Sunday, February 28, 2016

Monarch Recovery?

In the past I have blogged about my experiences with Monarch butterflies along the north shore of Lake Ontario, and the wonder of seeing thousands of them roosting in trees near the water's edge, their wings like exquisite, living, stained glass windows.

I have also reflected about Barbara Kingsolver's novel, Flight Behaviour, which is a well-written lament about the loss of habitat for Monarchs which has led to a precipitous decline in the numbers of these migratory creatures. The evangelical congregation of the central figure is significant in the story, and doesn't come off all that badly in the telling. Sadly, conservative Christians are often so concerned about salvation as a future promise that they have little regard for our earthly home and the creatures of it.

It is encouraging to see a report out of Mexico that the wintering ground for the Monarchs essentially tripled in size from last year and there were many more butterflies.

Alejandro del Mazo, chairman of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, said that, based on the span of forest the butterflies covered this winter, the monarch population in Mexico might have risen to about 140 million, a substantial increase from an estimated 35 million at their nadir two years ago.

While this is encouraging, the increase is to 10 acres, compared to 45 acres only twenty years ago. No one can say why the numbers have increased but the crackdown on illegal logging in the wintering area, along with efforts in Canada and the United States to increase the amount of milkweed for feeding and breeding may be making a difference.

This is obviously a scientific concern, but it is also a spiritual concern. If we want to "live with respect in Creation" as one of our United Church faith statements offers, there will be practical implications. We can act individually, as faith communities, all of us encouraging governments to implement policies and procedures which protect species at risk.

Are you encouraged by the news about the possible Monarch rebound? Have you been on the lookout for them in recent years? Planted milkweed? Is this a concern Christians should take to heart?

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Vaughan crash

There is no justification for drinking and driving -- ever. And I feel that sentences for those who kill others while behind the wheel should be at least as severe as those for manslaughter convictions. This is murder to my mind and too many people are flouting the law. Marco Muzzo killed four people, including the three precious children of a family where the parents are now bereft and he deserves the full weight of the law.

That said, I believe that his remorse is genuine. He pled guilty, and in his statement, made with faltering voice to the court he offered:  "I'm tortured by the grief I've caused...I know that there are no actions that can ever change what happened, no steps to bring back your children..." This remorse shouldn't result in any change to the sentencing, but it was the right thing for Muzzo to do.

The parents heard none of what Muzzo had to say because they left as he was about to speak. Outside the courtroom, the mother of the three kids, Jennifer Neville-Lake, said the couple had no interest in what Muzzo had to offer and questioned the sincerity of his remorse: "There's nothing he could say that would have any impact on me. I don't want to listen to the man who is responsible for killing my children. I don't see why I should put myself through that."

We can understand her skepticism and anger, and as a father of three I shudder at the enormity of her loss. I hope that someday she can hear Muzzo's statement, not for his sake but for her healing. She may never be able to forgive the person who robbed her children of life and their joy of being a family. Who could blame her or her husband for that? Yet we all must experience the strange alchemy of justice and penitence and forgiveness and restoration which is life itself. I pray that the day will come when Marco Muzzo returns to society and from all accounts he was and is a down-to-earth and caring person, despite his family wealth and terrible crime. I hope he can rebuild his life.

More importantly I pray that the Neville-Lakes can re-establish a life of meaning which is not crippled by anger.

How have you reacted to this story?

Jennifer Neville-Lake rests her head on her husband Edward's shoulder as he talks to the media outside at the courthouse in Newmarket, Ont., on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 following the sentencing hearing of Miarco Muzzo. The couple lost their three children and Neville-Lake's father in a drunk driving crash involving Muzzo.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mysterious and Daffy

At its best religion is imbued with mystery and majesty and allows us to transcend the mundane. At its worse is cruel and crass and downright daffy.

I saw a Washington Post piece about a church supplies expo in Italy which reminds us of the mundane and even the daffy aspects of religion. Don't get me wrong, I have a fair amount of what I like to call "holy hardware," everything from crosses to chalices to liturgical stoles. The photos from this expo are both intriguing and jarring, a reminder of how some of the powerful symbols of our faith can be commodified.

