Monday, July 06, 2020

Continuing Prayers for Hong Kong

Hong Kong's huge protests, explained - YouTube

Hong Kong protest a year ago

Last year there massive protests in Hong Kong over new laws which would essentially nullify the agreement between Britain and China when the territory changed hands. This legislation would create restrictions for citizens of Hong Kong and stifle criticism of the totalitarian regime. The protests were large and peaceful at the outset, and the Christian churches were actively involved in supporting the protestors. Eventually there were violent confrontations between Chinese troops brought in to quell the protests and the more militant protestors. An easy calm ensued.

Recently the totalitarian Chinese government (to say it is communist just isn't accurate) passed laws which were even more severe, leading to the departure from Hong Kong of a number of activists. Despite international condemnation, the legislation will go into effect in September. The US government, Canada, and other nations have ended agreements which were preferential to Hong Kong, which has annoyed Chinese leaders -- what did they expect? Britain has stated that they would welcome large numbers of Hong Kong citizens as residents because China has abrogated the agreement of 1997.

What about the voices of Christians in Hong Kong in response to what has transpired? Not every Christian group adopts the same stance, and the Anglican church has maintained close ties with the Chinese government in order to continue social justice work. But an article in Christianity Today offers this:

In one of many responses by Hong Kongers, hundreds of theologians, pastors, and church leaders signed a statement accusing the draft decision of “further depriving Hong Kong of freedom and human rights.” The Christian leaders accused the Chinese government of destroying its promises and undercutting the city as an international financial center.
At a time where, quote, “darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, we fearlessly and solemnly declare the following confession and promise to our society, including our full embrace of the Gospel of the Kingdom, our sincere repentance towards the Church’s shortcomings, our absolute refusal to authoritarian government, and our determination to walk together with Hong Kong society.” the statement said.
As Hong Kong heads to the fall, the church could use prayers “for guidance and clarity for church leaders and Christians in Hong Kong and how we're going to walk this path. Because I honestly have no idea what's going to happen next,” said Ann Gillian Chu, who is completing her doctor of divinity at the University of St. Andrews in the Center for the Study of Religion and Politics and who has written widely on the theology of Hong Kong’s protest movements.
As much as we have domestic concerns in the midst of a pandemic, we must pray for the citizens of Hong Kong, for those who are still active in resistance to oppression and for the challenging situation Christians and churches find themselves in.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Worship in a Wierd World

YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry

Let's be honest, the commandment to "remember the Sabbath day  and keep it holy" hasn't been observed in secular Canada for decades now, even though it is one of the lengthiest and most detailed  There are a bunch of reasons for this, including the reality that even for religious people in our pluralistic society the equivalent of the Sabbath may be Friday, or Saturday.

For nearly four months now Sunday worship for even the most devout has been...weird. For a long time we weren't allowed to physically attend at all, and now the permission to gather is provisional. Many congregations will continue to worship virtually, often with a very different format. It's possible to watch a service on days other than Sunday, and who cares if you're in your PJ's or have the family pooch on your lap?

Most of us miss coming together to hear the Word, sing the words, and share our meal of faith. Good things do happen in alternative formats, but something seems lost in translation when we can't see, hear, and sometimes smell our brothers and sisters in Christ.

All this said, here is the link to Trenton United Church and the worship possibilities for this week. I'm one of the presiders, while Rev. Isaac is on vacay/staycay, with links to my visual and print message. Dianne provides music while wife Ruth shares a prayer from the bow of a canoe. Please join us!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Frederick Douglass & the 4th of July

Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July ...
Last evening the venal, self-aggrandizing excuse for an American president pulled a "reality TV" stunt, celebrating the 4th of July from Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Just about every aspect of this event was tone-deaf. The monument is on contested sacred land for the Lakota people and the carver had strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Two of the four presidents portrayed, Washington and Jefferson, owned a number of slaves (124 and 600+) and Jefferson fathered children with at least one of them. To ice the cake, guests at this shindig were not required to maintain physical distance and there was a "uge" fireworks display in the midst of tinder dry conditions.

Millions of Americans were appalled by this spectacle and lots of Christians denounced it and Trump's message for the race-bating mess it was.

