Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thoughts on Racism & Ethics & All That Stuff

The response to the racist comments by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was swift and befitting the crime. No matter that many Clipper players and the coach are persons of colour. Sterling told his love interest that he was annoyed that she brought black friends to games.The National Basketball Association has banned Sterling from any involvement in the league or activities with his team, including attending games. The 2.5 million dollar fine is the maximum the NBA can levy, although while it seems huge, it is chump change to a guy worth more than two billion.

This response is a very important statement and something of a relief in a world where money talks and often shouts down concerns about ethics and morality. League stars, past and present, lined up to decry Sterling and laud NBA commissioner Adam Silver for this decisive action.

I will add a couple of thoughts just the same. Donald Sterling has been a racist for a long time, and known for discrimination of various kinds in his basketball organization and in his business dealings away from basketball. I wonder why it has taken so long for the NBA to take action? It is also interesting to learn that a number of human and civil rights organizations have accepted money from Sterling despite his sordid reputation. It was as though he was attempting to launder his image by giving money to these organizations and they gratefully received it. The NAACP has announced it will not give Sterling their Humanitarian of the Year Award for 2014, nor will they accept his donation.  Huh? How could he have been the recipient of that award in the first place?

And at the risk of sounding really old-fashioned, Sterling was "outed" about his blatantly racist views by his former "girlfriend" who is currently being sued by his wife. He regularly sat with this beautiful woman, less than half his age, in very public view at Clipper games. Aren't we rather selective about our morality? Apparently being a creepy old philanderer doesn't count any more. Ah well. One step forward...

I suppose it makes sense that as a pastor in a Christian church I muse about personal morality and the need for consistency. But of course we're all inconsistent in the way we apply our values, aren't we? Maybe I'm just a dinosaur...a Raptor, perhaps?

Do you have thoughts about this, O fearless readers?

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Econmics of War and Peace

Nine and a half trillion dollars. None of us can even vaguely comprehend that amount of money. Even if we say 9.5 thousand billion, or 9.5 million million we just can't grasp the enormity of the sum. It is the estimated annual cost of war on this planet, which includes military spending at roughly two trillion, but extends to the effects of war on the global economy. This amount is approximately eleven percent of the global GDP.

Of course these staggering statistics can be employed to help put a value on peace, a principle and aspiration which we assume defies a price tag and yet might be measured if we pay attention to the economic benefits of a cessation of all wars.

If we consider peace as shalom, the health and wellbeing of humans and ecosystems, imagine the benefits of nearly ten billion dollars in treating illnesses and feeding all people. What if we invested some of those trillions in finding alternatives to fossil fuels and rehabilitating our damaged planet?

We are told constantly that we simply don't have the financial resources to address these pressing problems but apparently we do. It is a matter of allocating them for good rather than evil. Of course the terms good and evil are moral, rather than financial, but our faith does call us to choose the good over what is evil, and the machinery and destruction of war are evil, even when we decide that it is necessary.

Perhaps Jesus was more of an economist than we thought.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Clear as Mud

Life can be complicated. What, you have already discovered this?

I have been following the story of the accreditation of the law school at Trinity Western University in British Columbia. This university has a strong reputation for academic achievement and it is certainly a legitimate institution of higher education. It also holds conservative Christian values, including insistence that homosexual activity and relationships are sinful and contrary to scripture. So, how could a law school produce lawyers who are trained in this climate who are then able to work within a judicial system which now upholds equal marriage and rights?

The argument is that they can't, and Ontario has already said it will not allow Trinity law grads to practice in the province. I find myself conflicted about all this. I would not have wanted any of our three children to attend Trinity Western because of some of the university's core Christian tenets. While that would never have happened, I would have accepted the choice if they had. What if one of them had wanted to study law there? Would he or she been incapable of practicing law because of those values?

