Wednesday, August 17, 2022

YIGBY: Yes in God's Backyard


                                                Wexford Heights United Church redevelopment plan

We know about the NIMBY, "not in my back yard" acronym and the connotation of keeping something or someone away from what we hope to guard or maintain. I thought this CBC headline from a month ago was clever

'Yes, In God's Backyard': Affordable housing proposed on site of Scarborough church

The article begins:

A new development company associated with the United Church of Canada is trying to breathe new life into a Scarborough church that officially closed in 2019 — by building affordable housing on the site while keeping some of its gathering spaces alive.

Kindred Works wants to build an 11-storey tower and two rows of townhouses —100 mixed-income rental units in all — while retaining the cemetery and community spaces on the former site of Wexford Heights United Church, located at  2102 Lawrence Ave. E.

"We need housing now," said Tim Blair, CEO of Kindred Works.The United Church believes that housing is a fundamental human right, Blair says "so this certainly fits into the overall mission of the church."

It's all part of a growing continent-wide movement to build affordable housing on re-purposed church lands that some call YIGBY, which means "Yes, In God's Backyard" — a not-so-subtle dig at NIMBY, which stands for "Not In My Backyard." 

We've seen some of the hundreds, if not thousands of Canadian places of worship which now serve other purposes, everything from conversions to homes or boutiquesin the country to fronts for condos in larger centres. One of the church structures of the five-point charge I served in outport Newfoundland became a vehicle repair shop for a time. 

I hope Kindred Works is very successful. There are so many congregations which sadly died of COVID during the pandemic. A purposeful resurrection of sorts for their buildings sure seems consistent with the gospel.  

                                                       Current Wexford Heights UC building 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Rivers and Streams and all God's Creatures


                                                                                    Lake Mead

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

                                          Psalm 46: 4-7 NRSVue

I've mentioned along the way that the United Church of Canada General Council was held in Frederiction New Brunswick in 1992 and I participated, in part because a key discussion was what we termed Same-Gender Unions at the time. I was a member of the working group which presented to the gathering of commissioners from across the country.

The theme for this GC was "there is a river", taken from Psalm 46 and we were a reasonable walk from the mighty St. John, one of Canada's many magnificant waterways. It struck me that while the theme was repeated every day we were together there was no planned event by the river, nor were we given information about what makes it unique. At the time I felt it was a mistake not to experience the river, even as we talked about it and the impression has never left me. I appreciate that more and more countries and jurisdictions are giving rivers status and protection as living entities. 

A couple of evenings ago I watched a repeat of the Sixty Minutes segment about the Colorado River, an almost mythical waterway which is more than 2,300 kilometres in length and passes through the Grand Canyon. It also supplies water to 40 million Americans and irrigates crops which feed the nation. The grim reality is that the Colorado is drying up because of a drought which began at the turn of the millenium and so are Lake Mead and Lake Powell, huge reservoirs which were created to ensure a reliable supply of water. Those reservoirs are now at about one quarter capacity, the lowest since their creation. Farmers are being informed that their water allotments will be considerably reduced. States, cities, and other communities are facing shortages which can't be addressed by conservation measures. Utah is considering a billion dollar pipeline to one of the reservoirs even though the water just isn't there. Isn't this the definition of a pipe dream? We're "circling the bowl" and just not getting it. 

                                                Thames River Great Britain source marker 

This isn't just a crisis in the American Southwest. The Thames in Britain, the Loire in France, the Rhine in Germany, and the Po in Italy are all greatly diminished or drying up. This affects drinking water, agricultural water, and even tourism -- you can't have a river cruise without a navigable river. The source of the Thames has now shifted eight kilometres downstream and the traditional marker for the source now looks ominously like a gravestone for a deceased entity which was once living.  

Water is life. Physically and spiritually we can't survive without it and it's far more valuable than any fossil fuel. Jesus, baptised in the Jordan, offered living water to the Samaritan woman at the well, fully understanding the double meaning. 

Every time we paddle on a river or stream, which we do often, we give thanks to the Creator for the gift of water. We can't take this blessing of abundant water for granted. 

                                                           Baptism of Christ -- Vladimir Zagitov 

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Dalits & Independence Day in India

 Today marks the 75th anniversary of India's independence from British rule. Most of us are aware of the non-violent civil disobedience movement led by Mohandes Gandhi which contributed to the end of 200 years of colonialism. 

In the midst of this celebration we can be mindful of the more than three million Dalits -- formerly known as Untouchables -- who are Christian and Muslim and have no official status in India. Through the centuries Dalits have been treated as the lowest of the low in a caste system with little opportunity to lift themselves above poverty and social stigma. 