Do these images offend you, or is this just the business side of religion. Do they intrigue you?

I quite enjoy the Last Juicebox, pictured below.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Refugee Need Continues

RCMP acting Sgt. Lina Dabit hands out water and colouring books to Syrian refugees in Jordan bound for Canada.

The Syrian refugee family of five sponsored by three Belleville United Church congregations, along with community partners, is doing well. The commitment of volunteers both before and after their arrival has been remarkable. In addition to going to school with ESL support the three boys are being given the opportunities for sports and other activities. Mom and Dad are in school in their own way, learning English and figuring out life in Canada. I can only imagine their shock after last week's snowstorm.

They were among the fortunate refugees who arrived to a fully furnished apartment and a posse of committed supporters. Nearly half of the roughly 23,000 Syrians who have made their way to Canada are still waiting for permanent housing. The feds are telling us that they may double the number of Syrian refugees they promised to bring to Canada, but where will they go.

Our sponsorship group has set up a sub-committee to consider additional sponsorships, with an eye to bringing other members of the Al Mansour extended family. They have many relatives who want to come to Canada, although none of them has a clear immigration path yet. We know that the mental health of refugees is enhanced by having loved ones close at hand, so we would like to bring in family members. We will only do so

The sub-committee is made up of representatives of the three congregations, several from the Islamic community, and one person of the Bahia faith. The prayerful, respectful, and affectionate sharing and discussion is so impressive. We were asked if we were willing to specific single Syrian male, one of a segment of the population that neither government or sponsorship groups really want to consider. We decided we would after looking at his paperwork. Subsequent information and conversations with our Islamic partners with connections in the Middle East helped us understand that we wouldn't be a good fit.This man will now be going to Toronto, if he gains admission.  Still, the two meetings to get to the decision were important, and we walked away with an even deeper appreciation of one another.

We know the need is urgent and we hear and see the suffering of so many. We feel a responsibility to get this right, in spite of the pressures, to engage both heart and head.

I commented t the group that while the saying is that "God moves in mysterious ways" we discovered that God works in practical ways as well. I thank God for everyone involved.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LGBT at the Movies

The back-to-back films at the Empire in Belleville have been Carol, starring Kate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and The Danish Girl with Eddie Redmayne. Of course there are a number of other actors offering strong performances in both films, but those three are the most recognizable.

Both are set in other eras, one before WWII and the other after, and both deal with sexual orientation and gender identity. The latter, Carol, is about two women who fall in love, one of whom is married to a man, and the rather tortured nature of their relationship in a time when homosexuality is considered a psychiatric illness and a moral failure.

The Danish Girl is about a married man who comes to must address his conviction that he is a woman, even though he still loves his wife. If homosexuality is "the love that dare not speak its name" then being transgendered is an abomination.

I appreciated Carol more, but that may be because of my stubborn discomfort with transgender issues. My gut hasn't caught up with my head on this one yet, but I'm convinced it will, and a thoughtful film such as this one will help. Ruth noted, rightly, that these are both love stories, first and foremost, not "issue" stories. We both found Carol to profound in an understated way, and she was deeply affected by The Danish Girl. The message is that humans will demonstrate great courage to be who they are within, despite societal prohibitions and suspicions.

This is an important reminder for those of us who follow the Christ who so often challenged the mores and prohibitions of his time. As we walk the Lenten road to Holy Week we can ask what this means for us in real terms in our time.

Perhaps this isn't so much LGBT at the movies, as explorations the power of love and personhood.  


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Who Writes History?

I am currently reading an award-winning book on the Underground Railroad, the escape route, or routes, for escaped slaves. I decided to do so to further my education in Black History Month. Eric Foner is a thoughtful and thorough writer and I am learning about what this conduit to freedom  actually was -- and wasn't. It wasn't nearly as organized as is often portrayed. And it wasn't necessarily the noble efforts of white people who made escape possible. Why do we think it was? Because whites wrote the story, and didn't hesitate and embellish to portray themselves in a heroic light. The truth is that the escapees were the heroes, and much of the support they received came from other blacks who were already free in northern states and in Canada. They took considerable risks and made significant sacrifices, often for those they did not know in any way.

