Thursday, October 31, 2019
This is the beginning of Hallowe'en, All Saints, and All Souls in the Christian calendar and on Sunday many congregations will celebrate the "superstar" saints and the regular folk who have been Christ's "saintly" people in our lives.
I suppose it's appropriate that a new film called Harriet, a docu-drama about the life of slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman which will be released tomorrow, on All Saints Day. Harriet portrays this courageous woman as something other than the elderly woman in the few photographs which exist or the rather dour figure on the proposed US dollar bill.
Tubman escaped to freedom but returned to slave states repeatedly to help others do the same -- roughly 70 in total. She was an integral part of the Underground Railroad which led to Canada. I've written about the little church called Bethel Chapel in St Catherines, Ontario, which was where Tubman worshiped during a nearly ten year residency in that community.
As a child she was called Minty and took on her middle name, Harriet, when she was married. Here is a paragraph from a review of the film in the New Yorker which reminds us of the importance of her faith and the biblical stories which give her strength:
Guided by her prophetic visions, Minty declares her intent in code, singing by night a song of farewell, with reference to a journey to the Promised Land and an escape from Pharaoh’s yoke, that holds a magnificent symbolic place in the movie; it’s a vision of cultural resistance and its elusive complexities. With its Biblical references, Minty’s song can “pass” in white society as abstractly beautiful and politically neutral, but for those who share her experience it’s a personal declaration, a collective affirmation, an act of revolt.
I do hope that Harriet comes to a "theatre near me" in the not too distant future. I want to learn more about the witness of this "saint" who has a strong Canadian connection.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Broadview Magazine, formerly the United Church Observer, contains an excerpt from a new book called Soar, Adam Soar. It is written by Rick Prashaw about his son Adam, who died in an accident, and includes Adam's social media insights. The intro to Chapter 3 gives us a perspective on this young man:
Adam Prashaw’s life was full of surprises from the moment he was born. Assigned female at birth, and with parents who had been expecting a boy, he spent years living as “Rebecca Danielle Adam Prashaw” before coming to terms with being a transgender man. Adam captured hearts with his humour, compassion and intensity. After a tragic accident cut his life short, he left a legacy of changed lives and a trove of social media posts documenting his life, relationships, transition and struggles with epilepsy, all with remarkable transparency and directness.
While I'm sure Rick has been a loving parent to the children from Suzanne's first marriage I feel a deep sense of sadness and poignancy in reading about the loss of the son they brought into the world together. I'm impressed that he has written about Adam with such love and acceptance and pray that they experience God's embrace.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Silence is essential for human health, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Study after study indicates that there are physiological and psychological implications to excessive noise and that silence can create a sense of well-being and creativity. Noise can create stress in other animals, on land and in water, and we might assume that silence benefits them as well.
There are plenty of passages in scripture which silence is the fertile place for communion with God and key figures are attuned to the Creator when they are in solitude and away from the hustle and bustle of human-made sounds. Elijah and Moses and Jesus are the obvious examples. But what about Hagar when she is sent into the wilderness? In her desperate silence God comes to her. Paul had his sojourn in the desert as well, a rather mysterious period before he began his hectic missionary activity.
Recently I read about Paul Goodman's Nine Kinds of Silence for the first time. I'd never heard of Goodman before, but he was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, public intellectual & gay-rights activist who was influential in the 1960's. I am intrigued by his categories particularly the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos. This resonates with many of those biblical stories and my own experience.
Paul Goodman Nine Kinds of Silence
Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world,
and there are kinds and grades of each.
There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy;
the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face;
the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts;
the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”;
the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity;
the silence of listening to another speak,
catching the drift and helping him be clear;
the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination,
loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it;
the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.
What do you think about these forms of silence?
Monday, October 28, 2019
Christ Mocked --Cimabue
It's one of those stories which pops up in the news from time to time about unexpected wealth in the form of priceless art discovered on the wall of a home. In this case an elderly woman in France decided to sell her house and family brought in an auctioneer to evaluate furniture. He noticed a small painting above the hotplate in the kitchen. He was sure it was of significance and art experts were engaged to assess it.
What unfolded was familiar in terms of rigorous examination with the use of infrared technology and other high-tech tools. It was established that it was part of a polyptych, a multi-panelled painting, and it is a rare work by Cimabue, a teacher of Giotto and a key figure in the birth of the Renaissance movement. I know, you haven't heard of either of them, but as an art history grad I immediately paid attention. Before auction is was estimated to fetch three to six million euros but brought 24 million, which is about 35 million Canadian dollars. Not bad for a small piece which is only part of the whole, and that the elderly soul couldn't remember acquiring. The painting now ranks alongside works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt and Raphael in the top 10 of most expensive paintings of the era.