Even in recent years there have been atrocities perpetrated against Dalits, including murder. According to an article published last year:

As per the statistics collected by the Centre for Dalit Studies, between the 26 years of 1994 and 2020, 17,835 Dalits were murdered, 44,506 Dalit women were raped by upper caste men and 85,219 people were victims of grievous injuries in attacks by people of upper castes. Many people were left disabled for life in these attacks. 

During a local United Church presentation a few years ago I learned that many Dalits have converted to Christianity because of the acceptance they find in congregations but because they are no longer Hindu they are not afforded certain rights, as limited as they might be. 

On this anniversary Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to raise millions out of poverty and turn India into a developed country in the next quarter-century. Yet during the eight years of his premiership there have been strong concerns that human rights and religious freedom have been undermined. 

Our prayer can be that all Dalits, including those who are Christians, will be accepted in Indian society and given the same opportunities for advancement. 

                                                      Dalit Christians during Holy Week

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Thunderheads and a Puzzling Gospel Passage

                                                                      Thunderhead cloud

 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;

 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

 He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens.

And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens.

You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?     
Luke 12: 49-56

We weren't in church this morning and were on the water instead. We had a beautiful paddle and there wasn't a threatening cloud in the sky. There, it's been said that confession is good for the soul. Sunday worship will resume for us soon enough. This meant we were away early and I didn't get to my blog entry, but here it is. 

There are congregations which use what is called the Common Lectionary, a table of scripture lessons which runs through three years with passages from the Older and Newer Testaments. I noticed that in the United States there was online discussion about how to preach the passage above, which is certainly not "gentle Jesus, meek and mild." These verses from Luke are  about as "smitey" as Jesus gets, and could be used or misused to thunder against the perceived enemy on right or left. 

Jesus does seems to be conceding that even though he preaches and teaches the Good News of a new reign of God which is not based on might and power, there are times when decision will lead to division, as one commentator has put it. 

In the States the divide between political camps has become a dark chasm with little common ground. Since the FBI raid on former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in search of classified documents earlier in the week the rhetoric of division has become even more heated and there have been incidents where domestic terrorists have attacked government facilities, seemingly in angry response to what transpired. Some are suggesting that there are the thunderclouds of a form of civil war on the near horizon. Sadly, some expressions of Christianity are fanning the flames of discontent and violence. While we may feel safer on this side of the border we are witnessing increasing political polarization here in Canada, although not to the same extent. 

Is Jesus actually advocating divisiveness? What happened to "blessed are the peacemakers" and "those who live by the sword will die by the sword"? 

I'm grateful that I wasn't trying to address this from a pulpit today! Could it be that Jesus understood that even a gospel of peace and forgiveness may result in alienation? We are meant to read the signs of the times and choose the path which is faithful to the Crucified and Risen One, wherever that may lead us. Not only did Jesus die because of his radical message, so did many of his followers, including Peter and Paul. As the people of Christ we won't choose conflict but we won't hide from the truth either, wherever that leads us.

This is all too much for the Dog Days of Summer, don't you think? 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Hornets and Healthcare

 I never thought I would say this but I have something in common with Premier Doug Ford. You've probably seen the clip of Ford at a press conference where he suddenly looks startled. It turned out that he had swallowed a bee or, more likely, a hornet, and he could still feel it roaming the vast reaches of his interior: 
I'm good, he's down here buzzing around right now. He has a lot of real estate,” he exclaimed. 

Well, only the day before we were eating our final outdoor breakfast in Algonquin Park when I was stung on the tongue by a hornet. I had been keeping a wary eye on the hovering critters while we ate but one managed to slip into my mouth on a piece of homemade bread and homemade strawberry jam -- a desecration of delicious food.

As you can imagine, this was an owey, but there wasn't any swelling, and we were grateful that it hadn't happened in my throat, which has actually killed people because of the restricted airway. 

                                                            The Bee -- Canadian artist Sarah Young

On our drive home we wondered where the nearest hospital would have been if I'd needed medical assistance and decided it was Huntsville. Then we speculated about whether the Emergency Room is functioning there (it is) given that many been closed or gone to restricted hours this Summer. We were part of successful demonstrations to keep the Critical Care Unit open at Bowmanville hospital when I was a pastor in the community but recently it was closed because of staffing issues, we hope temporarily.  

We can assume that Premier Ford would have received the best medical care if it was required but that isn't the case for many Ontarians due to the strangulation of healthcare budgets and the nonsensical restrictions on salary increases for healthcare workers who have responded to the crisis of the pandemic with such dedication. I still cannot fathom why voters in this province were not outraged about this during the election. Now we are wondering whether part of the bigger Conservative plan is privatizing aspects of medicine which would likely push some further to the margins of care. 