Yes, religious folk such as Quakers helped escaping slaves, and there were other Christians who were involved as a matter of conscience. Some of them were brave and suffered for their efforts. Some were beaten and had their homes burned. Organizations were formed called manumission societies which worked to support escaping slaves. At the same time they could be paternalistic and established policies which didn't really support blacks as equals.

Reader Eric -- my bro -- commented on my earlier blog about To Kill a Mockingbird and mentioned the article by Lawrence Hill and subsequent CBC discussion about the novel. He's correct in saying that the novel is still worthwhile, as is the film. They give us a window on a troubling aspect on North America history and call us to something higher. Hill's point about the story of racism being written by whites is well taken just the same. We need the different perspectives that are emerging.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Depression & Healing Love

I have no interest in watching human beings pummel each other to a pulp, so Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) doesn't capture my attention even though bouts draw huge crowds. I am aware that Ronda Rousey is a mega-star of the women's circuit and her recent defeat was a big deal.

I am interested in mental health, and so I paid attention when Rousey admitted on the Ellen Show that this defeat resulted almost immediately in suicidal thoughts. At age 29, having lost once, she wondered who she was and whether she wanted to live.

We never know what leads individuals to contemplate taking their own lives. We may have stereotypes of those who are suicidal, yet there are many triggers. Persons may appear competent, cheerful, "together" when in fact they are suffering terribly. Among the courageous celebrities who have been very active in promoting mental health awareness are the CBC's Shelagh Rogers and multiple medal winning Olympian Clara Hughes. Both are highly successful and outgoing, and both experienced serious and even life-threatening periods of depression.

As a clergyperson I am so aware of this for folk I serve and in my own life along the way. Life can become overwhelming, even when we are "on our game," and our congregations must be places of compassion, support, and the healing love of Christ.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

RIP Harper Lee

Harper Lee has died at the age of 89 and millions who were affected by both the book and the film will be saddened, despite her long life. Recently Lee has been the subject of much discussion because her other novel, Go Set a Watchman offered a much less noble portrait of the central characters of To Kill a Mockingbird. It may well have been a first draft, and reveals the ugly realities of racism in the South. Most of us will stick with the higher tone of Mockingbird, no doubt.
I went looking for the blog entry I offered on the 50th anniversary of Mockingbird, and discovered that is was five-and-a-half years ago. Time definitely has wings! Here is the text of that blog entry. I have also included the link which will show you who responded. A fair number of people did, and some are still at it.
Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Harper Lee's one and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The reclusive Ms. Lee is probably doing okay since sales have averaged six hundred thousand copies a year since it was published. It is a perennial favourite of high school lit classes and the Oscar-winning movie version shows up on television all the time. Could there have been a more noble and dignified Atticus Finch than Gregory Peck? Brock Peters demonstrated great dignity as the accused Tom Robinson. And what about a young Robert Duvall as the mysterious neighbour, Boo Radley? The story is based on an incident in Ms Lee's community in 1936, when she was an impressionable ten years old.

Surely this story has endured through the decades because it gets to the dark heart of racial injustice and reminds us that the courage to do what is right in the face of grave wrong is more than "whistling in the dark."
Apparently some years ago British librarians voted To Kill a Mockingbird ahead of the bible as a book that everyone should read before they die. Interesting, because it doesn't strike me as competing with the bible. I think it reflects the best of the biblical themes of justice and compassion and prophetic speech.

What are your experiences of the novel or the film? Any observations about what it represents for you?

I would love to read your comments about the impact the novel had on you, and your thoughts on Harper Lee's death.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Pope Trumps Trump

Pope Francis visited Mexico and hundreds of thousands of the Roman Catholic flock flocked. With his heart for the poor he made sure that he celebrated mass in some of the roughest and most dangerous neighbourhoods. He also travelled to the border between the United States and Mexico, delivering a powerful message along the banks of Rio Grande river decrying systems of oppression that force people to flee to other countries and blessing undocumented immigrants. A crowd of 200,000 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez listened to a homily which seemed to chastise the US for it's immigration policy. The image above is of Francis at the memorial to those who have died attempting to cross the border illegally.

