Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just As I Am

James Corden is a British comedian who is a genuinely big deal on American television with a talk  show that is on well past my bedtime. He is a remarkably talented guy who might be best known on this side of the pond for his Carpool Karaoke segments with various celebrities. His fifteen minutes with Adele is both very funny and a showcase for his own singing talents. Just Google it for an enjoyable few minutes of entertainment.

Corden comes across as witty and upbeat but apparently he went through a dark period a few years ago when he realized his lifestyle was shallow and self-destructive. He grew up in a devout Christian family and grew up attending church. So he called on his parents for support in his miserable state and they came through for him. This is the way he describes the experience:

“‘They sat on the tiny two-seater sofa and I sat on the floor, I was just talking to the floor really. I felt embarrassment that they were seeing me like this, so embarrassed about so many things – about the way I’d behaved or acted at points over that seven or eight-month period. My dad just stood up and walked across to where I was, and he just put his arms round me and said, ‘You’ve just got to get through this, son.’ I started to cry. Just as you do when your dad hugs you and you are 30. My mum came over and joined us and we sat there. My dad said, ‘I’m going to say a prayer for you. It will be all right, but you can’t carry on like this and only you can decide what happens now.’ Every tear that left my eyes made me feel a little lighter. Dad said a prayer as he kissed my forehead, and Mum came over and joined the hug. I’ve no idea how long we stayed there, but it felt like a lifetime. When they left later on, Dad turned to me and said: 'You’ve so much to be thankful for, James. I know it’s been a tricky year, but you can’t carry on like this.'

This was a turning point for James and he looks back at it with gratitude. We hear a lot of stories of people abandoning religion or living with the condemnation of religious family members. This was so refreshing and touching.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gospel Values

I received a long, rambling diatribe of a letter yesterday criticizing our choice to hold a memorial at Bridge St. church honouring the 49 people killed in Orlando, Florida. To be honest I didn't go beyond the first paragraph or two, but the writer quoted scripture and highlighted key points in red ink rather than blue. I was amused by the last paragraph where the individual proclaimed boldness in speaking on behalf of Jesus (who never says a thing about homosexuality in the gospels) and then leaves the letter unsigned. So much for "stand up, stand up for Jesus!"

In the States there have been a number of pastors who publicly applauded the murders, an incomprehensibly stance, but welcome to America. The preacher in the photo above, Roger Jimenez from Sacramento, California said the Sunday of the despicable massacre “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job! Because these people are predators! They are abusers!” There have been others with a similar message.

It needs to be said that  an overwhelming majority of Christians, including a group of more than 700 Sacramento area pastors denounced Jimenez's hateful pronouncements and a petition calling for his removal collected more than 8,000 signatures. About 100 protesters gathered outside the church in a public protest. It is ironic that Jimenez is Hispanic, a group which is unfairly viewed with scorn by many in America.

We are grimly aware that religion in many expressions is regularly coopted to support suspicion and hate. The message of Christ's embracing love and acceptance seems to be lost in a firestorm of fear and exclusion.

It's important for us to uphold different values and what we believe in our hearts are gospel values.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

3 Amigos Turning Down the Heat?

Well two of the Three Amigos, Prime Minister Trudeau and Pena Nieto, have already met in Ottawa and the third, President Obama, will join them tomorrow. These leaders of the North American nations will discuss a number of substantive issues, and perhaps the most important is combatting climate change. Here is the Globe and Mail's summary of what will be addressed:

Negotiators have been working on an agreement that would include efforts to harmonize environmental regulations, steps to phase out methane gases and broad commitments to encourage the use of carbon markets. Canada and the United States are pushing Mexico to join their bilateral commitment to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 – a deal announced when Mr. Trudeau visited Washington in March.

This is a significant proposal and is much more ambitious than anything under discussion in the past. Under Prime Minister Harper there was little will to reduce greenhouse gases or regulate carbon emissions under a common framework.

I do hope we will all pray for a meaningful outcome to these discussions. Honestly, the real work for these accords happens behind the scenes over months and even years. But the public commitment of the leaders of Mexico, the US, and Canada is a big deal.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

First Canadians & Canada Day

Last Sunday was First Nations Sunday in many United Church congregations, the Sunday closest to National Aboriginal Day, which is celebrated on the first day of Summer each year. We didn't observe it last week because of our focus this morning.
The Bridge St congregation has observed Canada Day, which used to be called Dominion Day, for many years. I always like Dominion Day and when the Globe and Mail newspaper started a campaign to retain the name I literally bought the tee-shirt. But Canada Day is really more appropriate because it comes from an Iroquois word which means settlement or village.