These stories always focus on the big bucks (or euros), of course. I wonder whether the woman appreciated it for other reasons. It is entitled Christ Mocked, which probably refers to the public scorning of Jesus which took place in three stages: immediately following his trial, immediately following his condemnation by Pontius Pilate, and when he was being crucified. According to the gospels Jesus foretold this on several occasions. Is this woman religious and the painting was an object for devotion? Or did it just show up in her life and on her wall at some point? We'll probably never know.
So many of these wildly valuable works of art were created for use in places of worship, as this one was. They served to teach illiterate people the important stories of Christian faith. Sadly, the devotional aspect has now faded into the background of our materialistic society.
Any thoughts about this story? Are you looking at your painting of the dogs playing poker more closely?
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Take time to be holy, speak oft with your Lord;
abide in him always, and feed on his word.
Make friends of God's children, help those who are weak,
forgetting in nothing his blessing to seek.
Voices United 672
This morning I bring into this circle of prayer
(thanks for…concern for…personal need for…)
The promised deluge through the night and into the early morning unfolded as forecast. Did it ever rain hard for a while! I wondered whether I would be alone for an inaugural prayer gathering at our church home, Trenton United. Getting together to pray can be daunting for UCC folk. We prayer often in worship and lots of meetings commence with prayer, as long as the official prayer person, aka clergy, does the deed. What I discovered through the years is that United Church types do pray, but few feel comfortable with sharing in prayer, let alone offering prayers aloud.
Today there were six of us at 9:45 and I was gentle as we got going. We committed to confidentiality, then I invited those in our circle to write down prayer requests with the simple format above. We all did so, I collected them, then voiced them on the spot. Some were for others dealing with illness and one was for an impending surgery. We prayed for the congregational board, including the chair, who was present, recognizing that this is a challenging time when it comes to discerning what it means to be faithful to Christ, including a presence in the broader community. We prayed that we could look outward when the temptation is to turn inward.
We also prayed for the paid staff by name, including our pastor who happens to be our son Isaac. Then we concluded in unison with a prayer by Thomas Merton which I've always appreciated. Hey, our first meeting was small in numbers, and nothing spectacular happened. Then we went and prayed some more with the rest of the congregation. And we heard about an arrogant religious guy who uses prayer to "pump his own tires" and a humble tax collector who approaches God in humility.
Was it worth it to gather early with just a handful of us? It certainly was from my perspective and I'm prepared to invite folk into the circle of God's love through prayer a month down the road. Six was just the right number for today, because that was who God brought together. Maybe the circle will grow.
Is your congregation a prayin' bunch? Do you feel awkward praying, even if you feel that it's important? Does your faith community provide opportunities for interactive prayer?
THOMAS MERTON'S PRAYER
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
Friday, October 25, 2019
We watched all twelve episodes of an intriguing Netflix series called Criminal which has three of those episodes set in each of Britain, France, and Spain, and Germany. They all take place in a police interview room with suspects in various criminal activities and we realized along the way that it is the same room and setting for all twelve (they were filmed in Madrid.)
Episode 3 in the British series involves the interrogation of a lorry (truck) driver who makes trips back and forth to the European continent. He is suspected of being involved in human smuggling and in order to avoid spoiling your viewing, time is of the essence in gleaning information from him. Jay, the driver, is anxious about the legal consequences, afraid of his handlers, and overwhelmed by the possibility that he has harmed other human beings.
We are witnessing this scenario unfold with grim accuracy at the moment. A truck with the bodies of 39 people has been discovered in Essex, Britain and a driver in his mid-20's has been charged with manslaughter, along with another man. Police are attempting to piece together what has transpired and it now appears that the people who perished are originally from China and somehow ended up being smuggled from Belgium through a small UK port in a Bulgarian vehicle.
This sad situation is a reminder that human smuggling and human trafficking are a daily reality around the world, and very complex. In most instances we are totally oblivious about what is transpiring. We get glimpses of the dark reality when migrants die crossing the Mediterranean, or are incarcerated in inhumane conditions along the Mexico/US border, or a human trafficking ring is broken up along the Highway 410 corridor. It's tempting to shake our heads in disbelief and simply move on. After all, what can we do? Even police forces, including the RCMP struggle to make a dent in this scourge.
I hope we all realize that the traffic in human desperation and suffering is real, and will likely intensify as the global population grows and more people end up on the move as climate refugees.
As Christians we can make sure we are informed and regularly include migrants and refugees in our prayers, individually and in our faith communities.