It got really interesting when Pope Francis made a comment about Donald Trump's faith, suggesting that he couldn't really be a Christian if he wanted to wall out Mexicans and send those in America back where they came from. Needless to say, the Donald got in a lather and dissed the pontiff, saying that the Mexicans put him up to it. Honestly, is this a good plan to alienate the Hispanic vote? Trump doesn't seem to care.

I don't think Pope Francis gives a tortilla what Trump thinks about him, and I'm delighted that he challenges the faux faith of this nasty pretender to the Republican leadership. Should we question anyone's faith? Well, Jesus said: " ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven." That sounds a lot like "show the love, or you're fired!" to me.

Where you aware of this pontiff-pompous showdown? What do you think of the pope's observations?


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Redress & REDress

Have you seen images of the REDress Project, a haunting reminder that at least 1200 aboriginal women have gone missing in Canada through the years? The majority of these women are probably dead, the victims of violence which has too often gone without determined investigation by police because they are aboriginal women. The grim saga of the victims of Robert Pickton is a constant reminder of what can befall women who are First Nations, especially if they end up as sex trade workers.  

Now Carolyn Bennett, the federal Indigenous Affairs minister, says that the number of missing women is much higher than 1200, a figure that was already sobering. How could this have happened in our country? Of course, we have to ask ourselves how the shame of the Residential Schools unfolded, including the hundreds of children who died while in the supposed care of churches and government.

The interfaith organization called Kairos is inviting congregations and groups of every stripe to consider how we may take part in reconciliation, so that the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are actually fulfilled in some way. Take a look at some of those resources and perhaps consider how they might be used in your faith community.

Truth and Reconciliation Bentwood Box

While you're pondering this, have you heard about the ballet called Going Home Star, told from the perspective of a young aboriginal woman? In the end the arts may help us on the road through mourning to healing more effectively than words ever will. Still, action is needed, and now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


You know who Aaron Sorkin is, don't you? The name may not ring a bell immediately, but you recall The West Wing TV series, and more recently The News Room. My favourite was the short-lived Sports Night. Sorkin films? How about The Social Network and Moneyball and A Few Good get it. He's impressive.

On our way home from London on Monday we listened to a CBC q rebroadcast of an interview with Sorkin done around the time that the rather unsuccessful Steve Jobs was released. It was an interesting discussion of creativity and taking risks and that sort of stuff. Near the end interviewer Shad asked a question about the biggest knock on Sorkin, the often high-minded wordiness of his characters.

This was the best part of the interview for me because Sorkin enthusiastically defended preachiness. He actually used the word "preachy" in a positive manner, noting that the effective use of words is power. He used Barack Obama's early speech at a Democratic convention as an example. While some dismissed Obama saying "sure that was a good speech, but can he govern" Sorkin reminded listeners that we are stirred by words.

I was delighted that being "preachy" was defended so thoughtfully. I work hard at preaching and still put considerable effort into preparing for virtually every public speaking occasion. When I went before Belleville Council recently I took the better part of two hours to figure out what I wanted to say in the ten minutes allotted to me. Actually, shorter presentations often require more effort. I don't stick slavishly to my text, as many of you know, but I am always prepared.

I believe that my words as a servant of God matter, and I will continue to be "preachy" in the best way I am able.

Do you agree that the effective use of words is powerful? Are you okay with "preachy" being used in a positive sense?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Assisted Dying in Canada

I became aware just recently that the joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate on assisted dying has as a co-chair a United Church minister who is once again a Liberal member of parliament. I go a long way back with the Rev. Rob Oliphant. He was one of a group of students for the ministry who did their internships in outport Newfoundland thirty five years ago. I was one of several supervisors and while Rob wasn't my student I saw him regularly as part of the group. He is very bright and thoughtful and served the church well through the years. He brings an important perspective to this committee as someone who has worked through end-of-life issues with parishioners.

I contacted Rob to ask how congregations and presbyteries of the United Church might get involved in this discussion. Generally, United Church members support an end to this life which is compassionate and does not insist on physical and emotional distress for the sake of prolonging life at any cost. This change in legislation is important, and reflects a change in the attitudes of society.