I daresay there are many lawyers in this province who were called to the bar from prestigious law schools such as Osgoode Hall when homosexuality was illegal, and some of them may have prosecuted LGBT individuals as crown attorneys. Some of them may have done so out of their own deep anti-gay convictions, and may still hold them. But the laws changed and they have accepted changing societal mores, and the laws of the land. Would it be impossible for Trinity Western law graduates to do the same? Besides, there are probably a fair number of TW students who do not consider homosexuality a sin, but chose to attend a conservative Christian school for other reasons. There has been a significant shift in this regard amongst younger evangelicals, so it may be that graduates have already chosen different outlooks.

Ultimately lawyers represent clients whose values they often do not share. And much of the law is mundane stuff about property.

I do get that accredited institutions should not have prejudices condoned because of religion, but there are still grey areas in this regard.

Clear as mud? What are your thoughts? Should a liberal society make room for institutions which don't share all its liberal convictions?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Fabric of Justice

Rana Plaza disaster marked by Oxford Street demonstration

Today is the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh which killed 1138 workers. It was a matter of sheer greed on the part of owners who continued to add floors to the building without permits or inspections. But the collapse also brought to light our greed, our willingness to purchase inexpensive and essentially disposable clothing produced in distant countries by workers who are paid very little. In the aftermath we learned a great deal about poor working conditions, long hours, low pay and the lack of benefits. We discovered that Canadian companies such as Loblaw, under the Joe Fresh label were able to offer us cheap fashion thanks to these workers.

Of course it's always complicated. The ambassador from Bangladesh pleaded with us not to stop buying clothes made in Bangladesh because this is such an important of the economy. It is far more important, he told us, to insist on fair workplace environments and a system of monitoring.

Some companies, such as Loblaw, have moved in that direction. Others, such as Walmart, have been unwilling to sign on to a charter  or agreement protecting workers out of concern for litigation. It seems cowardly, to say the least.

Do you pay closer attention to where your clothing comes from since this disaster? Is this yet another symptom of our throw-away "gotta have the latest" society? Should we care about this as Christians as a matter of justice?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Oil Day in Canada?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a frustrated man and I'm tickled green. Two significant projects initiated or supported by his government are going nowhere and the PM is not pleased. One is the Northern Gateway pipeline which has actually received approval to proceed. The trouble is, many of the groups and communities which will be most affected are opposed and determined to resist a pipeline carrying Alberta bitumen across their land. First Nations have promised to fight the pipeline in the courts. The citizens of Kitimat BC have voted against their community becoming the port from which the crude oil will be shipped.

South of the border the Obama administration won't make a decision one way or the other on the controversial Keystone pipeline which would also transport Alberta oil. The Canadian government huffs and puffs about the delays but it doesn't make much difference. There is a growing tide of resistance to Keystone in the US so posturing on our part doesn't have much impact.

Now, I use fossil fuels. They power my car and heat my home. I know that the extraction of fossil fuels makes Canada more prosperous. But I am also convinced that retooling our economy around a dependence on producing oil and gas is short-sighted. It is also unethical when it has a huge impact on First Nations peoples. And we have become the pariah of developed nations because of the pollution the oil sands produce. The feds have proposed easing the Species at Risk designation for humpback whales in the Pacific to make it easier to ship oil from Northern Gateway. Where does it stop?

On this Earth Day people of faith in this country can pray and act for a healthy environment. We can pay attention to what our government is doing and voice our concerns about this slavish commitment to non-renewable resources.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Retribution and Forgiveness

This picture provided by ISNA, a semi-official news agency, taken on Tuesday shows Maryam Hosseinzadeh, right, and her husband Abdolghani, left, removing the noose from the neck of blindfolded Bilal who was convicted of murdering their son Abdollah in the northern city of Nour, Iran. Bilal was pardoned by the victim's family moments before being executed.

This past Friday Christians around the world contemplated the execution of Jesus of Nazareth in first century Palestine, and explored what that event means for us in terms of God's forgiveness and reconciling love. Unfortunately Good Friday can become conventional, a worship service in which a relatively small percentage of members of a congregation participate.We can easily forget that this was the death penalty being carried out on an innocent man in a repressive and violent society.