At the same time many racialized leaders were calling for a more reflective recognition of what it means to be American by turning to the words of a former slave of the 19th century, the great orator Frederick Douglass. In one of his speeches, which were often sermons because he drew heavily on scripture and biblical imagery of freedom for all peoples, he notes that for White Americans Independence Day is akin to Passover a celebration of liberation. He eventually asked the question , "what to the slave is the 4th of July?' This question resounds in the present day when Indigenous peoples, Blacks, People of Colour are asking what equality means in the United States.

As Canadians of faith we can be in solidarity today with American brothers and sisters who will be offering an alternative to the disastrous direction a great nation is heading. Many of them will be engaged in prayer and we can pray with them.

Here is a paragraph from Douglass's speech made 168 years ago before a group of abolitionists, those working to end slavery:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Mt.Rushmore before carving. Look at those lines!! : climbing
Six Grandfathers before Mt Rushmore carving commenced in 1927

Friday, July 03, 2020

Lift Every Voice

Lift Every Voice and Sing | The Poem and Song | Black History | PBS
Lift ev'ry voice and sing
'Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on 'til victory is won
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Lift Every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson, J. Rosamond Johnson
Several major sports leagues are lurching toward reopening play, including the National Basketball Association. In keeping with the current emphasis on racial justice and equality the plan it to play a song sometimes termed the Black National Anthem before Game 1 for each franchise. The piece is called Lift Every Voice and Sing, and I have to admit that I'd never been aware of its significance before this announcement, although I have heard it.

Lift Every Voice and Sing was first performed on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 1900 and the words are inspiring and spiritual. It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother, J Rosamond Johnson. It is a celebration of freedom, a recognition of the hardships of slavery, and a hymn of praise to the God who guides us all. It is patriotic but puts God first as the source of strength for the journey. There is a sense of the biblical exodus in that final verse..

Here is an amazing contemporary rendition of Lift Every Voice.and Sing. Such talent! Such youthful exuberance!

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Justice for Migrant Workers

Advocates urge protection for migrant workers travelling to Canada ...

I realize that I have written many blog entries on migrants, refugees, and migrant workers through the years of this blog. They are usually from our current context but the bible is full of stories about migrants.

Think about Joseph and his brothers, Abram and Sarai,  the exodus from Egypt,  the story of Ruth and Naomi. Of course in the New Testament it is Jesus' family with their flight to Egypt. There are actually many other stories which shape our biblical narrative which involve people on the move for economic and political reasons, famine and war and fear of violence.

During the pandemic we've been aware of migrant workers in a different context. A few months ago politicians realized that those who come to Canada seasonally are essential to our economy, picking the crops which we have been able to take for granted in our grocery stores and on our tables despite the disruptions and turmoil all around us.

The decision was made to allow thousands of workers from Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean nations into Canada to do this work that year-round citizens don't want to do. These are people who are dedicated workers without whom we would be in a lot of trouble. Yet we have treated them poorly through the decades with high expectations, generally low wages, and sub-standard accommodation. There have been some improvements in conditions and pay over time, but we don't have anything to brag about.

Rogelio Muñoz Santos, a 24-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico, was admitted to Erie Shores Hospital in Leamington on June 1 with breathing difficulties, and transferred to an ICU in Windsor the next day. He died in hospital on June 5. (GoFundMe)

Now we hear that migrant workers in this country have been hard hit by COVID-19 and an area of the province is still in Phase 1 of the coronavirus response because there are hundreds of afflicted workers. Sadly, three have died, a terrible reality for families thousands of kilometres away.

The provincial government has come up with a plan for those who are documented, providing support through illness and return to work, demanding better conditions for workers. . But there are thousands of workers who are undocumented, earning less than minimum wage, provided with little or no protective equipment, and with the threat of deportation if they can't work because of illness. It is a miserable situation.

These circumstances should be cause for concern for Christians in Ontario as a matter of justice and compassion. It is deeply connected to the story of our faith and we can ponder what is happening every time we enjoy produce that is seasonal, local, and fresh. Surely these are people who deserve all the protections of this country when they are putting food on our tables.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day 2020: A Stay at Home Celebration - London

"A Mari usque ad Mare" or "From sea to sea," has been Canada's official motto since 1921. It is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible, Psalm 72, Verse 8: "God shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

Yesterday we searched out our Canadian flag and hung it in our front yard in anticipation of Canada Day. For us it is an important gesture, although in the past couple of years we've all become aware of the toxic threat of hyper-nationalism around the world. Often this includes "pledging allegiance to the flag" as though there is some magical power in a piece of cloth. For some this fealty is a justification for vilifying those perceived as strangers, the "other." Their supposed patriotism becomes an excuse for arrogance and hatred.