At the same time I hope we recognize the complexity of the issues and the need to protect the vulnerable. I have blogged about this several times and I have been open about my concerns that most of us don't realize how challenging these decisions are. We really aren't all that good at palliative care in this country, and many physicians are ambivalent about being asked to assist in terminating lives.

Rob mentions that conservative churches have been very vocal in response to the changed legislation, in the form of hundreds of emails a day, and I can only imagine that they are opposed to loosening restrictions on assisted dying. I observed that I can't recall a single conversation at the presbytery or conference level of the United Church through the years, even though the United Church Observer magazine has discussed assisted dying on a number of occasions. I may have simply missed those conversations, but I do think it's time given that the Supreme Court has given the current government until June to figure this out.

I think that there will be a window to do something creative after our report is released (February 25) and before legislation is finalized (early June). The draft legislation should come by some time in April. It then goes to Committee, then to the Senate. So either before draft legislation (using our report for discussion) or after tabling of legislation (using it).  

What do you think? Should we be discussing this more thoughtfully and thoroughly within the United Church? Would you want to participate in this sort of discussion?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bosch in Heaven and Hell

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

The paintings of the Netherlandish painter Hieronymous Bosch are the stuff of nightmares and hellfire sermons, filled with frightening creatures devouring the unfaithful, along with other bizarre images. Five hundred years ago Bosch was a respectable Roman Catholic painter who it turned out had a dark inner life. This description of the painter in The Guardian is excellent:

The public face of Bosch, walking the streets of this little city, was that of a good townsman and Catholic. His private thoughts emerge in the most unexpected and miraculous of all the treasures assembled – his drawings. Twenty survive in the entire world, according to the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, whose findings this exhibition reveals – and 19 of them are on view here. They show us the secret Bosch, a man with a mind full of monsters.

They have been brought together in his hometown of Den Bosch for the retrospective from hell -- almost literally. If you look at the video link you'll hear about the challenge to a small gallery with a modest budget in bringing these works together. I can only imagine that seeing them as a collection will have a much greater impact than viewing them separately.

The Europe of the beginning of the 16th century was an uncertain and often brutish place where death stalked people in the form of the plague and other epidemics. Religion was often dark as well, with the threat of eternal damnation for sinners. We get a sense of this in Bosch's paintings which are both disturbing and powerful.

What do Bosch's paintings evoke for you? Are you just repulsed, or is there some fascination as well? What about the religious notions reflected in these images?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent & RUTR

Do you recall me writing many moons ago about what is probably the urban myth that Tim Horton's began Roll Up The Rim to counteract Lent? The story goes that coffee consumption dropped as people fasted in this season of the church year so Tim's created this incentive to feast rather than fast.

While it's unlikely that this was the reason for RUTR, I do notice that it began this year just a short time before Ash Wednesday and extends through to the beginning of the Palm Sunday weekend. Let the conspiracy theories continue!

There is a online petition asking Tim Horton's to give a break to those who conscientiously bring their reusable mugs for their coffee. At the moment you have to buy a disposable paper cup, and because those cups are lined with plastic they aren't recycled in many municipalities, even though we may put them in recycling bins. I am inundated with earnest petitions on all manner of topics, but I like this one. The suggestion is scratch tickets or attachable pull tabs for those who are choosing to reduce waste with their mugs. Here is the Toronto Star article which notes that more than 16,000 have signed the petition so far.

What do you think about the RUTR Lenten temptation theory? Do you like the notion of a RUTR option for those who use their own coffee cups?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Music Room, God's Room?

At our daughter Jocelyn's wedding to Jeff  last October our older grandson Nicholas was the life of the party. When I say "older" I should clarify that he didn't turn three-years-old until early in this new year. He delighted us all though by dancing and dancing...and dancing. Just when we thought he was tuckered right out the music would start again and so did he. We asked the DJ to play one of his favourite songs and when he heard it his face lit up. Soon he was surrounded by women dancing with him. Good gig.

What is it that music does to us, stimulating our brains, touching our deepest emotions? It shouldn't surprise us at all that most religions are integrally woven with musical expression, both praise and lament. The music of our faith fires our imaginations, and stirs our hearts. Quakers might not agree with us, but surely worship wouldn't be nearly as meaningful without music. Music can alter the spirit of a church service in a heartbeat.

