Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Ark and the Insurers

Nusret Colpan was a Turkish painter, architect and miniaturist, renowned for his paintings in Ottoman miniature style depicting cities around the world, particularly Istanbul.

Nusret Colpan Turkish Artist

The Lord told Noah
There's gonna be a floody, floody
The Lord told Noah
There's gonna be a floody, floody
Get those children out of the muddy, muddy, children of the Lord

Rise and Shine (Arky, Arky)
I've written before about how often the biblical story of the Ark in the book of Genesis is used as a symbol or metaphor for refuge and protection from life's storms. Sometimes they are related to the environment and the efforts to preserve precious habitats and species. Other "arks" are the protective places and spaces for vulnerable people. The L'Arche movement of Jean Vanier comes to mind.

Then there are the conservative Christians who build arks because they take this important covenant story literally, often in support of a notion of biblical inerrancy and a six-day creation. Many of these folk also deny climate change (emergency) and feel that God wouldn't allow the Earth to be compromised or destroyed because of the Genesis Covenant. They seem to miss that God says He/She won't smite the planet again, not that we won't self-destruct.  

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Truth can be stranger that fiction, though. The Kentucky owners of Ark Encounter, a 510-foot long supposed reconstruction of the biblical vessel are suing insurer damage, maybe water damage. The good ship Noah itself is just fine, but the access road has suffered a million dollars worth of damage, and the insurers don't want to pay up. Actually, there is some dispute about the source of the destruction being rain events. There was a landslide though, and these are often water-table related. We also know that intense rainfalls are more common these days because of...well, you know.  

Landslide? Flood? Aren't these described by insurers as Acts of God? Just wondering.

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Friday, May 24, 2019

The Legacy of Ministry

On Sunday we had a lovely visit with long-time friends from Newfoundland. The elders of the group were parents of four tweens and teens when I served a five-point outport pastoral charge in the early 80's and the family was wonderfully hospitable to a pair of young mainlanders. far from familiar surroundings. They were virtually the first to meet our newborn son, born in Gander hospital, and they attended the worship service led by Isaac. One of the daughters is a United Church minister in Ontario and she brought her parents to the service.

It got me thinking about ongoing contacts with those I served in six pastoral charges through the decades. I have been conscientious about not meddling in congregations I've left, and rarely return for any reason. We've also been cautious about developing friendships in congregations because of concerns about favouritism. Respecting boundaries is important in the UCC. Yet in the past couple of months we've connected with folk from all six charges.

Earlier in May we attended the memorial service for the music director's wife in Sudbury, where I was minister for eleven years. It was both terribly sad and a welcome reconnection with many fine people from a congregation I left twenty years ago. Ruth has continued to be connected with a circle of women there, which included the person who died.

I have been corresponding with a friend in Colorado whose wedding I performed while in Halifax. This was a second marriage for two people whose spouses had died, and a very happy occasion. We have stayed in touch despite the move across the continent. Now the husband has Alzheimer's and I've talked with the wife about living faithfully alongside a loved one who is drifting away.

We've also shared meals with friends from my penultimate congregation and participated in a potluck here recently. We were invited to this event on short notice and it was wonderful to see people who have been vitally involved in the meal ministries of Bridge St. Church. We find that we need to be most cautious in this community because I both served and retired here.

These connections are deeply meaningful despite the expectations of keeping a respectful distance as the former pastor. God brought us together and as a couple we benefitted greatly from the kindness and hospitality and wise counsel of so many. Even though I was called to serve I learned the way of Christ in each community, and I continue to be grateful.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Speaking the Truth about a Climate Emergency

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Recently the Guardian which is both a newspaper and online chose to change the terminology it uses to report on climate and the imminent threat of catastrophic change. It has updated its style guide to introduce terms which it feels more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world. Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.    