The Bridge St. tradition is a nice one,  although it has been observed in a rather British way over time, complete with a bagpiper. Today we are acknowledging and hopefully honouring the first peoples, the first nations of this country who had their own cultures and faith expressions “long before my people journeyed to this land,” as the United Church apology puts it.

We have as our guest David Mowat (to the left in the photo) of the Alderville First Nation, which has a traditional connection with Bridge St, through our Methodist roots. Bridge St. established a mission on Grape Island in the Bay of Quinte with more than one hundred First Nations residents. It was unrealistic, to put in mildly, We have paddled out to the island and it's hard to imagine how that many people could have survived through Winters there, let alone flourished. Within a short time this group moved to Alderville.
David has been very involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so his thoughts and reflections will be timely. The United Church has a mixed relationship with First Nations in this country and our involvement in the Residential Schools is our greatest shame. We hope that every effort toward mending broken relations are working toward healing will make a difference.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Implications of Brexit


'll concede that I am rather surprised at the Brexit vote result which takes Great Britain out of the European Union. On the other hand, xenophobia and racism are powerful and illogical forces. I'm convinced that returning to an island mentality keeping out the stranger was at the heart of this decision, even though Brit John Donne famously said that "no man is an island", and presumably no nation either. All of the major parties were in favour of staying in the EU, to no avail. Murdered MP Jo Cox, an advocate for refugees and progressive immigration policies, becomes a martyr to a failed cause. PM David Cameron is out, but he started this fiasco in the first place.

Will the EU survive? Wags are now referring to Swedone and Italeavia and Portugone. We won't rush to judgement but this decision will affect the union.

Some environmentalists were deeply concerned that a choice to leave the EU would result in lax environmental laws and a movement away from a common approach to combatting climate change. While George Monbiot, author of the book Feral, was in favour of staying he also wondered whether exiting might get Britain out from under the huge EU subsidies paid to landowners. There are considerable incentives to keep land as agriculture in designation, even if it isn't being farmed. The outcome of this policy is that land is not allowed to revert to a natural state and in countries such as Romania forests are being clearcut to gain the subsidies.

I was interested to see that the Church of England (the Anglicans) was cautious in naming a side, but criticized just the same for this rather diplomatic prayer issued prior to the vote:

God of truth,
give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum
with honesty and openness.
Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion
and discernment to those who vote,
that our nation may prosper
and that with all the peoples of Europe
we may work for peace and the common good;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

What are your thoughts about the outcome of the vote? Donald Trump enthusiastically endorsed the outcome, which is very scary.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stand up by Sitting In

It's one of those days folks. After carefully crafting a brilliant blog today (hey, I can live in my fantasy world) it disappeared as I was posting it. Where did it go people?!

I wrote about the history of sit-ins and their prevalence in the 1960s and 70s. We rarely hear about this protest phenomenon anymore, but there is a sit-in going on in the House in Washington. Democrats are protesting the Republicans' intransigence on passing any legislation restricting gun sales, despite the madness of mass shootings in America.

They have been chanting like it's 1966, when there were sit-ins protesting the war in Vietnam and probably still a few related to civil rights. One of the current protestors is 76-year-old John Lewis, who as a 19-year-old got involved with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marched across the Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama. He was involved in sit-ins as a teen, and is doing so again as a senior. He is a remarkable man.

Some silly Republicans have been huffing that this protest has no relationship to the civil rights protests. Yet as the poster above indicates, guns create unprecedented carnage in the US.

Do protests, including sit-ins, make a difference? Were you ever involved in one? Did you wear flowers in your hair?

Since I posted Lewis offered this about the protest "We got in trouble. We got in the way. Good trouble. Necessary Trouble. By sitting-in, we were really standing up"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

World Refugee Day

This has been one of those "and, and, and" days with a whack of commitments. It is officially summer, isn't it?

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of the coordinators of our Syrian Refugee Sponsorship group about the exciting subject of dental care for our family, the Al Mansours. The subject isn't glamorous, but it is part of our commitment to their overall healthcare. The government covers part of the costs, and the Al Mansour family and our group pay for the rest.