When I read my New Testament I discover that Jesus was a healer, often in miraculous fashion. I also know that the growth of the early Christian movement came about, in part, through the compassionate support of the frail and sick as an expression of Christ's love. 

Medical care is very different today than it was two thousand years ago, but aren't the principles similar? This is no joke, Premier Ford. "Building Ontario" must include healthcare. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Some Thoughts on Cathedral of the Trees.


                                                  Cathedral of the Trees Worship Service -- Algonquin Park

1 Morning has broken like the first morning,

blackbird has spoken like the first bird.

Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!

Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!

                                               Voices United 409

 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

                                                                 Matthew 18:19-20

My thanks to those of you who have been reading and commenting during my absence this past week. I wrote eight timed blog posts for your perusal but it is a tedious process to respond away from my computer-- so I didn't!

We were in Algonquin Park where I conducted worship on Sunday morning as one person in the July/August roster. This is a ministry we now call Cathedral of the Trees, homage to the towering pines of the area. This ministry existed for decades, lost steam, was revived in 2018, was forced to shut down for two summers during the pandemic, and has now resumed. Our goal is to invite participants into an appreciative experience of woods and water and wind as the Creator's creatures in the midst of a multitude of other creatures.  

Because the Park and the Friends of Killarney won't allow us to include any advertising in their publications  we must rely on limited signage within campgrounds and at the site of the trailer the worship leaders use. The number of worshippers varies from week to week and has nothing to do with the presider since the signage is generic. A hardy two showed up in the rain one week, impressive for an outdoor service. Our forecast was for rain as well but it held off until later in the afternoon. 

At five to ten, our worship time,  a couple arrived and I figured that was probably our congregation. Within a few minutes we were at 30 and thanks to my accomplished guitarist brother, Eric, we were able to sing our hymns with some gusto. It was interesting that most of the folk were from evangelical Christian communities. After the service I was able to chat with some of the participants. One of them slipped away during the service, I thought to go to the washroom, but actually to take the photo above. 

I have to admit that the "suburbia in the woods" camping experience is just not our thing. The campground was almost constantly noisy and much of that was from the gear brought along to make outdoor living more like indoor living. Go figure. 

This said, it was good to celebrate the gifts of Creation and Creator in such a marvellous setting. And during the week we kayaked and cycled, swam and hiked. At the risk of engaging in some grade school "what I did on my summer vacation" I'll share a couple of experiences in the days ahead. 

2 Sweet the rain's new fall sunlit from heaven,

like the first dewfall on the first grass.

Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,

sprung in completeness where God's feet pass.

3 Ours is the sunlight! Ours is the morning

born of the one light Eden saw play!

Praise with elation, praise every morning,

God's recreation of the new day!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Wishful Seeing & the Intrepid Methodist Circuit Riders

                                                Wishful Seeing cast members, 4th Line Theatre 

Friends contacted us earlier last week with a last-minute proposal. Other mutual friends had come down with COVID and couldn't use their theatre tickets for an outdoor play at the 4th Line Theatre north of Port Hope. Would we like to join them? We did, and the period piece drama was quite enjoyable. 

This is a portion of the press release: 

Maja Ardal's "Wishful Seeing," based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough, tells the story of saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis, who stumbles upon a murder mystery on the shores of Rice Lake in 1853. A historical thriller with a colourful cast of characters set against the backdrop of a rapidly growing pre-confederation Canada...

One of our friends joked beforehand that he was fairly certain that the preacher was not the murderer. I commented that I would rather he be a murderer than the conniving or milquetoast pastors we usually see in dramas. It turned out that he was a decent enough guy, an aging Methodist circuit rider who was determined to solve the murder. 

At one point he comments that serving a number of communities on horseback was a pain in the ass, literally. Methodist circuit riders were intrepid souls often travelling through life-threatening weather to serve their various congregations. 

When church union occurred in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada the majority of the congregations were Methodist, and several of the congregations I served were Methodist in background. 

In outport Newfoundland, where I began ministry after ordination, nearly all the congregations had been Methodist. One of the five still had Sunday evening altar call services, which were always adventures. An ancient former minister would come to visit in the summer and told me about the Winter Sundays when he would travel by dog-team. On nearby Fogo Island a minister perished after ignoring advice not to set out in a blizzard. 

The drama was playful at times but maybe the best scene was a debate during a camp meeting between Rev. Lewis and the Baptist pastor over the merits of immersion baptism or Methodist sprinkling. Thaddeus washed up. Others in attendance may not have enjoyed the scene quite as much.

It was a lovely evening with friends, the rain held off, and the preacher prevailed. What's not to like?