Did you see the story at the end of last week about an Iranian man sentenced to death for the murder of another young man when both were age seventeen? He was blindfolded and on the gallows with a noose around his neck when the mother of his victim chose to pardon him.This option had always been available to her, and he would go to jail instead, but she wanted retribution.

She told Shargh newspaper that her son Abdollah appeared to her in a dream and asked her to forgive his killer, and still she was reluctant. She said that in her speech at the gallows, she scolded the crowd for pressuring her to forgive, saying: “Do you know what I have gone through all these years and how my life became like poison?” But after Bilal pleaded to her — and she slapped him — “I felt at ease” and forgave him, she said.

 The other photo shows the mother of the pardoned man embracing the mother of the victim. How is that for drama?

What does this story stir up for you? Is this true forgiveness? Is forgiveness always more complex than we would like to admit?

Kobra, left, whose son Bilal was convicted of murdering a man, embraces Samereh Alinejad, mother of the victim, after she pardoned the killer.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Earth Sunday, Easter Sunday

We all know this is Easter Sunday and in churches around the world the resurrection of Jesus will be celebrated. Most congregation pull out all the stops and at Bridge St. United Church that will be almost literally so. Our 4000 pipe organ will be used to fullest effect and guest brass musicians will give make glorious Easter hymns schmeck -- that is the musical term isn't it? I will preach what I hope is Good News that death has been defeated in Christ and abundant life is our gift.

This is also Earth Sunday, although I can't imagine many congregations foregoing Easter to celebrate it. Earth-honouring congregations focus on Creation Care and the goodness of God's earth on the Sunday closest to April 22nd, which is Earth Day. No doubt some congregations will wait until the 27th but it will be lost in many.

It happens that on Palm/Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week we were told that the state of Planet Earth requires immediate, drastic action:

A United Nations science panel issued a sobering wake-up call to world policymakers Sunday, warning that countries must make dramatic changes in their energy consumption, their use of technology and even their ways of life to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change.

"Sobering" is an apt word because it seems that we humans reel about drunkenly, unwilling to make significant changes for the sake of the planet and for future generations of all species. It is not a pleasant prospect. Even when we care we become paralyzed, seemingly unable to absorb any more bad news. Remember when An Inconvenient Truth jolted us with images of drowning polar bears. That now seems like a cliché, yet the threat is more pronounced than ever.

But if this a day of hope in Christ, not as "pie-in-the-sky" but for every present moment and every breath we take, surely we can proclaim hope for all creation. God loves the world, John's gospel tells us, and desires not its condemnation but it's redemption. Perhaps more than at any time Earth Sunday and Easter Sunday need to be celebrated together. And we can be God's partners in the healing of the Earth.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Week and Jesus the Jew

Rev. Hamilton raises his head after area religious leaders lit "Candles of Hope" during a memorial service at the Jewish Community Center in...

On Thursday many gathered in Kansas to remember three people gunned down by a man in his seventies. This individual killed his victims at two different Jewish centres, randomly shooting them because they were Jewish. Except they weren't. The 14-year-old boy and his grandfather were Methodists and the woman was Roman Catholic. It would have been senseless under any circumstances but became even more bizarre when this news was released.
That is the nature of hatred though. Religion conviction can so easily be conscripted as the "reason" for despising those who are different, but the truth is that this is only one of many. The hate-mongers of the Westboro Baptist Church were present to spew their evil but the prevailing tone of the memorial was tolerance, acceptance and respect.

I was aware Thursday that Holy Week has been a time through the centuries for suspicion and hatred of Jews to surface. It was the reality of the Middle Ages when priests would stir up Christians to retaliate against the Christ-killers, as they were portrayed. The same happened in Nazi Germany when those in power encouraged Lutherans to attack their Jewish neighbours using The Nazis used Martin Luther's  book, On the Jews and Their Lies as justification.

My mother, now 88, remembers strong anti-Jewish sentiment in the Toronto of her childhood, and the widely held believe amongst Christians that Jews should be rejected because they had rejected Jesus as their messiah.

This can be a time of repentance for anti-Jewish attitudes and sentiments in Christian teaching and for renewed commitment to respectful conversation between religions.