In the Guardian's release about the new style guide editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner says that " We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for

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I saw this last week, then this morning CBC Metro Morning interviewed a climate reporter from the Guardian about this, as well as a professor from the University of Toronto who supports the changes in language. She offered that terms such as global warming sound rather comforting like a plate of fresh-baked cookies rather than a threat to humanity and all other creatures. We heard that the CBC is now open to using similar terminology in its reporting.

While we know that there are plenty of deniers and minimizers in the political realm, including the premier of this province,  the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, talked of the “climate crisis” in September, adding: “We face a direct existential threat.” The climate scientist professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a former adviser to Angela Merkel, the EU and Pope Francis, also uses “climate crisis.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Jimmy Carter, at the Head of his Class

GP: Jimmy Carter Teaches Sunday School in Plains, Georgia 190428
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter prepares to teach Sunday school
at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia on April 28, 2019.
Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Former President Jimmy Carter broke his hip earlier this month and had it surgically repaired. For many 94-year-olds this might be the beginning of the end. But Carter is a remarkably resilient man and while he was a little frustrated that he missed the end of turkey hunting season he was planning to return to teaching Sunday School almost immediately. He did miss the May 19th class but could return for June.

Carter has taught an adult Sunday School class for decades and it is very popular. It meets in the sanctuary of Maranatha Baptist Church in Georgia and while it seats 350, sometimes people are turned away. The class is at 10:00 but visitors are asked to be there for 9:00 and many are there before the doors open at 8:00. Impressive.

Various celebs attend the class from time to time and recently Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg  and his husband, Chasten Glezman, joined the large crowd. Buttigieg is rattling the cage of US politics because he openly gay and openly Christian. At Carter's invitation Buttigieg stood and read from the Bible as part of the lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church. Other Democratic candidates have attended as well.

I love that Carter still leads the class, and that his Christian faith is inclusive and welcoming. Nuff said.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Gratitude for Two-Four Weekend

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In Canada this is the "find out who has a cottage/camp" for congregations with low attendance and a reminder of things to come for the next four to five months. Summer used to be July and August in most mainline congregations but now it stretches from this holiday weekend until the Sunday after Thanksgiving in October.

This is the Victoria Day Weekend, a national holiday honouring a British monarch from the 19th century -- go figure. A lot of people get in touch with their inner hoser on what is sometimes called the Two-Four Weekend, a reference to the case of beer which will be a staple at many gatherings.

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We will attend worship in the congregation pastored by our son with people who were among the first to meet him when he was born in Newfoundland. I served a five-point pastoral charge of outport congregations and Isaac was born in Gander. We loved the rugged beauty of the province and have revisited Newfoundland and these folk many times. One of the daughters of the family was a "tween" at the time and is now a United Church minister in Ontario.

Wherever we have lived we have enjoyed the gifts of Creation even though I also served downtown congregations in urban centres such as Sudbury and Halifax. Through the decades we've noticed that Canadians yearn for the outdoor experience on weekends such as these, yet insist on bringing urban/suburban life with them, as much as possible. This includes an impressive array of noise-making machines, including personal water craft and portable music. In many parks these are being curtailed or banned, and on this weekend alcohol is prohibited because people do goofy things when they over-imbibe.

After worship today we'll head to Sandbanks Provincial Park for a picnic with family and these friends. Will it be a religious experience? I know I'll be grateful to God, once again, for the remarkable gift of this extraordinary country, from sea to sea to sea.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Whose Womb Is it?

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I haven't blogged much about abortion through the years, nor did I ever preach on the subject -- not even once. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a meaningful topic for discussion and in fact I did so on a number of occasions with members of my congregations. In some instances it was with those who were contemplating an abortion, and in one circumstance it was a woman who had an abortion and was wracked with guilty afterward, convinced that it had been an irresponsible choice based on convenience. I always attempted to be non-judgmental and supportive in the decision-making process and prayed with these individuals. I also had members who were former Roman Catholics and bewildered that this was virtually the only taboo topic in the United Church.