This seemed so mundane given the news on World Refugee Day this past Tuesday that there are 65 million displaced persons around the world, the most ever identified in human history. Syrian refugees represent one of the largest national groups, which was why the Canadian government sponsored 25,000 in recent months. Given that there are an estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees our Canadian sponsorship seems meagre, except that it is one of the more generous responses amongst world nations. We have all heard that xenophobia is equated with "making America great again."

Our sponsorship group which involves three United Church congregations, members of the Belleville mosque, and many others, isn't done yet. The feds have begun processing five households --18 individuals-- related to the Al Mansours which we applied for in a feverish 24 hours at the end of March. We are confident that we can reunite them with their Belleville family. We are praying that they don't all land here at once!

When we consider the staggering numbers of asylum seekers and refugees around the world and the growing tendency to close borders we can be overwhelmed. Instead we can make our decisions to act practically and compassionately, one (or even five) family at a time.

Attempting to build walls, figuratively or psychologically, will not the crisis go away. We may not have ready solutions to a global challenge, but we will not lose heart.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

National Aboriginal Day

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in a sunrise ceremony and paddle to begin National Aboriginal Day in Ottawa. The PM appears to be wearing Papa PM's buckskin jacket -- Pierre Elliot that is.

Many United Church congregations celebrated First Nations Sunday on the 19th, but Bridge St. will incorporate the theme on the 26th. The congregation has historically celebrated Canada Day with a service the weekend before, often with a guest speaker. This year David Mowat, former councillor and speaker from Alderville First Nation will join us. The United Church has been an active participant in the Truth and Reconciliation process and it seemed right to invite a descendent of the First Canadians to reflect on what this means for us. David was a cast member in the dramatic presentation called The Circuit Riders during our 200th anniversary year.

                                                                                            Bill Reid

I'm inclined to agree with the Toronto Star editorial calling for a national holiday on Aboriginal Day. It makes a lot more sense to me that celebrating the reign on a 19th century British monarch. Declaring a holiday won't make up for the shame and heartbreak of the Residential Schools. nor will it institute the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report. But it would be a meaningful recognition of our First Peoples.


                                                Kenojuak Ashevak

Friday, June 17, 2016

Prayer Posse

I have long been intrigued by the Jewish tradition of the minyan, at least ten men gathered in a group to pray. I don't like the notion that it must be men, and I deplore the aggressive resistance to women coming together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the purpose of prayer.

Still, this commitment to prayer as the work of the gathered faithful resonates strongly with my perception of corporate prayer.

In a delightful piece in the Washington Post Eric Brand describes the challenge of finding ten Jewish men in an airport for the purpose of prayer.

“Mincha!” That’s what you’ll hear when someone’s trying to gather an afternoon Jewish prayer group at the airport boarding gate, striding up and down the rows of seats in the waiting area, looking for volunteers.
Orthodox Jews need to pray in a group of at least 10 men — called a minyan — morning, afternoon and evening. There are specific time limits for each service, so we’ll often grab the moments before boarding to get it done. (I’m still looking forward to hearing “Mincha!” someday and seeing someone who happens to be named Brian Mincha look up and say, “Yes?”)

Most Christians struggle with whether to say grace at a meal in a public place, let alone calling out to others for the purpose of collective prayer. In the specific instance which is the focus of Brand's article a non-Jewish woman from Iowa joins the group of men he eventually rounds up because she is hoping for a safe trip. He doesn't have the heart to kick her out, which is heartening. His conclusion is: "Who knows if the merit of making the minyan kept 200 tons of steel in the air until we reached New York? I don’t know how God does his job. I just try to do mine.

What do you think of this tradition? Would it be good if Christians rounded up a posse for prayer from time to time?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Change of Heart

Angela Kennedy and Brian Kennedy

This morning I listened to a CBC Metro Morning interview with Angela Kennedy, chair of the Roman Catholic school board in Toronto and one of her sons, Brian. She has been on Metro Morning in the past, speaking against the imposition of the Ontario sex education curriculum on Catholic school kids, insisting that taking sex ed out of the context of marriage and love was contrary to the values of the church.

Then Brian, now 30 and a teacher, revealed that he had been sexually abused by a neighbour as a child, which caused serious soul searching on Ms. Kennedy's part about what might have made a difference. She now feels that that the curriculum is worthwhile:"My position has changed because of what happened to Brian. A very sensitive and disturbing revelation to us has caused me to pause and to reflect on my own attitudes."  All her children support this changed perspective.

