Sunday, September 26, 2021

Anticipating Orange Shirt Day in Worship


A Prayer for Orange Shirt Day*

Today we wear orange
to remember and honour all the Indigenous children who went to residential schools.

Today we wear orange and we pray
for the residential school and intergenerational survivors who are still struggling.

Today we wear orange and we are thankful
for those who speak the truth, and who work to shine a light on injustice.

Today we wear orange in the name of compassion and the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Help us, God, to remember and act on this this every day.


*This prayer was inspired by Honarine Scott’s Orange Shirt Day blog.

I wrote about Orange Shirt  Day and Sunday during the Summer, and lo and behold, it is today. I'll share with you my previous blog entry with the update that the shirts did arrive!

A couple of months ago those of us who are part of the Trenton United Church congregation were invited to purchase Every Child Matters tee-shirts in anticipation of Orange Shirt Sunday later that name in September.  This  Sunday is an act of solidarity with those who were taken from their families and essentially incarcerated and indoctrinated under the guise of Residential Schools. 

As is so often the case, dedicated congregation members had stepped up to organize this initiative and not long ago we received word that our shirts had arrived. The description on the United Church website is helpful: 

Why orange? Because of Phyllis Jack Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who went to St. Joseph Mission Residential School. On her first day of school, Phyllis wore an orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. It was immediately taken away, and that marked the beginning of Phyllis’s long separation from her family and community, a separation caused by actions of the church and federal government.

Orange Shirt Day is a time for us all to remember those events, their ongoing impact, and just as importantly the continuing strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. 

The shirts are now available in lots of locations but this concerted effort by a group of concerned Christians is an important act of solidarity. And while Orange Shirt Day is actually September 30th  congregations will be commemorating the event a few days earlier on Sunday, September 26th. Trenton UC has also put up a flag on the building in anticipation of the events. 

If you are interested in participating here is the United Church link with important practical information and food for thought. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

All Aboard for the Peace Train


                                                                          Yousef Stevens

Do you need a little pick-me-up in the midst of gloomy weather and a fair amount of gloomy news around the globe? How about a remake of a 50-year-old song by an folk-rock artist who was a hit-making machine until he disappeared from sight for years. I'll let Wikepedia tell some of the story about the song Peace Train:

Cat Stevens later converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and reduced his public appearances, but during the Iraq War he commented on the song's renewed relevance, saying: "'Peace Train' is a song I wrote, the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions. There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution." Yusuf Islam performed the song live at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert ceremony when Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh received the award.

Most religions uphold the importance of peace in our hearts, our relationships, and in our world which, sadly,  is often marked with suspicion and strife. Jesus was the embodiment of God's shalom, or peace, and his violent death was transformed into resurrection hope. 

My brother, Eric,  sent me the YouTube link to a collaborative effort by more than 25 musicians from 12 countries on a reissue of Peace Train. Have a listen and feel more hopeful about your day.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Proof of Vaccination for Congregations?

This week the local YMCA began checking on the vaccine status members as required by the province of Ontario. I had registered a couple of weeks ago so everything went smoothly. I have toiled away at the Y for periods beginning last Fall when there were no vaccines, so I haven't been overly concerned, but there is a degree of reassurance in knowing that everyone around me is double-vaxxed. It certainly hasn't been busy at the gym during the past 18 months. 

There has been some discussion as to whether communities of faith should have been included in the list of institutions and businesses requiring proof of double vaccination. I feel that as long as congregants follow careful protocols it isn't necessary to require proof of vaccination, although there has been some discussion on the subject within our United Church Region.

Broadview Magazine, the United Church publication, has offered a worthwhile article on how the United Church is proceeding, with interviews from across the country. The UCC as a denomination won't be requiring proof of vaccination and the observations of Rev. Tricia Gerhard make a lot of sense to me:

 Rev. Tricia Gerhard, minister at Sunset United in Regina, is chair of the executive council for Living Skies Region and former member of an ecumenical Saskatchewan COVID-19 advisory group. She is fully vaccinated and encourages people to follow suit, but says “mandatory vaccines make sense health and science-wise, but I am not sure they make sense pastorally.”

“Once we start segregating our communities of faith into vaccinated and unvaccinated, we deepen the grief and trauma that already exists in our communities because of the pandemic – it becomes another way of making worship and community support unreachable.”