This is a tough subject for me because I have strong convictions about the sanctity of life. As an undergraduate student I took an ethics course with a wise professor who noted that humans are most vulnerable at the beginning and end of life and saw it as a moral and ethical and, I think, sacred responsibility for society to care for the vulnerable. I've never understand the hard and fast rules individuals and cultures establish about when life begins. I've mourned with couples who are devastated by the death - I use the word death -- of fetuses they considered children, even though they were still within the legal parameters for abortion.

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All this noted, I am appalled by what it happening in the United States as legislatures, usually comprised of powerful, aging men are passing punitive and restrictive laws around abortion. Alabama has passed legislation which all but makes abortion illegal and could punish women with lengthy prison terms, even in situations of rape and incest, including minors.

In the debate sanctimonious men waxed on about the preciousness of the life God had created. Meanwhile, Alabama has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States and a high rate of maternal mortality.  Pro-life in many states appears to be pro-birth, with little regard for the safety of children and women. The day after the governor (a woman) signed this legislation into law an inmate was subjected to the death penalty. Again, pro-life seems to be pro-birth.

One woman legislator who had the courage to oppose this legislation challenged the men saying "now you're in my womb, and I want you out" - great line.  She wondered if they would propose a "castration bill" for the men who sexually assaulted women.

This situation is bizarre, yet not surprising given that the president makes up stories about women sitting with doctors planning infanticide. These are terrible lies, yet Trump's "base" which includes many evangelical Christians swallows them whole.

Here in Canada the number of abortions has declined steadily with the provision of freedom of choice, access to birth control, and clear sex ed in schools. However we might feel about the sanctity of life, we can't impose our values on those who will give birth to children and be entrusted with their care.

Perhaps this is the time to enter into honest conversation about abortion in this country, especially as Conservative governments are being elected in provinces and MPP's and MLA's (yup, men) are emboldened to publicly oppose freedom of choice.

What do you think, dear readers? Could this happen here?

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Historic Strike & a Living Wage

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  Prayers of the People: 

As we remember history, O God,may we be prompted to think about today, 
and hear your call to build a better tomorrow.
 From the “hello girls” of the Salter Street telephone exchange,
 who urged the next shift not to go to work,but to join the strike four hours early, 
may we learn from these 500 women
 there is no time like the present:the struggle for justice cannot wait. 
From the returning World War I veterans,
 who risked their lives for a better world 
and came home to find their families hungry, 
who marched down the streets of the profiteers,may we, too, 
speak truth to power, and sing the songs of justice.

 From Helen Armstrong and William Ivens and J.S. Woodsworth,

 may we learn to put our beliefs into action
 In a time when it was difficult not to be English,
 in a time when Indigenous and Metis peoples 
 were shoved to the margins of history, 
in a time of fear of those labelled “foreign”, 
may we, like the Winnipeg strikers of 1919, 
make common cause for justice,and call each other sister, brother.
 In a world that would divide us,may we bear each other’s burdens and know
 an injury to one injures us all.T
his we pray in the name of Jesus who turned the tables...

barb janes

You may have noticed that this week marks the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, a work stoppage which spread throughout the city.On May 15, 1919, women who operated telephones refused to go to work, followed by trade workers, soon followed by thousands of other unionized and non-unionized workers ranging from clerical workers and bakers, to streetcar drivers and police officers.The strike lasted six weeks, as workers fought for higher wages, better working conditions and the right to collective bargaining. This would be the largest strike in Canadian history with 30,000 workers off their jobs. 

The strike quickly became an ugly confrontation with politicians and business leaders claiming that Bolshevik foreigners were behind it, a claim that was never substantiated but supported by Winnipeg newspapers. The federal government stepped in to put down the protests, arresting leaders and attacking those at rallies. The violence injured about 30 people and killed two. Known as Bloody Saturday, the day ended with federal troops occupying the city’s streets.