A recent article in the New York Times describes fascinating new research out of MIT which has discovered, through new forms of imaging, that portions of our brains respond to music in ways that are unique and discreet. 

 The music areas are essentially their own room, distinct even from speech areas. This may be why music has a profound effect at the beginning of life, and at the end. I have seen residents of nursing homes come to life and sing hymns during worship services where the spoken word appears to have little effect. And remember Henry from the documentary Alive Inside?

What do you think? Is the music room of a brain also God's room? Why does music touch you? How does it touch you?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Schmutz Wednesday

schmutz or shmutz.
 PRONUNCIATION: (shmuhts, shmoots)
MEANING: noun: Dirt, filth, or any undesirable substance.

In my Ash Wednesday reflection this evening I will use the excellent Yiddish word "schmutz" to refer to the icky stuff of the sign of the cross marked on each forehead, as well as the "undesirable substances" of our lives which we address as Lent begins.

Most of us recognize along the way that our lives can get messy, dirty, and downright sinful. Are we bad people? That's really not the point. Rather than defining who is or isn't a bad person we concede that we say and do things that are thoughtless, unkind, cruel, even vicious. We don't dwell on them, but we "come clean," naming the schmutz, and then moving on.

It always seems like a lot of work getting ready for a service that just isn't a big draw, to be honest. But I need this opportunity, and I think we do as a community of faith.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Trumping Faith

Embedded image permalink
When Donald Trump spoke at fundamentalist Liberty University he quoted from "Two Corinthians," pointing out that he wasn't all that familiar with scripture. That didn't matter, nor did the fact that he is racist, lewd, or that he has trampled over people for a lifetime on his way to wealth. Liberty uphold the sanctity of marriage, while the Donald is thrice wed. No matter. He was the darling of the day, and improbably admired by many religious conservatives in the United States.

Why? These supposedly bible-reading Christians don't seem to know much about Jesus and his message. I honestly don't think they do, and that much of their faith is rooted in a harsh worldview that is more about the "survival of the richest"  rather than "the meek shall inherit the earth."

The Pew Research poll shown above indicates that people don't view Trump as religious. So, why...oh, never mind.

Do you have any thoughts on this? You have been quiet readers lately, but I am curious about your take on what is happening here.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Spotlight on the Vatican

A friend who is a former Roman Catholic priest has decided not to see the film Spotlight, which is about the horrendous cover-up of sexual abuse in the Boston diocese, and the work of Boston Globe reporters to uncover the conspiracy of silence. More than 200 priests were implicated eventually, and public officials were complicit. My friend is a decent human being and a committed Christian who left the priesthood for love. He is now happily married and the father of two children. I certainly understand why the film wouldn't appeal to him. There are many good priests who must be cringing at yet another reminder of those who committed horrendous violations of trust and ruined lives.

Spotlight is taut, well-acted, and well-told. It doesn't seem right to say that I enjoyed the film because of the subject matter, but it deserves praise.

I saw on the weekend that there will be a screening at the Vatican, which is both good and unsettling. At the end of the film we're told that Cardinal Law, the cardinal for Boston, left America and relocated in Rome. A little research shows that he continued to serve in a prestigious church and had influence at the Vatican.  He is retired now, and lives in comfort even though there is compelling evidence that he is both a liar and a criminal.

We also heard that Peter Saunders, one of the members of a Vatican panel on sexual abuse, has been put on an involuntary "leave of absence." He is an abuse survivor who has been vocal and speaks to the press. While we don't know the full story, this supposed leave sure seems like a silencing.

Commission member and abuse survivor Peter Saunders said that if he doesn’t see progress on accountability for bishops within one or two years, “don’t expect to see me here again by then.” (AP Photo)

Peter Saunders

We have seen significant signs of change in the Roman Catholic church under Pope Francis. This dark stain of sexual abuse, those who were perpetrators and those who condoned it, must be addressed with greater openness and honesty. Without that it will be difficult for the church to re-establish its credibility.