For us this version of the Canadian flag,  which was created in controversy during our childhoods,  is not and cannot be a symbol of superiority and exceptionalism, as is too often the case. It is an invitation to gratitude for the rich blessings of our lives which in many respects come through the accident of birth. That gratitude is shallow unless we choose to look to the wellbeing of others because we have been blessed.

In this country it must mean a renewed commitment to reconciliation and reciprocity with First Nations and other Indigenous peoples. It means celebrating the contributions of immigrants and redoubling our efforts to welcome refugees. It means choosing governments which provide leadership on the world stage for justice and peace.

In the end, though, our first allegiance is to Christ, not to any flag or nation. If we ever forget this then our understanding of the gospel has been perverted and we have become idolatrous.

Well, happy Canada Day. We're not having a stay-at-home Canada Day. We are heading out to paddle on a lake surrounded by pines on a glorious summer day. Thank you, God, for the richness of our lives, from sea to sea!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

When "Freedom" translates as "Selfishness"

What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in ...

First Baptist Church Dallas Texas

By now most of us have seen the videos of  men and women raging away like spoiled toddlers because of the terrible expectation that they be considerate for the safety of others. They are in retail stores or taking up valuable time at town council meetings, literally screaming their outrage at the expectation that they wear a mask for a few minutes  so they won't spread a potentially deadly virus. Some of the store videos show men threatening violence against employees and women flinging groceries out of carts.  

Often these absurd, petulant people cite the right to personal and civic freedom as their reason for refusing to wear a mask or take other precautions. Somehow, in the United States (these all seem to originate south of the border) extreme selfishness and the resultant poor behavior are translated as some twisted conception of freedom.

A Viral Video Shows A Woman Berating Trader Joe's Employees And ...

What is worse, a twisted form of  freedom is often glorified in churches, usually with a conservative "me and Jesus" theology. At times there is no distinction between freedom to worship Christ and some sort of warped patriotism. This past Sunday was Freedom Sunday in one mega-church congregation with everyone present waving an American flag from their seats.

The Apostle Paul explores freedom in several of his letters and assures readers that they and we are set free in Christ. For Paul, though, we are set free from destructive self-interest and the bondage of sin. He also knew, as did the prophets before him, that religion dependent on power, including the state, was false religion.

Didn't Jesus say that if we want to find our lives we'll need to lose them, and that the truth will set us free?  Such silly talk...

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Persistence of Hope

I let you know that earlier this month the United Church acknowledged the 40th anniversary of my ordination as a minister in 1980. I've come to realize that our graduating class was sort of a "last hurrah" in terms of the significant number of people being ordained and commissioned by Emmanuel College in Toronto -- more than thirty that year. While the number of students entered into a steady decline, this was one of the last, if not the last year in which men outnumbered women as ordinands and commissionands. That shift was an important one for our denomination. 

Our year was too big to get to know all classmates well, but there were some who became more than acquaintances and a few who became lasting friends. I got to know one, Norm Esdon, through a small and theologically eclectic group who prayed together -- what a concept. I came to appreciate Norm as a photographer (he chaired the weekly bulletin cover working group for years) and as poet. A former chemistry teacher, Norm was committed from those seminary days to the present to exploring how "living with respect in Creation" is a vital and integral aspect of our Christian faith. 

Unfortunately Norm had to retire early because of a blood disorder which made the rigours of pastoral ministry unmanageable but he has continued to express his creativity through these years. Recently he has spent far too many hours in hospital receiving the treatments necessary to address his wonky blood cells. Last week, after a particularly long day of transfusion and treatment, he shared the photo and poem I've included above (with his permission)  on the nature of hope.

It seems to me that what Norm captures here is the truth we often reluctantly arrive at that hope is, as he says, not necessarily about "outcome" but "on-going." This is an important message in the midst of our personal trials, but also the tribulations of a pandemic, as well as the climate crisis. Faith may be assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1) but the hope part is not for the faint of heart.

I continue to pray for the "outcome" in Norm's sojourn, and I admire the gracious "on-going" fortitude of his hope which is an inspiration to all who know him. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pride Without the Parade

Belleville Pride Parade 2019

The Coronavirus pandemic and the need for responsible physical distancing  has meant that many public events which are institutions have simple gone away for 2020. Graduations everywhere are happening online, the Boston and New York marathons have been postponed., and the Toronto Caribbean Festival Parade has ground to a halt.