 Photo of mounted troops galloping around a bend in the road at Main St 
and Market Ave on Bloody Saturday, 21 June 1919.
I had only a vague awareness of the strike but thanks to the research of long-time friend and colleague, Robin Wardlaw I discovered that faith leaders, Christians and Jews, were involved as an expression of their Social Gospel convictions. Robin collaborated with other United Church clergy to create a package of worship materials acknowledging these important weeks in the history of the Labour Movement in Canada.

Why should we care now? In Ontario the current government shelved plans to move the minimum wage upward to a more livable $15. There are many thousands in this province and elsewhere who are the working poor, with pay so low they must avail themselves of food banks and meal programs. 

It has become common for some to dismiss the labour movement and unions as outdated or protecting the undeserving or downright greedy. They have forgotten the sacrifices made by earlier generations to establish safe working conditions and reasonable pay,

There is still a need for voices seeking justice on behalf of those who are marginalized. And there is still a place for communities of faith to support this cause. 

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Silent No More - Mental Health Month

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A few days ago there was a Twitter alert about an Ottawa Supreme Court Justice who had mysteriously gone missing during the workday. Was this the adult version of an Amber Alert, I wondered? What sort of emergency would lead to him absenting himself from the courtroom? It was serious enough to trigger a police search.

It turned out that Justice Clement Gascon was experiencing a mental health episode. This capable 59-year-old judge went through what thousands of Canadians deal with on a regular basis. They aren't public figures and "newsworthy" but their realities are no less significant than his. 

During my years of ministry I responded to the mental health concerns of scores, perhaps hundreds of parishioners. Some of them were what we might consider extreme, including psychotic and delusional behaviour. One woman showed up at my study door early on a Sunday morning to announce that she was Jesus, returned as a woman! Other highly intelligent and skilled persons dealt with bipolar illness which sometimes led to hospitalization. Sadly some took their own lives and I was required to preside at funerals and comfort devastated families. 

The majority of people simply carried on in the midst of their mental health issues, often with a toll on family life and work. Some "self-medicated" (I'm not partial to that term) with negative consequences.

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There were many positive situations as well, where individuals found solace and strength in their faith and faith community, and sought help from medical professionals. Some who had been in the very depths of despair returned to balanced life and contentment.

I appreciate that Justice Gascon released a statement explaining what had transpired that day. This is  Mental Health Month and his courage reminds us that no matter who we are or what we achieve we are subject to pressures in life which can be overwhelming. We can seek support and speak honestly about the challenges we face. Communities of faith can be instrumental in doing so, although sadly this isn't always the case.

Here is a portion of Justice Gascon's statement:

For over 20 years, I have been dealing with a sometimes insidious illness: depression and anxiety disorders, This is an illness that can be treated and controlled, some days better than others. On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, affected both by the recent announcement of a difficult and heart-rending career decision, and by a change in medication, I conducted myself in an unprecedented and unaccustomed manner by going out without warning and remaining out of touch for several hours. I can neither explain nor justify what I understand to have been a panic attack, and I wish to apologize most profusely to all those who suffered as a result.”

 Although I know that I cannot erase what happened, I wish to put it behind me and look ahead. I have learned important lessons from it and will continue to do so over time, and with the necessary patience and assistance on which I know I can count. 

It's gratifying to hear that Gascon has received strong support from colleagues since this incident. Did you hear about this? What did you think? Any other comments or observations? 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Early Morning & Our Daily Bread

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I retired nearly two years ago and I now sleep in most days...I wish. If I make it to 6:30 I'm shocked and some days I'm up a couple of hours earlier. Literally no rest for the wicked?

Since CBC Radio Metro Morning doesn't begin until after the 5:30 news I sometimes listen to the BBC's Business Daily, because that's what's served up by the CBC at this ungodly hour. Last week I heard a refreshingly interesting piece called The Price of Bread. I may have been eating toast as I listened.

It described the history of bread, reminding listeners that bread and beer (liquid bread) were once key staples of a worker's diet and that bread could require 50% of wages. It wasn't very tasty bread either, at least not by 21st Century standards. It was dense and not very refined (no, this isn't another anti-Trump rant.)