Friday, April 18, 2014


  Henry Moore Crucifixion

Last Saturday we left Belleville before 8:00 AM to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto first, then the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg.

We weren't sure about the AGO exhibit featuring Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, but we are members so it wasn't a financial commitment, just our time.We were both glad we attended and learned a lot about how both Bacon, the painter, and Moore the sculptor, were affected and influenced in their work by the experience of the Second World War. Both men were atheists, Bacon more vociferously, yet they both created images of the crucifixion.

Obviously the crucified Christ is central to our Christian understanding of the incarnation with all it's risk in God's identification with humanity. For these two artists crucifixion is an archetypal image of human pain and suffering, regardless of belief in God.

Today we acknowledge the cross of Calvary and Jesus' slow and agonizing death. Christians don't all agree on what that means for us, with different theological perspectives on atonement and the suffering God. We do gather today to "survey the wondrous cross" and ask again how this gruesome and yet cosmic event shapes our understanding of sin, forgiveness, and enduring love.

What are your thoughts about the crucifixion on this Black/Good Friday?

Crucifixion (1933) by Francis Bacon, on display at the Tate Britain

Francis Bacon Crucifixion

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kneel at the Feet of our Friends

Jesu, Jesu,
Fill us with Your love, show us how to serve
The neighbors we have from You
Kneels at the feet of his friends,
Silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

These are the ones we should serve,
These are the ones we should love;
All these are neighbors to us and You.
Loving puts us on our knees,
Serving as though we are slaves,
This is the way we should live with You.
Kneel at the feet of our friends,
Silently washing their feet,
This is the way we should live with You.

There are many factors which lead someone in ministry to accept a new pastorate. It is always a challenge to discern whether a Christian community will be the right fit, and when one has served a congregation in a long and positive relationship it is even tougher. In the Fall of 2012 we visited Bridge St. UC on a Sunday morning as I moved through the interview process. It was apparent that two of the children who went to the front during Children's Time had Down Syndrome and it was also evident that they were entirely at home there with Rev. Vicki.

After the service Ruth and I discussed our experience and agreed that Bridge St. was a place of welcome. In the year I have been here those sisters, Hannah and Grace, have been such a gift, as has their brother Kai. Kai also has Down Syndrome and he is older, but he is also part of the congregation. Last Sunday we were waiting to process with the palms at the back of the church and Kai was beside me. He looked up at me, smiled, and gave me a hug. That spontaneous act moved me.

This evening we will gather for our Maundy Thursday service, and as always I have asked a family if I may wash their feet. We do this because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper as an act of love and service.

I asked the parents of Hannah and Grace and Kai, who immediately said yes. It may be a bit of an adventure because the girls are always forthright about what they are experiencing, but I look forward to it. I am so pleased that they will be included.

Will you be attending a Maundy Thursday service? Should such a contemplative service be inclusive of all ages?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Images for Holy Week

We were in Kleinberg Ontario on Saturday for a visit to the McMichael Gallery, one of this province's treasures. We didn't want to miss the exhibit of work by Mary Pratt,  along with a companion exhibit of Newfoundland artists called Changing Tides.

I must admit that I haven't been a big fan of Pratt's paintings because I find them too pristine and everyday in their subject matter. Well, I now have a different perspective on her body of work and I'm glad that we got to see both exhibits.

Several of Pratt's images caught my attention including the two I have included here. They were meditations for Holy Week. The informality of Supper Table was an invitation to view the Last Supper of Maundy Thursday as both a regular meal and sacrament. Our attendance as a Passover seder on Monday evening was a pleasant experience of "give and take" even as made our way through the stirring words of the Haggadah.

Service Station is as raw a crucifixion as any created with the intention of depicting Jesus' last hours and execution. If the words "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me" were inscribed beneath this painting if would be no more clear for me. I appreciate that we don't all see images in the same way, and I might not have viewed them this way at another time of the year. But they were powerful on Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Invitation to a Passover Seder

Last evening Ruth and I went to the home of a Jewish friend here in Belleville for our first Passover seder. After so many years of Maundy Thursday services, which are the Christian opportunity to acknowledge Jesus' last meal --a seder-- with his disciples, we made our way through the meal over several hours with 13 others. For a while there were a total of 13 of us, but I refrained from pointing out that number and its parallel to the Christian Last Supper. Besides, many scholars note that seders have always included women and children, so there may have been many more than the number of people Leonardo DaVinci and other artists have portrayed in their works.