Of course June is Pride Month and Pride parades have suffered the same fate with some becoming virtual and others cancelled. It's a sad reality because in many communities the parades allow a safe visibility for LGBTQ2 persons and those who support them. Increasingly politicians and faith leaders have shown solidarity. Last year there was a Pride Festival at the conclusion of the parade in Belleville and members of the Trenton United Church to which we belong had a booth to share information about the denominations policies and practices for inclusion. 

I saw the Pew Research Center report called The global divide on acceptance of homosexuality which has helpful and revealing graphics about attitudes and shifts around the world and over time. It is sobering to realize that in 68 countries homosexuality is illegal and in some it is punishable by incarceration and even death. Here in Canada 85% of people accept those from the LGBTQ2 community, or at least say they should be accepted -- there is a difference.

Today we can all prayerfully ask what needs to happen in our attitudes and practices to be accepting and inclusive of others in every sphere of life. We can also pray for those who are under threat in the places they live because of sexual orientation. In too many countries Christians are part of the problem rather than active in finding solutions and providing safe havens for those who are stigmatized and persecuted.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Pope Francis, Brother Alois & the Work of Taize

Many years ago when son Isaac was in his early twenties he lived for the better part of a year in the ecumenical Christian community in France called Taize. The community welcomes tens of thousands of young people every year and Taize-style worship is now celebrated around the world and wee have several Taize choruses in the Voices United worship resource. Isaac was there when the founder, Brother Roger (namesake for one of their sons) was still the prior, although frail and in his 90's. Brother Alois was his presumed successor, a role he took on when Brother Roger was murdered by a deranged visitor to Taize. 

I visited Isaac during his time there, two weeks in February,  with one of those weeks in the House of Silence. I was not supposed to speak or communicate with others during this week of contemplation, and I was reasonably successful doing so.I was allowed to leave for daily worship and for walks -- kilometres and kilometres through the countryside. 

I was also permitted several meetings with a spiritual director who happened to be Brother Alois. I appreciated his gentle yet direct spirit even though I had no idea of what would unfold in the community.

I noticed that Brother Alois met with Pope Francis recently in an audience which was originally scheduled in March but postponed by the pandemic. According to the Taize website:

During this half-hour meeting, Brother Alois was able to share with the Holy Father recent news from Taizé, in particular the latest stages of the pilgrimage of trust on earth and the recent resumption of welcoming young people to Taizé after the period of lockdown. He also told him how much the encyclical Laudato Si’ stimulates the research of the community, and he spoke about the work on safeguarding and the welcoming of refugees in Taizé.
Brother Alois added: "I am particularly touched by the warm and fraternal welcome of Pope Francis. In Taizé, we feel very close to his ministry and I wanted to tell him how much we pray for him.”
Reading about this brought back a wave of fond memories about being at Taize, including seeing Isaac daily for a couple of weeks when we had been apart for months. I couldn't speak with him for those days but I could wave as we went for worship. It was also an important reminder to pray for the remarkable ministry to young people that the community has offered for so many years. 

58 taize house of silence le puits | Duncan-pics | Flickr

House of Silence

Friday, June 26, 2020

Insanity at the Top of the World

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020. -

Indian Border Security Force soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir [Tauseef Mustafa/AFP]

1 Let there be light, let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather, let them be face to face;

2 open our lips, open our minds to ponder,
open the door of concord opening into grace;

3 perish the sword, perish the angry judgement,
perish the bombs and hunger, perish the fight for gain...

Voices United 679 (3 of 6 verses)

Last week there was a  report about a skirmish along the border between India and China which involved troops from both those countries. High in the Himalayan mountains there is an area whose ownership has been disputed for decades. Both countries, each a nuclear power, has a contingent of unarmed soldiers who keep watch against incursions. 

While the details are sketchy, it would seem that the soldiers entered into brutal hand-to-hand combat over a period of six hours, in the dark. Some of them fell or were pushed to their deaths with 20 Indian solders and possibly even more Chinese killed. One report described the skirmish as medieval but I was thinking "neanderthal." 

INTERACTIVE: India-China border dispute May 27,2020

What a bizarre and destructive species we are. While in the greater scheme of war this wasn't a major loss of life, but what was this fight at the top of the world really about, and why did these human beings have to die in such a brutal and senseless way? 