Migrant Children in US Detention Facility
Thursday, October 24, 2019
Earlier this year several members of our family met at Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston to inter the cremated remains of my late mother, Margaret, who died last November. We listened to scripture, sang, prayed, and placed the lovely urn, crafted by a cousin, into the niche. It was a sunny day and this cemetery is older with lots of mature trees. We resisted Mom's earlier notion that she be buried in the same grave site as our Dad, who died 15 years earlier. They separated and divorced a long time ago, and we imagined him mansplaining to her for eternity.
The arrangements took a fair amount of time on the part of my brother, Eric, and of course we had to coordinate getting family members together. Oh yes, it also costs money. We certainly felt Mom deserved to be treated with dignity in death, as in life.
I saw a CBC article out of Nova Scotia about the challenge for the funeral industry as it deals with unclaimed remains in the form of ashes. Some have been languishing in funeral homes for forty years! There are lots of reasons listed for this, including the fact that lots of families are clueless about how all this works. In some cases funeral homes have trouble tracking families down, and the government is considering new regulations. I've had my own conversations with exasperated funeral directors who have so many urns that they've run out of storage. It's not as though they can hold a yard sale.
An aspect not discussed in the article is that as our society becomes less religious the rituals around death and dying are changing, and disappearing. Many in society figure this is a good thing, but leaving your loved ones ashes to gather dust in a funeral home back room or on the mantle piece is hardly a positive liberation from convention. Remember the scene with the cat in Meet the Parents?
I'm glad there is greater flexibility for families and waiting nearly eight months for interment worked best for us. Everyone deserves respect, just the same, and perhaps it's time to revisit the bigger picture of "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
I wrote earlier this week about the Amazon Synod, the gathering of clerics and Indigenous representatives to discuss substantive issues for the Roman Catholic church in that region. Members of the patriarchal and hierarchical resistance to change in the RC church spoke out against images of naked, pregnant women which were amongst the art brought by Indigenous persons to Rome. Apparently Mary, the mother of Jesus, is to revered, but any acknowledgment that women get pregnant and are often naked when they give birth is to be considered pagan.
These symbols were on display in a side chapel of a church in Rome when they were stolen, by a couple of men, and dumped into the nearby Tiber River. The thieves made a video of their theft, so it was meant to challenge the efforts of Pope Francis and the Vatican to be respectful of Indigenous peoples.
I hope authorities catch the thieves and reveal the source of this pathetic act of vandalism. Again, I'm impressed at the efforts by the Roman Catholic church to enter into what can be a healing conversation with those whose forbearers were often brutalizes and murdered in God's name. We can pray for those who will be dismayed by what has unfolded.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
I've expressed some fairly crazy thoughts about the Canadian federal election outcome in my Groundling blog today, and I invite you to click the link to decide whether I need professional help. It could be because I stayed up way past my regular bedtime following coverage... 11 o'clock!
Monday, October 21, 2019
God’s people are called to faithfully engage with the world around them to help shape a space for the kin-dom of God to become manifest. Many of our communities of faith serve those who are vulnerable, feed those who are hungry, house those who are homeless, and advocate with the most vulnerable. In these actions, the churches answer God’s call. Choosing to vote is another way for individuals to answer that call.
United Church of Canada
As we were getting ready to head out the door to vote this morning we listened to a funny piece on CBC radio by the guys who brought us the late, great This is That. It was a supposed interview with the creator of Vote Butler, an app which allows us to vote by proxy for just $3.99. The faux inventor spoke of the inconvenience of voting, having to walk a block to the neighbourhood school and then wait in line for three or four minutes to cast our ballot. We laughed out loud and then walked a block or so to the Lutheran church where we had no line at all. The entire arduous experience took all of twenty minutes.
We know that Canadians tend to be apathetic about exercising their democratic right to vote, although nearly five million did so in advance polls, including a record number of college and university students.
It's important to remember that women weren't given the right to vote in Canada until 1918. Indigenous men were allowed to vote in federal elections while they were in military service during the world wars (how generous!) but so-called Status Indians weren't granted the vote until 1960. It's outrageous that members of First Nations were non-persons for so long when it came to electing leaders.
Is voting a Christian duty? Jesus certainly didn't have the right to vote, but the notion of a democracy was rare in the ancient world and really didn't take hold until the 18th century, and at great cost. There are Christian groups such as the Amish and Hutterites and Jehovah's Witnesses which don't vote. Others, such as the Roman Catholic church, our United Church, prepare guides to help their members make informed decisions based on their Christian values. There are resources for worship and prayer as well.