This was an inclusive seder because Susan, our host, is a Reformed Jew, sort of the Jewish equivalent of the United Church. The Reformed movement has included women rabbis for about 40 years and the women at last night's table added water to a cup in recognition of Miriam's role in the Exodus, honoured as a provider of water in the wilderness. The atmosphere was relaxed and the food was great. There were several Jewish guests, a Buddhist, a smattering of Christians, and some "nones" from what I could gather. We all participated and learned. It was a lovely gesture of welcome and interfaith dialogue in the best possible way --over food!

I have chosen through the years not to conduct seder meals at churches I served. I am uneasy about this as a form of religious and cultural appropriation. I really wouldn't appreciate folk from other religions staging communion, so why would I set up a seder? I would love to have Susan come another year to walk a group through this important meal of deliverance.

Have you attended a seder? Did you realize the connection between this Jewish meal and Jesus' last meal?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Umpteenth Palm/Passion Sunday

This was my umpteenth Palm/Passion Sunday as a worship leader. That means it was my 34th, although I suppose it was my 59th as a human being. The two shouldn't be confused! I have been around so long that in my early years, right through to the beginning of seminary, this Sunday was Palm Sunday...stop. It was a parade, a party, with lots of children waving palm branches. Some folk have told me that they are old enough that they are "pre-palm" in terms of actual branches. Protestants have traditionally been suspicious of anything but words in worship, and really leery of anything Roman Catholic.

For most of my ministry we have begun with the celebration of that odd procession into Jerusalem, with peasants hoping that another peasant would lead them to freedom. The outcome was not what most hoped for, and let's be truthful, we aren't all that good at allowing Jesus to be the lowly Christ even today. It is a lesson that bears repeating each year.

Now we make sure that we move into the passion of Jesus as well, the bewildering, unfair, painful days of the week between this Sunday and Easter joy. We have accepted, liturgically at least, that the fast comes before the feast. Jumping from the parade of palms to the empty tomb is Hollywood, not Holy Week.

We left the sanctuary in silence this morning. On the way we draped the pulpit and cross in black. We removed the flowers and dimmed the lights.

Easter is coming, but our love for Christ demonstrates respect as we move toward Calvary and the cross.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Thursday afternoon I sat in the driveway of one of our Bridge St. United folk waiting for her to return home so our pastoral visit could begin. The CBC radio program I was listening to was interrupted for the sad announcement that former finance minister Jim Flaherty had died, suddenly. I am no fan of the Conservative government, and while I admire Flaherty's leadership during the recession I have not been impressed by cuts to many important ministries in order to balance the budget before the next election. In that moment though politics didn't matter. I felt an immediate sadness that a faithful civil servant died in this way, without his family around him. The sense of loss was almost universal on parliament hill, even amongst those from other parties with whom he did battle. He was recognized as a principled, fun-loving, and decent man.

I went to high school with his wife, Christine Elliot, and I could only imagine the shock and loss she and their triplet sons were experiencing. It seemed wrong that Flaherty had worked through a debilitating illness stoically, only to be struck down by something else, likely a massive heart attack. And there he was, stepping back in order to have a life, only to have life end so quickly.

Life is not fair and it can be fleeting. A year ago a brother-in-law, 58, collapsed at his desk at work and was dead before the paramedics arrived. A sister-in-law who just turned 59 this week is in a tough battle with cancer. Now, they aren't young, but they aren't three score years and ten either.

Life is also a gift from God, meant to be lived with purpose and grace. We regularly receive the reminders that while the average lifespan for Canadians is about 80, one of the longest of any nation, we should choose to savour our relationships and affirm love in each day. As we enter Holy Week we become aware once again of the brevity of Jesus' life and the unfairness of his death. But we are people of resurrection hope.

