hour themselves. There is an element of truth to all of this, although Metro and other food chains are not in the red by any means.

The Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a column about this rural challenge, although it has a "let them eat cake" quality to it. She spoke to shop owners in the pretty rural town near her summer place. Hmm. It's nice to be able to afford a summer home and then bemoan the plight of those who provide services for you. And then there was these observations:

Ms. Wynne argues – correctly – that nobody can live on $11.40 an hour. Yet few people have to. Ms Wynne likes to depict minimum-wage earners as hard-pressed single mothers. In fact, statistics from 2014 referenced in the AIMS study showed that 58 per cent of them were between 15 and 24 years old, and 57 per cent lived with family. Only 2.2 per cent were unmarried heads of household with at least one minor child.

Ya, well those young people would probably prefer to have a decent-paying job so that they didn't have to live at home. Many younger people are resigned to not being able to buy any home because of low wages and astronomical housing costs. Wente's argument seems tone deaf to the realities of those entering the workforce.

Sitting with folk at the Bridge St. church meal ministries reminded me that a number of guests were "working poor," struggling along in low-wage jobs and trying to make ends meet at the end of the month. None of them ever described their cottages or vacations.

We may end up seeing a revision to the $15 an hour minimum wage, with graduated or regional increases. Still, this has to be a step in the right and just direction. In order to gain ground decent wages are essential.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

There's the Church, and There's the Steeple?

One of my favourite craft breweries is Church Key, in a former United Church near Campbellford, Ontario. Not long after starting at Bridge St. Church I referred to this "repurposing" of a country church and one of our wonderful 90+ members spoke to me about it after the surface. She chuckled as she mentioned that her aunt had sung in the choir when it was a Methodist church and is probably spinning in her grave because of it's current use.

It seems that the media pieces on church buildings being decommissioned and put up for sale are becoming more common, and the variety of uses grows. Since the sixties country churches have found new life as homes and antique shops. Today many urban church buildings are office space and anchors for condo developments. The photo above is of a climbing gym in Quebec in an old church structure. How appropriate -- there are antics in congregations which sometimes cause those in leadership to climb the walls!

When the former hotel property next to Bridge St. was for sale recently we wondered if we should put in an offer, but the asking price was too rich for our blood, and we weren't ready to ask the serious questions about purpose. I did wonder whether the day might come when the successive bidder, a condo developer, would approach the congregation about buying the church property.

Bridge St. still has a vital ministry in downtown Belleville and can serve those on the margins of society as gentrification takes place. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is important that the Christian community continues to live the gospel for those who are often without a voice.

Of course, this is no longer my challenge, yet it still matters to me as a Christian.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Thirsty Priests

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You may have heard that binge drinking and rowdy groups of pub-goers has become a significant problem in the British Isles. Many drinking establishments have imposed rules about the size of groups entering their premises to control rowdyism. One pub in Wales also prohibits patrons wearing costumes because of the association with revelry which could lead to problems.

Well on July 29th a group of Roman Catholic seminarians showed up to celebrate the  ordination of Father Peter McClaren. They were dressed in their cassocks and turned away by staff members who mistook them for a bachelor party.

I love this story in so many ways. How delightful that Father McLaren's confreres wanted to take him out for a celebratory pint or two. This skewers stereotypes about religious prohibitions on drinking. Jesus did turn water into wine, didnt' he? And it is funny that the staff of the pub figured that they must be imposters of some sort.

There is a pleasant outcome to the story. The pub has renamed one of its brews "The Thirsty Priests." It is described as a “rich, warming ale with a clean, rewarding finish,”  with the added slogan “saving souls and satisfying thirsts.”  I'll drink to that!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Release of Pastor Kim

A Korean Canadian pastor will be in worship with his congregation this morning and all of us should be relieved and happy to hear this.  Hyeon Soo Lim was serving a life sentence of hard labour in North Korea for alleged anti-state activities, but was released last week after intervention by the Canadian government. Lim was in a harsh North Korean prison for more than two years and during that time his health failed. His family and congregation are delighted to welcome him home. This is good news in light of the dangerous posturing and threats of the North Korean government concerning using nuclear weapons and the ham-fisted response of the American president.