Have you seen Spotlight? Are you surprised that it will be screened at the Vatican? Do you agree that the church won't be credible until much more is done?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Black History & White Congregations

When our son Isaac was perhaps nine or ten years old one of his friends from school was the only black child in his class. He was at our house regularly after school because he shared Ike's passion for basketball and we had a net in the driveway. Sometimes I would arrive home from work and they would still be shooting hoops, so I would join them. Isaac would shout out "Dad!" as he looked for a pass, and soon this lad did the same. I found this quite amusing, but it become a regular part of our pickup games. I had no idea what his father looked like yet I don't think there would have been much confusion about who was actually his parent if we stood together.

This morning I will remind the Bridge St. congregation that we are a pasty lot, as are most United Church congregations. Still, it is important for us to acknowledge Black History Month, including our United Church history. We did have a black moderator, The Right Reverend Dr. Wilbur Howard, who was ordained in 1941. Yet it wasn't until 1965 that he received a call to a congregation, having worked for the denomination for nearly a quarter century before that opportunity came.

Just recently Parkdale United Church, a congregation whose lead minister, the Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey, is black had it's building defaced with racist graffiti including the deeply offensive N-word.  Anthony responded with dignity saying this about the vandals:

They attempted to sow hatred and division, and we are responding with love and justice and reconciliation. I would take them to lunch and have a conversation about what has brought them to believe the way they do, and offer them a different perspective about how we ought to treat each other and care for each other.

Is it worthwhile for United Church congregations to acknowledge Black History Month in worship? Have we learned much about inclusivity generally as the people of Christ through the years? How might we become more diverse?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Casinos and Concern

TIM MIller/The Intelligencer
Rev. David Mundy stands in front of Belleville's city hall Thursday. Mundy, representing several local churches, has been denied the opportunity to speak in front of council in regards to concerns arising from the approval of a new casino.

I was surprised to read in the local paper recently that a decision was about to made about a casino in Belleville, and that it was essentially a "slam dunk" that it would be coming to town. I did have time to speak to our Bridge St. Governance Board before the decision, then Kente Presbytery. I brought a draft of a statement to presbytery that colleagues helped me refine. The issue was picked up by Bay of Quinte Conference and two statements were forwarded to Belleville City Council.

Then things got interesting. I requested the opportunity to speak to Council, which was denied on the basis that my "application for a deputation" was too late. I did attend the meeting of Council where the casino was enthusiastically endorsed. I was assured that I could apply for a deputation at the February 8th meeting, but I was turned down again. Since no rationale was given, I asked why and was told that since the decision had been made there was no need for me to present. I reminded the City Clerk that my request was that council be proactive in working with local agencies which will be dealing with the resulting problem gambling and addiction -- to no avail.

And then the local paper called to ask about the United Church position, and I told my story. It resulted in a front page article, an editorial, and a radio interview. Council now looks bad, when in fact they are actually hard-working, community-minded individuals. They also underestimated the role of organized religion in a community. Even though we live in a time of waning numbers and aging members, the media still listen when faith groups speak.

Isn't that encouraging?

Read the article

Thursday, February 04, 2016

No Baggage?

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.He told them: "Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. Luke 9

The book No Baggage is getting a fair amount of attention these days. It sounds as though it is in the vein of  Eat, Pray, Love and Wild and other memoirs of this ilk. Off we venture to save our troubled souls. It's interesting that so many of these books are written by women, where once they were the domain of men. They are insightful, to a degree, and offer a different perspective.

Clara Bensen meets Jeff through an online dating service and although they hardly know each other they head off on an eight country, three week journey with no hotel reservations, no real plans, and no baggage. Almost the opposite of Cheryl Strayed and her ponderous backpack in Wild. This certainly sounds like a parent's nightmare -- you're doing what?!

No doubt part of the fascination for those who read about this adventure is the "no stuff" aspect. We have so damn much junk which we accumulate in our homes and garages (who uses a garage for a vehicle?) and in storage units. It just about kills us when we move and downsize.

I also listened to a CBC interview recently with a couple here in Ontario who sold most of their things in order to simplify their lives. It may not surprise you to know that their teenagers were not impressed.