Here is the link to the Broadview article

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Legacy of Henri Nouwen

 Thirty years ago I was a participant at one of the first Jubilee Program in Spiritual Direction cohorts. At the time I wa in my thirties, father to three young children, and lead minister of a very active downtown congregation with lots of administrative duties. I also yearned for the contemplative life for myself as a follower of Jesus, and wanted to support those members of my flock who were seeking the inner way. 

I suppose it was a bit crazy to take on the demands of a rigorous program which included two residential stints but I made the commitment. We had a number of excellent presenters including a quiet spiritual superstar of that time, the late Dutch Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen. It seemed that everyone was reading his book The Wounded Healer and another book The Return of the Prodigal Son also became a bestseller. Nouwen left university teaching at Harvard and Yale as well as a high profile speaking circuit to live in a L"Arche community just north of Toronto. At Daybreak he came to a sense of self-acceptance and spiritual peace amidst those who are often at the margins of society because of their cognitve and physical challenges.He continued to write prolifically while there. 

Nouwen spent part of a day with our Jubilee group and at lunch I noticed that he was sitting alone. I asked to join him and we chatted about my desire to stay focussed in Christ despite the often overwhelming realities of that stage of life. I honestly don't recall much of our conversation but I was reassured by his kindness and willingness to listen. 

Two days ago marked the 25th anniversary of  Henri's untimely death at the age of 64 due to a heart attack. After decades away from home he happened to be on the way to Russia to create a documentary about Rembrandt's painting The Return of the Prodigal Son and had stopped in the Netherlands to be with family. He is buried near Daybreak in Richmond Hill. He was a gift to the world. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Notre Dame Rising From the Ashes


The encompassing fire which nearly destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral two and half years ago closed an 850-year-old place of worship and a tourist destination for 13 million visitors each year. Last week it was announced that the massive edifice which had been on the brink of collapse has been stabilized and the actual work of restoration can begin. The French government wants the work to be completed by the time France hosts the Olympics in 2024 but this may be overly ambitious. 

                                                   Notre Dame Interior Scaffolding 

I have such mixed feelings about this effort even though I've been in Notre Dames several times and it is an architectural wonder. About 850 million euros, or 1,3 billion Canadian dollars have been pledged for the restoration and more donations are being solicited. Does this make sense in the midst of the many pressing needs on Earth, including saving the planet.? The  cutting of a thousand of mature oaks for new beams makes me queasy. 

 What does the Jesus who taught on hillsides and wasn't kindly disposed to religious edifces think about this? 

Of course my undergraduate degree was in art history so despite my misgivings I'll probably celebrate the eventual reopening. I never promised to be logically consistent!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Lipstick on a Pig Election?


Do we declare this a truly Canadian election where nothing much changed and all party leaders are putting lipstick on a pig this morning, metaphorically speaking? We should be disgusted that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent for such an inconclusive outcome, money which could have bolstered social programs which need funding. I'm exasperated, as I'm sure many others are. Perhaps Canadians of every stripe are united in their sense that this is an unsatisfactory outcome.

Here it is though. I'm grateful that I couild vote in a democracy and that even if the other major party had won we would still have had a government which supported healthcare for all, freedom of reproductive choice, and even that climate change urgently needs to be addressed. The government which held on to power still says that it cares about Indigenous issues and supports welcoming refugees. 

We'll see what happens on other issues which are important to me as a Christian who desires an inclusive society. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

"Dios te Bendiga" in Bolivia


In the early morning light of this day our neice and her husband were dropped at Toronto's Pearson Airport for a looonnnggg flight to Bolivia, in South America. This ain't a tourist trip. They will be living and working in the capital, La Paz, for three years. Both will be employed by the Mennonite Central Committee which is strengthening partnerships with local agencies in various areas of social concern. 

The MCC is an impressive agency which often responds to situations of crisis. When the tornado ripped through Barrie more than 30 years ago they arrived that same weekend providing practical assistance. MCC ran the Ten Thousand Villages stores in North America with the mission of creating opportunities in developing countries to earn income in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

The historical, colonial models of missionary work for denominations has largely ended as the emphasis is now on reciprocity and mutual respect. While they are still a Christian presence in many places,  there is a different understanding of the profound meaning of other religions and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. 

There will be many adjustments for the two of them in their new roles, including developing fluency in Spanish. La Paz is the highest capital in the world, at 3,650 metres or nearly 12,000 feet. They will also need to relearn how to breathe!

We with them Godspeed and "dios te bendiga."