I have wondered though about what Lim was doing there, given the danger for outsiders and nationals alike in this unpredictable regime. Was he engaged in Christian evangelism, or was he there to provide humanitarian support? The dictator, Kim Jong Un is a dangerous dude who has imprisoned Westerners on many occasions, some because they had come to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are we to make of these efforts? There is a 2000-year history of Christian evangelism and there have been many martyrs of the faith. When I was a kid we sang a wildly militaristic chorus which has thankfully disappeared. Remember this?

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss:
From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

I'm not suggesting that Pastor Kim espouses these sensibilities. I just wonder what our role as Christians needs to be in sharing the Good News in the 21st century, and whether taking risks in hostile environments is productive.

All I'm sure of is that I'm grateful he's home and I do pray that he returns to health and a meaningful ministry. We can pray as well for Christians in North Korea who are persecuted for their faith.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blatant Racist Evil

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This Summer Sunday morning congregations may be smaller yet it's likely that wherever two or three are gathered together they will repeat a version of the Lord's Prayer or the Our Father. It's understandable that many of those praying will mumble through the "deliver us from evil"  phrase without much thought for how that applies to this moment. Is evil the deliberate drowning of illegal migrants by smugglers? Of course. What about those involved in creating child pornography and the sexual abuse of children. Without a doubt.

Evil has reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, through crowds protesting the removal of a statue glorifying Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Symbols of the racist Confederacy of the Civil War are being removed across the American South since white supremacist Dylan Root walked into a church prayer group and murdered several black members who initially welcomed him into their midst.

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This was more than a quiet march, which still would have been suspect. Neo-Nazis were photographed making the dreaded Hitler salute. Confederate flags were on display and white supremacist slogans were chanted as marchers walked through the streets carrying torches.

State officials decried what transpired and clergy gathered as a counter-protest, although it appears that they were taunted and even roughed up by the supremacists. The next day counter-protestors gathered, fighting erupted, and a car was driven into those opposing the white supremacists, killing one person and injuring others.

Make no mistake, this is blatant racist evil, and the tepid response of the White House is telling. Hitler is long dead, even though his horrendous ideas aren't. So, if the supremacists aren't saluting Hitler, who are they acknowledging? White supremacist leader David Duke gave credit to the president for emboldening those who want to "make America great again" with his exclusionary, polarizing vision for the nation.

I find this so disheartening and while many Christian commentators and pastors are condemning this nonsense, there is little emerging from the right-wing evangelical world to declare this as a gross violation of Christ's teaching.

What has been going through your mind? Has the United States lost it's mind, and it's soul?
Let's continue to pray for sanity and justice.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Dark Side of the Esther Story

The Hidden and The Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca

It is a Jeopardy answer, for sure. The question is which book of the bible doesn't mention God, not even once? The answer is Esther, one of two books of the bible with a woman's name as the title. If you give the next Jeopardy question correctly as Ruth, for the other, you've done well. Jews celebrate Purim each year each because their people were delivered from annihilation by Esther. It is a very celebratory festival and one of the most interesting commandments related to Purim has to do with drinking. According to Jewish law, adults of drinking age are supposed to get so drunk that they can't tell the difference between Mordecai (a hero in the Purim story) and Haman (the villain). Not everyone does get drunk, but even in Ultra-Orthodox communities some men get sloshed on Purim. In one congregation I served we had a fun Purim service led by the children where adults were invited to boo or cheer throughout the telling of the story, depending on whether references were to the heroes or villains.