I do think voting is both a privilege and a duty, and always encouraged members of congregations to get to the polls, regardless of their political leanings. Christianity is a religion of hope and Jesus encouraged us to love our neighbours as ourselves. So, apathy and cynicism are not options for those who follow him.
Get going on loading that Vote Butler app...
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Mazinaw Lake Bon Echo Lookout -- photo Ruth Mundy
Our pastor gave us permission not to attend worship this morning. Well, our pastor is our son Isaac, and we kinda told him we wouldn't be there. He was gracious about it though.
The forecast called for a mix of sun and cloud and a high temperature of 16C, so we wanted to blow town with a canoe on the roof, which we did. We weren't sure if Bon Echo Provincial Park would still be open, but it was worth a try. It turns out that this is the last day of the season, so our timing was downright...Providential?
After an early start we were there by 9:30 and virtually alone at the boat launch, a hopeful portent. We traveled along the awe-inspiring cliffs of Mazinaw Lake, the headwaters of our Canadian Mississippi River which flows to the Ottawa. The water was calm so we were able to paddle close to the mystical pictographs, the red ochre paintings which Indigenous people created hundreds of years ago. Why did they choose these rock faces at water's edge for their creativity.
And it was as close to silent as we get in Southern Ontario. The water lapped against the rocks and echoed in the fissures here and there. We also climbed the cliffs along the park trail and looked out at the Fall colours bordering the upper and lower portions of the lake.
Mazinaw Lake cliff -- photo Ruth Mundy
All this was holy for us, and not the least of it was the quiet. By the time we returned to our launch point it was active with many inept greenhorns heading out from shore (I'm unabashedly judgmental when it comes to paddling.)
At the gas station on the way home a snarling Harley Davidson motorcycle pulled in behind me with radio blaring. In our court the leaf blowers and lawn mowers were united in the choir from hell. This my friends is civilization.
The other day I read an article by Azriel Reshel with the title: Science Says Silence is Vital for Our Brains. In it he points to a WHO study which says that noise literally robs us of health:
In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) examined and quantified its health burden in Europe. It concluded that the 340 million residents of Western Europe (about the population of the United States), were losing a million years of healthy life every year, due to noise. WHO also said that the root cause of 3,000 heart disease deaths was due to excessive noise.
Religions have always valued silence and solitude as a way of being attuned to God, although we seem to have forgotten this in our clamorous world. Worship would have been meaningful with our Christian community, I'm sure. I am glad, though, that we were far from the madding crowd for at least a few hours. Now, to hold on to the gift of silence in the week ahead.
Mazinaw Pictograph -- photo Ruth Mundy
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Authorities Seal Church in Algeria
Eight years ago I wrote about the film Of Gods and Men which dramatized the story of a small groups of Roman Catholic monks who lived peacefully and respectfully alongside Muslim neighbours in the Atlas mountains of Algeria. They provided medical care to neighbours and entered into village life. They chose to stay even when they were aware of the threat of Islamicists, armed Muslim extremists. Sadly, they were taken hostage and several of the brothers were killed.
I thought of this remarkable story of courage from more than 20 years ago when I read that the two largest churches in Algeria were closed recently by police under direction of the government. When members resisted they were dragged from the buildings and some were beaten. According to a Christianity Today article:
At least 15 Protestant churches—out of only about 46 in the country—have been shuttered since January 2018, according to the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern. The country, home to just 125,000 Christians, fewer than 1 percent of the population, ranks 22nd on Open Doors’ World Watch List. Christian congregations struggle to register with the government agency tasked with regulating non-Muslim worship, per a 2006 law. It never convenes and has not issued a single approval. When they’re shut down, the congregations are sealed with a wax seal and a notice is posted saying the buildings are not authorized for religious gatherings.
Regular readers will know that I am a strong believer in inter-faith dialogue and respect for other religious traditions. I write about Islamophobia and anti-Judaism. At the same time it is essential that we uphold our sister and brothers in Christ whenever they are persecuted. Our prayers for freedom of assembly and religious expression in Algeria, and that those who are witnessing courageously to the Gospel will be safe.
Friday, October 18, 2019
We were all very aware of Swedish teen and climate activist Greta Thunberg's speech at the United Nations nearly a month ago. It was an emotional, blunt challenge to the nations of the world to stop dithering and engage in practical change for the health of our ailing planet. There is a Joan of Arc feel to Thunberg's leadership in a global youth movement, although religion or mention of a deity is simply not part of the rhetoric.
Thunberg has been widely attacked, sometimes viciously, by certain adults who seem threatened by a diminutive 16-year-old who is channeling the fears and hopes of a generation. They are the ones bringing in religion, although negatively. One called her a “deeply disturbed messiah" while the wackiest of conservative Christians call her Climate Strike campaign satanic. Holy Halloween! Meanwhile, she keeps asking those in authority to pay attention to the science.