Thoughts and comments?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

Holy Da Vinci Code! What a fury of media attention about not much of anything. Recently it was confirmed that a fragment of papyrus is very old. Normally this wouldn't cause a stir, but a reference to the wife of Jesus has made this moderately newsworthy. One article describes the circumstances clearly:
A faded fragment of papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” which caused an uproar when unveiled by a Harvard Divinity School historian in 2012, has been tested by scientists who conclude in a journal published on Thursday that the ink and papyrus are very likely ancient, and not a modern forgery.

Skepticism about the tiny scrap of papyrus has been fierce because it contained a phrase never before seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife...’ ” Too convenient for some, it also contained the words “she will be able to be my disciple,” a clause that inflamed the debate in some churches over whether women should be allowed to be priests.
The papyrus fragment has now been analyzed by professors of electrical engineering, chemistry and biology at Columbia University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who reported that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eighth centuries. (Scientists at the University of Arizona, who dated the fragment to centuries before the birth of Jesus, concluded that their results were unreliable.)

The test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is more likely a snippet from an ancient manuscript than a fake, the scholars agree. Karen L. King, the historian at Harvard Divinity School who gave the papyrus its name and fame, has said all along that it should not be regarded as evidence that Jesus married, only that early Christians were actively discussing celibacy, sex, marriage and discipleship.

The only aspect of this which I appreciate is that it is a nudge for all of us to consider the humanity of Jesus, which includes his sexuality and the possibility of entering into a committed relationship with another person. Did he? I sure don't think so. Could we consider Jesus as the Christ if he had married and had a family? Well, Peter was married, since the gospels mention a mother-in-law.. Perhaps Paul was as well? It was expected that rabbis of that day would have a spouse. Our sexuality is not a liability. It is a gift.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Celebration of Life?

This past Sunday there were so many homiletical roads which could have been travelled with the Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel and the Raising of Lazarus reading from John. I decided on John 11 as a dress rehearsal for Holy Week and Easter, and I focused on how we deal with death and our resurrection hope.

A retired funeral director chatted with me after worship about comments I made concerning our death-denying culture. He was in the business for sixty years and experienced the shift from an acknowledgment of death's reality and the general conviction of a life beyond death to the practices of the present day. He feels that the pervasive Celebration of Life theme in services today can emphasize the person's activities and accomplishments and personality, but doesn't do much to help people deal with death. Nor does it affirm the hope of life to come. We agreed that often the tributes or eulogies of those who speak at many services come across like speeches at a retirement party rather than naming the grief and promise of the moment.

I really appreciated his observations, as I so often have benefitted from the wisdom and experience of funeral directors who have been around for a while. Many of them are Christians as well as professionals in the funeral business.

What do you think about his comments? I wrote about eulogies recently. Is it important to you that the funerals and memorials you attend acknowledge death and resurrection hope?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Mysteries of the Media

If anyone was unsure whether the news media "play fair" only need look to the reporting of the past few days. A young British socialite named Peaches Geldof died mysteriously and tragically young. There has been no end of news about Peaches even though she is really famous because she was a daughter of musician Bob Geldof, the poverty activist.

At the same time a Jesuit priest, Father Frans van der Lugt, who had devoted his life to working with people in the Syrian city of Homs was shot dead, execution style, for no apparent reason. A New York Times article describes him in this way:

Father Frans was fluent in Arabic and was trained in psychotherapy. He founded the Al Ard Center outside Homs, which cared for disabled people and fostered dialogue among people of different religions. The center took in displaced people well into the civil war, though the staff eventually left because, they said, they could not assure the safety of their guests.
Father Frans explained his decision to remain in the Old City in an interview published in February on ReliefWeb, a website focusing on humanitarian organizations. “I don’t see Muslims or Christians, I see, above all, human beings,” he said, who “hunger to lead a normal life.” As the only priest left in the Old City to help the people there with their suffering, he said, “how can I leave? This is impossible.
Have you heard about Father Frans? Perhaps not. Obviously we aren't asked to place the value on each precious life, and the deaths of both Peaches and Frans matter to the God of love. It's just strange, in my estimation, that a life of self-giving receives so little recognition in our celebrity-hungry culture. I am thankful for Father Frans' life and ministry.
Ah well. Comments?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Remembering Rwanda