It was interesting to hear that commercially produced bread has lots of added gluten to goose the process along, which may be why some people who aren't celiacs figure they're gluten intolerant. And I was amazed to learn about the hoops French bakers jump through to qualify to make a baguette.

Bread has been key to civilization and bread was holy stuff. As a historian put it, virtually all religions had grain offerings and a version of "give us this day our daily bread." The Jewish grain harvest festival called Shavuot was known as Pentecost in Greek. Remember that in the Acts of the Apostles the dispirited followers of the crucified and Risen Christ were in Jerusalem for this festival when the Holy Spirit came and all heaven broke lose? 

I've written about how Ruth, my wife, has baked bread for communion in congregations for more than two decades in her one-person resistance campaign against those tasteless micro-squares of the past.  Her usual recipe is for a very aromatic and full-flavoured bread and people love it -- taste and see that the Lord is good..."  She does so now in our son, Isaac's congregation, which is now our church home. The reviews have been very positive. 

What are your thoughts about bread? Do you appreciate why consuming it is a religious experience?  

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Rain is Over and Gone

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 The rain is over and gone,
And the winter is passing by,
The time for singing has come,
And the clouds have parted from the sky. 

Arise, my love, and come away,
For lo! the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone,
Over and gone, my love,
Come away, my fair one, come away. 

We will rise and go to the city,
The city without any walls,
Where we can live in freedom,
To the new Jerusalem we’re called. 

Arise, my love, my fair one,
For lo! the winter is gone,
The flowers appear on the earth again,
And the time for singing has come. 

Sing of life and love and laughter,
Sing of freedom to live in peace,
And there shall be no more crying,
Only joy that will never cease.

 The Rain Is Over And Gone Song of Solomon  Additional words: Paul Halley

When we attended the memorial service for a friend in Sudbury recently we assumed that it would be well attended (it was) and that there would be thoughtful and loving tributes (there were.) There was also remarkable music with stirring hymns accompanied by the pipe organ and two beautiful anthems. The congregational choir was augmented by members from community and university choral groups, bringing the total to about 40 voices. 

A family friend was the soloist for one of the anthems and she was splendid. The anthem was The Rain is Over and Gone, by Paul Halley, a piece which is one of Ruth's favourites, and the lyrics are a paraphrase and augmentation of a passage of scripture from Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, chapter two, which is one of my favourites. 

It is hard to imagine anyone present not being moved by this anthem and I said after the service concluded that it was the most meaningful choral piece I've ever heard sung at a funeral or memorial. In retrospect, it may have been the most meaningful anthem I've heard in any worship service through my lifetime, and I've appreciated scores of them by some very good choirs. 

What a reminder of the tremendous spiritual power of music which finds its way to the very core of our being. So often through my years of ministry it was the anthem which allowed me a few moments of worship within a service I was leading.

In these days when many mainline/old-line congregations struggle to muster any sort of  choir, let alone a good one, and some contemporary faith communities include pieces which can be (not always) more performance than praise, we should savour every moment when God is glorified and hearts moved by music. 

I can only hope that this piece brought consolation and hope to a grieving family. 


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Monday, May 13, 2019

Mourning Rachel Held Evans

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 I follow a number of Christian writers on social media from a variety of perspectives. While Twitter tends to be the home of sound bites rather than in-depth thought the conversations can be intriguing. One of those persons is 30-something Rachel Held Evans, who grew up in the strange hothouse of American evangelicalism. Her first book, written about a decade ago, was Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions. She immediately drew a following from those who were questioning the maddening certitude of right-wing Christians.

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As Held Evans developed an online presence she came under constant attack from those who saw her as a traitor to "true faith" and at the same time became a virtual pastor to many who had become disaffected by that brand of faith. She went on to write about a different approach to worship which eventually led her and husband Dan to become Episcopalians (Anglicans.) She challenged patriarchy and took a boldly LGBTQ-inclusive stance, and decried the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration, all of which resulted in more haters and a growing number of those who found hope in her intelligent, "draw the circle wide" outlook. She collaborated in founding conferences which drew together the spiritual refugees who loved her.