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Until the other day it had never occurred to me that the story of Esther has the dark undertones of human trafficking and is not simply kids' play. In a thoughtful Sojourner's piece by Leslie Cox. I'll let you read the entire article if you choose,
but this is a portion of how she reflects on Esther:  

We forget the darkness woven throughout her testimony and we exploit her story without honestly accounting for her victimization and trials. Esther is a victim’s account of human trafficking.The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power … for the purpose of exploitation.”...

It is these first two chapters of Esther’s life that speak to the estimated 20.9 million trafficked victims in our world. The United Nations hypothesized that one of the reasons we often miss victims of human trafficking is because we don’t understand the many diverse faces of human trafficking victims. Some of these faces are in our Scriptures, our sacred texts. We have, in our Bible, stories that can teach us how to spot human trafficking, and the danger victims are placed in through the coercion and exploitation of people in power. It is important that we open our eyes to the humanity in our sacred texts. For our modern-day Esthers, there is a story within our holy text that speaks of similar trauma, exploitation, and trials. Most importantly within our Scripture we find our call: Let there be no more Esthers.

There is a happy ending to the biblical story, but Cox raises some important points. In the church we just don't deal well with some of these darker issues of our society. When Ruth was a counselor at a women's shelter we would participate in the annual Take Back the Night walk through our community. I would always remind the congregation I served that it was taking place, but very few people would show up. There was always someone from the RCMP who would address human trafficking before we walked, with a reminder that the issue wasn't "out there" somewhere. In the same way we don't like to think of domestic violence within our church families, we are uncomfortable with the thought of human trafficking in our communities. Yet Ruth has also been aware of this through her current work at the Belleville courthouse.

So, thanks to Leslie Cox for inviting us to consider an ancient story which may not resonate with many of us in a new and important light.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Fire and Fury?

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For the Lord will come in fire,
    and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to pay back his anger in fury,
    and his rebuke in flames of fire.

Isaiah 66:15

In an earlier era of my ministry when children were actually in worship on summer Sunday mornings we recognized the grim reality of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2. I hasten to add that we did so gently, with the story of a Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a historical novel for children about an actual Japanese girl who endeavours to create origami cranes to grant her wish to be healed from the leukemia she develops from the radiation of the Hiroshima blast.

In the novel Sadako doesn't reach her goal before succumbing to the disease, but her family noted that she folded at least 1400 cranes. Sadako's family have donated some of Sadako's cranes at places of importance around the world: in NYC at the 9-11 memorial, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at The Truman Library & Museum on Nov 19th 2015, at Museum Of Tolerance on May 26 2016, along with other memorials and museums.

For those Sundays Ruth, my wife, folded enough paper cranes to distribute to any children present, and at least one year she created them with the kids. We shared this story within the context of worship as a sombre reminder that war is devastating and peace is God's desire for all humanity.

In the week following the commemoration of these catastrophic events we have watched in horror as two six-year olds playing with matches and gasoline have posed as world leaders. Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump have blustered away at each other, threatening the use of nuclear weapons. We have come to expect this from North Korean leaders. President Trump has broken from the measured response of his predecessors and his current advisors to rant about  the "fire and fury" to be rained down on North Korea should the country act aggressively toward the United States. Some have suggested that this is a cherry-picked Old Testament phrase fed to Trump by a fundamentalist advisor. God help us, and save us from "Christians" who totally miss the message of Christ's peace in the gospels.

What do you think about the dangerous developments of the past week? Are you, like me, wondering how this could happen? Is someone going to perform an exorcism on President Trump?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Being the Christ-light

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I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night-time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.

  The Servant Song

Years ago I told Ruth, my wife, that if I should die of a disease which led to a prolonged illness that I didn't want any language used about a "lengthy battle" or a "heroic fight," even if I did everything possible to prolong my life. Through my years of ministry I resisted engaging in that sort of conversation with those to whom I provided pastoral support. I witnessed many examples of courage and determination and grace in the face of terrible illness, but I don't recall these folk wanting to talk about the battle they were engaged in. This wasn't a military offensive, it was the desire to live life fully, often in the face of bleak prognoses. The words of the hymn called The Servant Song made a lot more sense to me than the language of Onward Christian Soldiers.