Jesus might give a nod of approval to Bensen and firmly suggest we give it a try. Wait, he did! And he didn't just say it, he lived it. He strongly models simplicity and minimalism as foundationally for spiritual clarity. If we want to see God, get rid of the baggage.  Those of us who claim to be Christians in the wealthiest countries and in the most affluent era of human history tend to be deaf to this directive. Who wants to be like those moocher disciples?

We keep a tight grasp on our stuff in churches as well. In a day when we really need to figure out how to "travel light" we are holding on to our real estate and holy hardware with a death grip --literally.

Any thoughts on this? You may not have gone "no baggage," but less stuff? What about communities of faith? Are we any closer to travelling light?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Virtue of Minor Saints

St. Blase. You've heard of St. Blase, haven't you? Well, if you are a Protestant reader, or simply a reader without an active religious involvement you probably haven't of Blase or of the many other minor saints of the Roman Catholic tradition.

I noticed that this is the Feast of St. Blase and that there is a liturgy for the blessing of throats, because Blase, who lived in the fourth century saved a boy from choking. Eventually he was killed for his faith as the "fun facts" (?) image notes. I couldn't make this stuff up folks.

While this may seem curious and inconsequential to say the least, saints days can open us to prayers that we might not otherwise consider. I figure we have promoted other figures in our society to virtual sainthood, the celebrities and sports heroes who are entertainers and distractors for a bored populace. We are already well into the veneration of the quarterbacks for this Sunday's Superbowl.

We do revere some genuinely saintly and prophetic figures, those who have exhibited courage and brought about social change, but they are a select few. Perhaps we need to pay attention to the lesser saints, whether they are the figures from the past or those we know are exemplary persons in our midst. Just a thought.

Here is a liturgy for this day. Tell me what you think about saints days and the liturgy itself.


The celebrant says:
Let us now pray for those who are sick and suffering, for those who care for the sick, and for all who seek the blessings of good health.
We pray to the Lord Lord, hear our prayer.
For those who suffer from sickness and disease, that they may receive healing, we pray to the Lord. R.
For the mentally ill and for their families, that they may receive comfort, we pray to the Lord. R.
For those with physical disabilities, that the strength of Christ may invigorate them, we pray to the Lord. R.
For doctors and nurses, and for all who care for the sick, we pray to the Lord. R.
For those who seek the prayers of Saint Blase today, that they may be protected from afflictions of the throat and other forms of illness, we pray to the Lord. R.

Candles with Red Martyr's Ribbon

With the crossed candles touched to the throat of each person, the celebrant says immediately:
Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
Each person responds: Amen.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Who is on Trial?

Well, the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial has begun and every news outlet in Canada and many abroad are covering this sensational case. At home we have talked about what will unfold because it is really the three women who will be on trial. Already the testimony of the first woman is being picked apart, to undermine the veracity of her story. Ghomeshi won't be required to testify at all during the trial.

This really stinks, and it is one of the reasons women won't come forward when they have been assaulted. Ruth, my wife, would accompany women to court when she was a counsellor at a women's shelter. They were terrified to be in court with their abuser and devastated when their accounts were pulled to shreds.

Twice through the years I have been called upon to chair the United Church's version of a tribunal or trial for a minister accused of sexual impropriety. The first involved a teen girl who claimed inappropriate talk and suggestions by a minister during a drive home. Lawyers represented the accused and the panel examining the evidence. Another lawyer was on the panel and all three were United Church members from different local congregations. I came to realize that the three had talked before we went through the evidence and witnesses and that they had already concluded that there wasn't enough to discipline the minister. The teen was terrified and God knows what she concluded about the church as a result.

In the other instance a minister was accused of inappropriate relationships with a number of women, yet none of those women was willing to step forward. The concerns were from colleagues, people of considerable integrity. In the end, minimal discipline was meted out. Both situations were frustrating for me, but moral outrage is not the same as legally supportable evidence. The desire was to "do right" for the alleged victims, but this can be complicated.

Obviously we hope that justice does prevail in the Ghomeshi case, and he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We can pray that the outcome doesn't convince women that there is no legal recourse after abuse, or that seeking justice simply isn't worth it because of the public humiliation.