Since the UN speech Thunberg has travelled across North America and today she is Alberta. Premier Jason Kenney and his government insist that Thunberg doesn't understand Alberta's fossil fuel production. Why then are government officials including the premier choosing not to meet with her as she leads a Fridays for Future rally. If the Conservatives in Alberta are so certain that they are on the side of the angels, what are they afraid of?
At the height of goofiness is a counter-protest by a group of oil and gas supporters who were involved in the United We Roll convoy that travelled to Ottawa in February.
I hope Thunberg gets plenty of support at the Alberta legislature today and Canadians realize what an embarrassment it is that adults who are in power are so intimidated by a kid on a mission. She may be the child, but the childishness of the grown-ups is rampant. God be with her.
Update: Greta spoke before a crowd of 4.000 or more in Edmonton, a reminder that not all Albertans want to ignore the realities of climate change nor are anti-Fridays for Future. Meanwhile the "trolls in trucks" got as close as they could and honked horns as Thunberg and others spoke. This is not my idea of a peaceful protest.
Thursday, October 17, 2019
I see that one of the largest fast food chains in the United States just opened its first outlet in Great Britain. I was on a road trip to the States with my brother a few years back and had my first and only experience at Chick-Fil-A, which as the name suggests serves very tasty chicken sandwiches. We laughed when we discovered that the Fila-A is pronounced "filet." If you want it to sound French, why not spell it as the French do?
We had no idea that the family which founded Chick-Fil-A considers themselves to be devout Christians and have made billions despite being closed on Sundays.In his book Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People (I kid you not) the founder Truett Cathy says"closing our business on Sunday, the Lord's Day, is our way of honoring God and showing our loyalty to Him."
While keeping the sabbath holy is admirable the Cathy family's opposition to LGBTQ rights isn't. A British article about the opening says:
It is the Christian faith baked into the brand’s DNA which has resulted in its million-dollar support for groups that have opposed same-sex marriage, and for a (now-dissolved) group that promoted conversion therapy, a bogus — and discredited — ideology that casts homosexuality as a curable illness.
Protest at Chick-Fil-A opening in Toronto
It's interesting and sad that this conservative version of Christianity is described as Christian faith, without any recognition that it isn't the only one. Just the same, the Cathy family's controversial theology led to protests in Britain and in Toronto when the one and only Chick-Fil-A opened last month. As the photo above shows, protesters in TO made a rather strong statement of disapproval about the opening, the first of several planned locations in the GTA.
It's simple for me. I just won't eat there and hope that others will make decisions based on another perspective of what it means to be faithful Christian. And shouldn't it be Chick-Fil-EH in Canada?
Update: Because of the British outrage about the Chick-Fil-A opening it will close in six months. People power.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
The United Church of Canada is one of those mainline/old-line denominations which has shifted from building church structures (hundreds in the 50's and 60's) to closing and selling them. It's a sad truth about about our shrinking denomination -- as our congregations age and shrink the buildings are unsustainable.
It was interesting to read that the Heiltusk First Nation near Bella Bella, British Columbia has officially opened the first Big House in 120 years on this coast. Gvakva'aus Hailzaqv, or House of the Heiltsuk, took 18 months to build and is constructed entirely of red and yellow cedar from the territory, including logs more than a metre wide, weighing eight tonnes, that were locally sourced and milled. Christian missionaries to the area claimed that the last one was blown down in a storm but the Heiltusk people were sure that it was pulled down as another attempt to extinguish Indigenous culture. We know that potlatches and other expressions of culture were discouraged and even legally banned in the region.
This new Big House honours combines the past and present. According to a CBC report:
The new building also breaks from the historic Big House in some ways, including measures to meet provincial building codes. It has about triple the capacity, with seating for up to 800 people and space for 1,000 if people stand.
"There's a sense of pride knowing the dreams of so many ancestors are now being lived by our generation. People like my late grandfather who always talked about the Big House and how important it was aren't here anymore," Jess Housty said. "Now we're living their dreams."
I'm fascinated by initiatives from different spiritual and religious traditions to create gathering and worship spaces which give attention to tradition as well as a sense of the holy. Even when churches are built today they tend to be utilitarian and look more like big box stores than creative spaces which encourage the holy and honour the Creator. I have served Christian congregations with inspiring buildings, traditional and modern.
Congratulations to the Heiltusk nation for their dream brought to fruition. A very different building that yesterday's Westminster Abby, but no less important for those who have constructed it.