Front Cover

Yesterday began a week of remembrance for the unspeakable events of twenty years ago in Rwanda.  Ethnic violence erupted in that African nation which resulted in the deaths of 800,000 people, most of them civilians. The majority of those who died in this genocide were Tutsi, murdered by Hutus in a terrible orgy of incomprehensible one-on-one violence where neighbours cut down neighbours with machetes until they were exhausted from the physical effort. In some cases spouses murdered spouses because they were from the other ethnic group.

I remember speaking from the pulpit during this dark 100 day period, imploring folk to contact the Canadian government to intervene. But the international community failed Rwandans. General Romeo Dallaire was there and warned of the impending tragedy. His pleas went unheeded and he did not have the UN resources to make a significant difference. He has suffered every since because of what he saw and could not do.  The Americans had no stomach for intervention after the debacle of Somalia but Bill Clinton has admitted to the failure of the United States and other nations to prevent the genocide.

Despite the lasting pain there has been recovery and reconciliation in this country. There are tremendous stories of forgiveness which are hard for me to even imagine. Yesterday CBC's The Current ran a touching piece about Canadian Shyma Gilbert, a teacher, who saved the life of Rwandan Leo Kabalisa, also a teacher,  who lost most of his family. Her ingenuity, including creating a fictitious conference to which he was invited to get him out of the country, was remarkable.
On the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, an Ontario school teacher Shyrna Gilbert and the Rwandan teacher Léo Kabalisa she helped save, reflect on his escape from one of the worst massacres in human history. (CBC)

Shyman Gilbert & Leo Kabalisa

Do you remember the horrors of Rwanda? Can there be true hope, forgiveness, reconciliation out of such pain?

Nyamata Memorial Site 13.jpg

Monday, April 07, 2014

Love and Marriage

You may be aware that a growing number of US states have made same-gender marriages legal in the past year. This movement has been applauded by many and angered many more. There have also been significant incidents within several Christian denominations where pastors have chosen to marry couples when it became legal, even though it violates codes of conduct for clergy. The outcome has been disciplinary hearings and even "defrocking" of some of those ministers.

Needless to say, it's "deja vu all over again" for me as a United Church of Canada minister of more than three decades. I had seminary classmates who were the first to be open about their sexual orientation and I watched as our denomination was battered by the controversies around ordination and same-gender unions. I went through my own major shift in outlook about what is faithful and have now worked with a number of gay and lesbian staff in different congregations whose commitment and Christian spirituality is beyond question. I wonder why we ever chose to be so condemning and exclusive.

One of the situations in the States which caught my attention is of an elderly retired minister in Dallas, Texas, who defied United Methodist law to marry a gay couple. William McElvaney is 85, and both men of the couple are in their eighties. They have been together for 53 years and are longtime members of their congregation. Fifty three years of commitment without benefit of society's blessing, but their wedding was attended by more than 200.  Is this not impressive regardless of how one feels about same-gender marriage? McElvaney, a former seminary president has no idea whether he will be disciplined for his act of sedition and doesn't seem too worried. He has liver cancer and underwent radiation three days before the wedding.

Have you been following this trend out of the United States? Were you aware of this particular story? What are your thoughts?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lentement in Christ

This was one of the warmest Winters on record, globally, but not in our neck of the woods. The snow piled up, it was pervasively cold, and there was no January thaw. I started out scoffing at those who had selective amnesia about Winters of the past, but my bravado wore thin early in the new year.

Spring has been slow in coming, and even after a few days of milder weather I'm not counting my ice-encrusted chickens. I do see and hear that some birds are returning. Rivers and streams are opening. The snow in our yard is diminishing. These are all good signs. But slowly, lentement.