I have written before about the importance of open and honest education about human sexuality, including the boundaries children can establish for themselves to remain safe. It is actually a sin not to provide that education, which often leads to worthwhile conversation at home. Ignorance does not honour God.

I appreciate Brian's courage and Angela's change of heart.  I hope that parents in the RC school board and those from other religious backgrounds get the message, for the wellbeing of their children.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lightning Awareness

Surely God is great, and we do not know him;
   the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
   he distils his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
   and drop upon mortals abundantly.
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
   the thunderings of his pavilion?
See, he scatters his lightning around him
   and covers the roots of the sea.
For by these he governs peoples;
   he gives food in abundance.
He covers his hands with the lightning,
   and commands it to strike the mark.
Its crashing tells about him;
   he is jealous with anger against iniquity.

I wondered if I had jinxed our June 5th Outdoor Service and Picnic by choosing a rain theme. It poured rain that morning, but Plan B was a spacious tent at a local golf course and we had an impressive turnout, given the circumstances. There was no thunder or lightning, which would have changed our plans again, but the passage I chose from Job 36 speaks of lightning coming from God's hand, punishing the bad guys and girls.

That's often the way in scripture. Thunder and lightning are mighty portents related to Yahweh, the God of Israel. This Sunday our 1 Kings passage is about Elijah in the midst of a violent storm, before he hears the "sound of sheer silence." Other religions have a lightning god, including Zeus in Greek mythology and Thor in Norse legend.

This is Lightning Awareness Week, and we are offered stern warnings about seeking shelter as soon as we hear the rumbles of thunder. Excellent advise, but that isn't always possible. We have been in the midst of some fierce thunderstorms while canoe tripping, and one particularly violent storm occurred when we were far from safety with our three kids. We love a good thunderstorm, but not under those circumstances. Our most impressive lightning storm experience was sitting safely on a veranda watching hundreds of strikes while atop Mesa Verde in the American Southwest.

Here are some facts about lightning.

one hundred million volts of electricity in a single bolt.
temperature range, 15,000 – 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit, is hotter than the surface of the sun.          
lightning travels about 100,000 kilometres per second, or one-third the speed of light.

Gulp. Little wonder that lightning is associated with untameable and therefore God-like power.

Do you have favourite or scary (or both) lightning experiences? Do you enjoy that sense of energy and power beyond your control? Has God ever hurled a lightning bolt your way? (Hey, I had to ask)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Making Sense of Horror

Sunday morning on Twitter there was news that 20 people had been shot in a night club in Orlando, Florida. By the time I got to church the word was that 20 had been killed, and at least 50 injured, a terrible loss of life. When we got home early in the afternoon the death toll had soared to fifty, the worst domestic loss of life in such an incident in American history.

Apparently the killer called 911 to claim affiliation with ISIS or DAESH, and while they enthusiastically agreed (pure evil) there is little evidence that he was connected to any terrorist group/ We're told by experts that while a fair number of these mass murderers claim religious affiliation, including Islam, their heinous acts are usually related to rage. The young man who killed several black prayer group members at a Charleston South Carolina church almost exactly a year ago had weird white supremacist notions with a quasi-Christian connection -- as did the Ku Klux Klan. Of course Donald Trump was quickly into his racist and anti-Muslim schtick, going so far as to say that foreign and other American Muslims were in on the rampage.

By Sunday evening vigils were organized and held in a number of cities around the world, including Toronto. These events recognized that the rage of the perpetrator was directed toward the LGBTQ community, and people in the night club died because they were gay. Member of Parliament and United Church minister Rob Oliphant was at the Toronto vigil and spoke on television and radio the next day. He reminded people that he is a gay man and is MP for a riding with one of the highest Muslim populations in Canada. He had received many messages of solidarity from Muslim constituents, which touched him deeply.

The other aspect of this story which has received less attention is the mental health of the shooter. His ex-wife identified that she had been abused in their relationship and claimed he was bi-polar. Often those who are mental health advocates shudder when mental illness and murder are associated because it perpetuates the stigmas and stereotypes.

We will open Bridge St. at midday on Friday for a time of reflection and we will ring our bell 49 times in memory of those who died. We need to do something in this community.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Vicki and Gary

This morning two colleagues in ministry will be involved in worship in significant ways. The Rev. Vicki Fulcher is our Minister of Pastoral Care at Bridge St. She is very effective in her role, with deep compassion rooted in thoughtful and expansive Christian faith. We will have a conversation about her work with us and her other role as chaplain at Belleville hospital. The gospel passages from Luke in these weeks have been about healing and Vicki has a strong ministry of healing through "sacred accompaniment."