On CBC radio's Metro Morning today a psychiatrist who works with cancer patients suggested that this sort of "battle" language isn't particularly helpful as patients navigate their way through illness. There is a growing number of physicians and other caregivers who are rethinking the use of this imagery. When interviewer Matt Galloway asked what might be more helpful the encouragement was to be a companion to the one who is suffering and that terminology is not necessary. Amen!

 I found the discussion to be very worthwhile and I commend it to you.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think it's good to speak about "fighting the good fight,"  to use the apostle Paul's phrase? Have you been a companion to someone with a serious illness, and held a hand in the night time of their fear?

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Requirement

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Alright, back from a grandparenting foray. Such fun, and then we get to return home! I did manage to finish a novel while away, Ronald Wright's The Gold Eaters. Wright is a historian whose Stolen Continents was an excellent and sobering examination of the European first contact and incursion into the Americas. The Gold Eaters is a fictional story of the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 16th century, although Wright is meticulous about his historical accuracy.

The story develops around an Incan teen, Waman, who is captured by the Spaniards and becomes the bridge between the sophisticated Incan culture and the "barbarian" interlopers. If it weren't for the catastrophe of smallpox, for which the Incans had no natural immunity, it's unlikely that the relatively small number of Spaniards would have prevailed.

I was interested to learn about "The Requirement," a declaration by the Spanish monarch which allowed Spanish explorers to subjugate, exploit, and to fight indigenous inhabitants, all by divinely ordained right. Priest accompanied the Spanish forces, essentially brigands, as part of this diabolical justification of conquest. Those who resisted The Requirement were considered to be defying God's plan, thereby justifying horrendous acts of violence and duplicity. Here is a chilling excerpt:

Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen Doña Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Tierra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid.If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their Highnesses, and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best, and they shall not compel you to turn Christians, unless you yourselves, when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith as almost all the inhabitants of the rest of the islands have done.

And, besides this, their Highnesses award you many privileges and exemptions and will grant you many benefits.But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses

The novel is very readable, and one more reminder of how Christianity has been coopted through the centuries by rulers and governments for the purposed of empire building and greed.


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Renewed in Solitude

These are some of my favourite photos of Ruth from our recent trip to Newfoundland. We walked more than a dozen trails on Change Islands, where we rented a house for a month, and Fogo Island, a twenty-five minute ferry ride away. This trail is several kilometres in length and we didn't see another soul, although we rarely saw other people on any of the paths and trails. We never left these islands during our weeks there, choosing to explore on foot, and in our kayaks. Well, Ruth also rode a Newfoundland pony, which are bred and raised on Change Islands.

The "sound of sheer silence" was a gift of this place, although like Elijah we listened to the thunder and roar from the natural world. We were spared the incessant buzz of urban life. Even in the relative quiet of the morning in Belleville we are forced to listen to the air-conditioning units of our neighbours, and highways 401 and 2, and the shunting of trains. Go to a more remote place and the return to "civilization" brings out the steady thrum of our existence.

On the day of this photo, our last on Change Islands, it was actually quite still on land, but the energy from the previous day's wind was still in the ocean. We slept with our window which faced the cove open, no matter how chilly the night. We could hear the waves on shore along with the deeper sounds of the swell. We were awakened at times by the thunderous disintegration of icebergs close at hand.

How do we hear ourselves think in our modern world? And more importantly, how do we hear God, Creator, Redeemer, Breath? The King James Version of  the Elijah story speaks of the "still small voice" of God. That voice can be perilously difficult to hear at times.

We appreciate that it is a privilege of relative wealth to be able to take off to a wild setting for a few weeks. At the same time we felt a deep spiritual renewal which we both needed.

Do you find that our culture is becoming increasingly noisy? Do you have enough time in solitude and silence for renewal? How do we encourage this in a world of constant clatter so that we might hear God?