Duh. It had never occurred to me until last week that while the word Lent, from the Latin, means both lengthening and slowly, that the same word is likely the source of the French lentement or slowly. While this Lent has seemed draggy, a forced march, I need to reframe it and reclaim it, if it isn't too late.

I have loved the stories from the gospel of John this year in the lectionary cycle. They are lengthy and rather slow in the reading. They take us somewhere deeper into life with Christ. In a culture that seems to value speed above all else, lentement can be good.

Any comments, co-survivors of this Winter? Are you okay with the different pace and feel of Lent?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Prayer for Freedom

On Monday Quebeckers go to the polls for their provincial election and I pray, quite literally, that the Parti Quebecois goes down to a crushing defeat. Part of my desire for this outcome is that I want Quebec to stay within confederation and always have. In recent years, while our son and daughter-in-law lived in the province, we became much more aware of its cultural uniqueness and remarkable beauty. Canada would be diminished if Quebec left. The premier, Pauline Marois, insists that another referendum is not on the agenda, but the PQ is a separatist party.

More importantly I pray for a Quebec in which there will be freedom of expression, including religious expression. The Charter of Values is a thinly masked racist manifesto as far as I am concerned, and apparently I'm in fairly good company. Two former premiers of the province and the former leader of the Bloc Quebecois have also denounced it.

In recent days Marois has admitted that employees of the province will be fired if the Charter is adopted and individuals refuse to give up their head scarves, or kippas, or visible crosses. How can be the supposed value of a provincial government to dismiss employees for modest expressions of faith? What problems have these symbols and attempts at modesty created up until now?

 I certainly understand issues around face-covering, which is not a Muslim principle anyway. And no government employees anywhere in the country are allowed to proselytize for their religion. I hope that this goes down in history as an ugly attempt at religious suppression rather than becoming the law.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Story of the Jews

I watched several episodes of Simon Schama's thoughtful BBC/PBS series on the history of Judaism called The Story of the Jews. It was fascinating to be reminded of the rich legacy and contribution to human culture made by this always rather small but creative group of monotheists. Once again I was challenged to consider that Jesus was Yeshua, the Jew, and Paul was Saul, the rabbi.

I was also dismayed to see how virtually every time Jews have prospered and contributed to their culture they have been punished for it. Of course I already knew this, but it was a saddening reminder. The term ghetto refers to the enclave established in Venice after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella commissioned Columbus and kicked out the Jews in the same year. The Inquisition, Russian pogroms, and then the horrors of the Holocaust or Shoah are all shameful marks on our supposed civilization, and Christians have often been at the forefront.

I feel somehow that every Christian should watch a series such as this one, both to ponder the extraordinary contribution to human development by Judaism and to consider the price Jews have paid over the past three thousand years for their identity.

Do you feel you know enough about Judaism? Do you make the positive connection between Judaism and Christianity? Would a series such as this one appeal to you as the basis for a study group or discussion?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Dem Bones

The Bridge St. choir will be singing a version of the spiritual Dem Bones on Sunday, complete with percussion and other fun stuff. Terry has chosen this anthem because of the Ezekiel passage on which it is based. We get two interesting resurrection passages this Sunday, the one of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37 and the raising of Lazarus in John 11. As a preacher I've had to figure out whether to address these scripture readings as a  pastoral foretaste of Easter or as an opportunity to reflect on the desiccated and scattered bones of our United Church. God's question: "O Mortal, can these bones live?" is an essential one for us at the moment, and we don't yet know if we can be resuscitated, or should be.

I have mentioned the Comprehensive Review underway in the United Church, a process which some are concerned has more to do with structure that Christ rolling away the stone and calling us to something new. But in the dry bones vision, the skeletons have to come together before being held together with sinew and muscles and ultimately receiving breath.

Our Bridge St. Abundant Living Dialogue Day this Saturday will be an opportunity to explore whether there is still life in the bones of this congregation. We will celebrate our 200th anniversary in 2015 and we want to uphold our hope, rather than nostalgia.

I know where I am going homiletically on Sunday, but it wouldn't be any fun if I told you now. I do know that the Christ who says "I am resurrection and I am life" will always be at the heart of my ministry.