Her final book was Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. As the title suggests, it is about how we read scripture lovingly without the selectively literalism of the American Right. 

I say final book because Rachel Held Evans died last week at the age of 37. It was shocking news. One day she was the mother of two young children, balancing family life with her career. She tweeted about not being well, thanking Dan for his parental role, then about needing to be hospitalized. There she began experiencing seizures and was put into a medically-induced coma. Although thousands prayed for her recovery, including many of the younger writers and theologians she inspired, she died without regaining consciousness.

 I didn't read RHE's books because she was writing about the theological shifts made by the United Church decades ago. The UCC has manifold faults, but there are tremendous strengths in our commitment to inclusivity and willingness to address the hard questions of faith. I appreciate that she "fought the good fight" with feistiness but without the toxic belligerence which infects so much of supposed discourse in the United States. 

God be with the family of Rachel Held Evans in their devastating loss. Thank you for her bold and intelligent witness. She will be deeply missed.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother and Child Reunion

 Asia Bibi

Mother's Day is not a Christian holiday, although it has been celebrated in many churches as though it is a saints day, or a lone exception to the practice of idolatry. When I served an outport pastoral charge in Newfoundland in the early 80's I was aghast at the tradition of extolling mothers in worship services with hardly a mention of God.

Today I will celebrate a Pakistani Christian mother who has just been reunited with her children here in Canada. Asia Bibi was an illiterate farm worker who was falsely accused of blasphemy against the prophet, Muhammed, by Muslim co-workers. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. She spent eight years in solitary confinement before she was acquitted by Pakistan's Supreme Court last October.

Bibi's life was still in danger after her release from prison and only recently she was given permission to leave the country. Her children have been in Canada for a while and they are finally back together.

This has been an ugly example of religious persecution and a reminder that even as we decry anti-Jewish and anti-Islamic sentiments we must pray and act on behalf of brothers and sisters in Christ who are targeted because of their faith. 

I have no idea whether Mother's Day is celebrated in Pakistan, but I'm grateful that this family has been reunited here in Canada. Prayers of gratitude are in order.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Jean Vanier, Caritas, and "Ordinary Things"

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 “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefor unloveable. 
 Loneliness is a taste of death.
 No wonder some people who are desperately lonely
 lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.” 

Becoming Human Jean Vanier

 “One of the marvelous things about community 
is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. 
When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, 
we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, 
and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.” 

Community And Growth Jean Vanier
So much has been written about Canadian ex-pat Jean Vanier in the few days since his death, all celebrating his remarkable life, which ended at age 90. He felt blessed by his long earthly existence and was prepared for what God had in store. The CBC spoke of his "charitable work" with the movement he founded for the physically and cognitively challenged called L'Arche, or Ark. My immediate response was that Vanier's work was not charity, it was caritas, an expansive and inclusive Christian love. Charity runs the risk of being "what we do for them" while for Vanier there was no "them", only us, together. 
There are now L'Arche communities in 35 countries on five continents but it began with Vanier inviting two men with disabilities into his home in a village in France in 1964. What a simple yet remarkable beginning.

Jean Vanier has been described as a modern-day saint, which suggests spiritual superstardom. He was a such a gentle, humble man, even speaking before thousands. And his unrelenting emphasis was on community, our life together as the followers of Jesus the Christ. Another exceptional Christian, Henri Nouwen, gave up his rather exalted status to work in a L'Arche community north of Toronto.

L'Arche is his legacy, so he won't be forgotten. I thank God for his witness. While we may not be spiritual giants we can all live into loving, accepting Christian community. As he put it “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. ” 

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Thursday, May 09, 2019

Where is My Internet Sevice?

I’m frustrated that my internet provider is Missing in action and will be for a couple of days. There’s a lot I wish I could muse about right now, including mental health week. Posting via my phone is just too frustrating, at least at length. Please keep looking for new blogs!