We will also be acknowledging the fiftieth anniversary of ordination for the Rev. Gary Magarrell. Gary calls Bridge St. home, and we are blessed to have him as part of our congregation as a Voluntary Associate Minister. Gary has served Christ's church in many capacities through the years, including as a pastoral care minister at nearby Eastminster United. Today Gary will read scripture and lead us in the Prayers of the People.

I appreciate both Vicki and Gary as persons, and their wisdom and support are invaluable to me as Lead minister.  I know they have touched the lives of many in their essential roles as pastoral care ministers. Pastoral care tends to be a "below the radar" aspect of ministry, and a fair number of clergy see it as secondary. It is vital to congregational health and wellbeing, especially as congregations age.

Thanks to Vicki and Gary, and God bless them both.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thou Shalt Not Kill -- Remotely?

Not long ago we saw the film Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Ryckman. It is a taut thriller and not what I expected -- in the best possible ways. It is about the use of drones as weapons of war, and presumably to pre-empt terrorism and large-scale violence. What we realize as the film unfolds is that decisions about using drone launched attacks have a myriad of subtleties and moral dilemmas. What percentage of certainty about targets is necessary in order to strike? What is acceptable collateral damage in order to save many more lives? Can doing evil actually result in a greater good, and who in the chain of command decides?

Meanwhile those who make the life and death decisions go about their mundane lives in distant countries. And so do the "flight crews" who direct the drones to their targets. In this film the pilots are young Americans who are in what looks like a shipping container on a base in the American Southwest. Mirren and Ryckman are the British military personnel who give the order from Great Britain and both are excellent in their roles. The terrorist leaders live amidst innocent people in Pakistan. The story unfolds with great tension and complexity.

A few days later there was a news item about a top Taliban commanders killed by a drone strike in Afghanistan. Previously I might have paid little attention, but all the issues of the film came to the fore when I read about this assassination. Who decided? Where were the decision-makers? Who else died in this strike?

Yesterday I read a review of a book called Drone and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It noted that drones are now the No.1 counterterrorist weapon for the United States. Thousands have been killed by drones in the past decade. What are the ethics of drone warfare, and does the commandment "you shall not kill" mean when death can be administered by remote control.

We do live in a complex world, don't we? Have you seen the film? What was your response? Have you given any thought to the ethics of drone warfare? How would I work that subject into the Prayers of the People?!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Under a Ramadan Moon

Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, began this past Monday. It wasn't that long ago that Canadians, including Canuck Christians didn't know boo about Ramadan. Now we might have a neighbour or co-worker who is quietly observing through the month. Others are making the effort to educate and learn publically.

In Toronto there is a program called "Meet Your Neighbour" in which Muslim families across the city welcome non-Muslim neighbours to their dinner tables.  In Montreal, downtown St. James United Church held an interfaith event at sundown which included music and communal prayer, and Muslim  participants broke their daily fast. Rev. Arlen Bonnar said the interfaith iftar (an evening meal Muslims eat after their daily fast) was a bridge-building event to show the solidarity of the diverse communities in Montreal.

Ramadan isn't just about fasting from food in the period between dawn and dusk. It is also a time to abstain from negative passions -- road rage perhaps? Charity and generosity are also important aspects of Ramadan.

I like the fact that Ramadan is connected to the lunar cycle, which gives us a common thread between the three great monotheistic religions. Our greatest Christian festival is Easter, which is on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (got that?) Passover is also lunar dependent, which is why Pesach and Holy Week often coincide. These three religions are very different, and we need to understand both how and why. Yet it is wonderful when we find commonalities. Always, we can be respectful and open to learning from others.

Watch this sweet little musical video called Ramadan Moon by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens)

Do you know anyone who observes Ramadan? Do you wish you knew more about the observances of other religions?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your  Love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there's doubt, true faith in  You.
The header for this blog entry is the opening phrase of a hymn attributed to St. Francis which is not his, but certainly worthwhile.
Yesterday I received this year's Global Peace Index, which I always find interesting. And it always prompts me to consider what it means for me as a Christian to actively engage in peacemaking, as a follower of the Prince of Peace who enjoined us to "wage peace" in the world. I am often struck by how fortunate I am to be a Canadian, living in such a peaceful nation. I consider it both a privilege and an obligation as a global citizen. I feel that our sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family and our goal of sponsoring others reflects our commitment to being peacemakers in some small way.
Take a look at the information below and please share your thoughts.
The tenth edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI) finds that many countries are at record high levels of peacefulness, while the bottom 20 countries have progressively become much less peaceful. This creates increased levels of inequality in global peace, and the gap between the most-peaceful and least-peaceful countries continues to widen.