We want to view ourselves as a sophisticated and advanced species,yet we act like spoiled children playing with gasoline and matches in a garage. It wasn't long ago that the dictator of North Korea, and the dictator of the United States -- excuse me, president -- were trading ridiculous insults and threats about using weapons of mass destruction. 

All this reminds me once again of why I follow Jesus, Prince of Peace, the one who resisted the temptations of power and empire to embody a gospel of love and forgiveness. When his disciples wanted to respond with violence in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus restrained them saying "the one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." Christians through the centuries have steadfastly ignored Jesus' teaching and example, often claiming that God was on their side in conflicts. 

Will humans ever repent of their foolish ways? It seems unlikely, but we can pray for peace and live it in every aspect of our lives, Christ being our helper.  

I stopped my cycle the other morning to admire a cottonwood tree, and I'll tell you about it in today's Groundling blog entry.

Rocket man – mackaycartoons

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Do We See the Sin?

                                         Adam Pendelton

From time to time I refer to or quote from Op-Ed pieces from various publications on a variety of topics. These Opinion-Editorial pieces offer what is usually personal perspective and insight into issues rather than providing "just the facts" news.

I like the notion of Op-Art, which political cartoons present, and other forms of artistic expression. Visual images can provide a glimpse of reality in an entirely different way than words. This Op-Art by artist Adam Pendleton in the New York Times "spoke" loudly to me. What does it mean to "see the sin" of racism, which is his focus here, or economic inequality, or misogyny?

Jesus regularly invited those who gathered around him to see and hear the individual and collective sins which too often are masked by power and even religion. This invitation may have been Good News for the poor and oppressed but it made those in authority uncomfortable and angry. Would the Romans have used tear gas on Palm Sunday if it had been available? 

When we sin by commission or omission,  which is turning away from God, we can choose to re-turn, which is repentance. This is what we do, by the grace of God, to enter into right relationship. 

Pendleton included some commentary with the image which is also powerful:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Is the Anti-Christ Among Us?

Cartoon Movement

I spent several of my teen years in friendship and what we termed fellowship with evangelical Christians. To this day I am grateful for the encouragement to experience Christ as a living, active presence who loved me as the person I was and could become. I became increasingly concerned about the "me and Jesus" focus with little concern for social justice, as well as an underlying judgmentalism about so many others, and a systemic misogyny which I couldn't abide. 

There was also a preoccupation with "End Times" which baffled me, and the earnest desire to identify an ominous figure called the Anti-Christ, with a number of candidates in the running. It was supposedly based on prophecy from the Book of Revelation but it had a Superhero/Nemesis feel to it all that excited people.

Let me say that I emphatically agree with the proposal that virtually everything about the Emperor Trump is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot understand how millions of Christians who claim that the bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God can read it and not make the sign of the cross to ward off his evil words and deeds. It is as though they have been swept into a cult and nothing seems to shake their trust in an entirely untrustworthy human being. While I may not describe Trump as the Anti-Christ, he is anti-Christ. 

I was intrigued to see an article in ABC Religion and Ethics by D. Stephen Long titled Should we call Donald Trump “antichrist”? Of course I had to read it and I found it worthwhile. I would encourage you to read Professor Long's piece in it's entirety, but I'll include a couple of paragraphs here: 

Yet I think it appropriate that reasonable people of faith begin to refer to Trump as antichrist. I don’t come to that conclusion lightly. When Trump was elected, I regularly referred to him as the “Orange Vulgarian.” I still find that reference descriptively accurate, but a friend admonished me that calling the president names was not the best strategy to win over his supporters. Since many of those supporters are family, friends, college classmates, and others, I thought it best to refrain from such epithets and attempted to make reasonable arguments on behalf of a different kind of Christianity and politics than the one that gained ascendancy with Trump...

Calling Trump an antichrist may give him too much credit. He is, after all, more of a carnival huckster who has turned the US presidency into a reality show sponsored by one continuous infomercial, but he is a carnival huckster who has the power of the US military at his command. Watching Mark Milley and William Barr stand in solidarity with him as they made their “brave” campaign against the people gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church should cause all people of true faith to turn to the book of Revelation for political wisdom.
When this is all over, when the smoke from the tear gas (or whatever chemical agent used) has cleared, American Christianity will stand condemned for following the beast.