The Cost of Violence 

The world continues to spend enormous amounts on reducing and containing violence, and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence was $13.6 trillion (PPP) in 2015 which is the equivalent to 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment. Since last year commitments to peacekeeping are improving, but global investment in peacebuilding and peacekeeping is less than 2% of the economic impact of armed conflict. 

Decline in Peace 

The ten year deterioration in peace has been largely driven by intensifying conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa region. Terrorism is at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict are at a 25 year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in 60 years.

The GPI 2016 Video

In the 12 months since the last Global Peace Index, increased conflict, terrorism and the refugee crisis suggests a less peaceful world. However, despite the increasingly unequal gap between peaceful and less peaceful nations, there are positive trends where the data tells a different story.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

I Am the Greatest

I'm so old I remember when the late boxer Muhammed Ali was Cassius Clay. I remember as a kid the fight between Clay and Sonny Liston and his unexpected win. I remember Clay's big-mouth rhyming taunts and braggadocio and not knowing what to think about them. I remember being puzzled and unsettled about his conversion to Islam and criticism of Christianity as "the white man's religion." Then Ali refused to enter into military service while the United States was at war and made what seemed like flippant comments about having no quarrel with the Vietnamese people.

Image result for muhammad ali muslim quotes

It didn't occur to me as a child and a teen that he was actually making principled choices about faith and pacifism. Yet now that he is gone, we are aware that this was the case, and that he paid a huge price for his convictions. At what was arguably the height of his career he was stripped of his heavyweight title and didn't fight for three years. He was reviled by many for his lack of patriotism and there was a considerable financial "hit" during those years. When he returned he was able to win some memorable fights, but he seemed to have lost a step and was pounded in the ring in a way he hadn't been when he was younger. The beating he took may have contributed to his Parkinson's Disease.

I'm hoping that  in the retrospectives we get a deeper look into his spiritual life, and how his faith motivated him. The films about Ali have focussed more on his boxing prowess, but there is so much more to his story. I read in the CBC yesterday the surprising story that in 1983 Muhammad Ali climbed the stage of a packed sports complex in Rouyn-Noranda, a small Quebec town that is a seven-hour drive northwest of Montreal. He spoke about Islam and racism and didn't say a word about boxing. We need to hear about these stories.


Please take a look at my Groundling blog for World Oceans Day as well

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Justifying Injustice

The Settlers Sundance 2016

I know, I know, I've been MIA the past few days. Life is like that at times.

The United Church of Canada is the denomination  others love to hate until they come alongside. When we were talking about care for creation thirty years ago we were pantheists and pagans. Women's ordination? Prohibited by the bible, until different interpretations were accepted. We were going to hell in a handbasket in terms of LGBTQ acceptance. Now a remarkable number of evangelicals are opening their hearts.

We also seemed to be in the vanguard of concern on behalf of Palestinians, with predictable reaction.  We have figured that it is possible to support Israel without turning a blind eye to the marginalization of Palestinians and the occupation of the West Bank by Israeli settlers. Only a few years ago I was receiving correspondence from pro-Israel groups and individuals deeply offended that the UCC was supporting United Nations resolutions on the occupation and urging the boycott of goods produced by Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Unsettling Goods Campaign is worth checking out.

 Again, many denominations have now voiced similar concerns, and some Jewish groups as well.

There is a new documentary called The Settlers which takes a look at the settlements which now dot the territories -- 150 or more. There are 400,000 settlers and most --perhaps 80% --are there because of the inexpensive housing. The rest are there for ideological reasons, often as conservative Jews who feel they are reclaiming the land God promised them in the bible. A small portion of that group are radicals, willing to evict Palestinians and even do harm to others. A lot of them are young and don't actually recognize the state of Israel because it doesn't follow the Torah. They are radicals, and perhaps terrorists, as Islamic extremists are often terrorists. It's the scary thing when any group says "God is on our side" to justify injustice.

I'm glad that there are a growing number of religious organizations and denominations challenging the aggressive settlement practices of the Israeli government and decrying the violence in the territories, whatever the source.