Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Gift of Geophony

Photo published for Camera+ photo

Yesterday I drove to the Lakeshore Lodge Point in Prince Edward County (above), perhaps 45 minutes from our home in Belleville. I was dog tired but I didn't want to waste a beautiful morning inside. Ruth was working, so I went on my own, and when I arrived no one else was there. This is the disadvantage and advantage of a Monday day off.

As soon as I opened the vehicle door I could hear the roar of the surf nearby, the closest we come to the sound of the ocean in the southern part of our province. I walked out and around the point and then along the other side where I found a bench to plant myself for a while. I spent half an hour or so reading from a long-time companion, a gem of a book of writings about nature by the late hermit and contemplative, Thomas Merton. I soaked up the music of the natural world with a total absence of human-made noise and sound.

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Eventually I returned to my vehicle and took a shortcut path across the peninsula. I stopped partway so that I could savour the sounds of waves on the shore from three directions, what I described in a tweet as the Creator's three-part harmony. I felt revived by the experience, and graced by God's Spirit.

I thought about the description by Dr. Bernie Krause of the geophany, biophony, and anthropophony which make up our soundscape. Anthrophony is what we as humans create, louder and louder it seems, to the point of cacophony. Biophany is the sound of the "birds and the bees" which is rising in pitch in these milder days. Geophony is the naturally occurring sound coming from different types of habitats, whether marine or terrestrial. Hearing the geophonic sound of the waves was wonderful, richly earthly and heavenly at the same time.

Listening and appreciating our soundscape is an essential aspect of being human and of being children of the Creator God. When we lose this we lose something essential to our being.

Who knows, we may be treated to the geophonic gift of a thunderstorm this evening, if the forecast is correct.

Are you aware of your soundscape? Have you noticed anthropophony crowding out geophany and biophony during your lifetime?

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sanctuary Today

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I was in the sanctuary of Bridge St UC just after 8:00 this morning, preaching to the empty pews as preparation for what I'm hoping will be fuller pews at 10:30. We use the word "sanctuary" to describe our worship space without thinking about it much, if ever. We will speak of finding sanctuary from a storm, and we generally think wildlife sanctuaries are a good thing. We are fortunate that sanctuary is a figure of speech for most churchgoers rather than a necessity for safety.

There is a growing sanctuary movement in the United States as churches and other places of worship are banding together to provide safe places for those who are undocumented citizens of the country and risk deportation. One of the those cities is New York where there are an estimated 1.2 million illegal immigrants. This is a staggering number, and many residents realize that the city would be brought to a standstill if these people who are the backbone of the restaurant industry as well as other service jobs suddenly disappeared.

The threat of the Trump administration to deport the estimated 14 million illegal residents of the United States is incredibly short-sighted, but it is a promise which terrifies those who could be affected and offends those who see this as antithetical to American values.

Rev. Donna Schaper has worked for immigration rights for more than a decade, and her church, Judson Memorial, recently housed a man awaiting a deportation hearing. But never in all those years has she seen so many people reaching out for help as she does now, and the inquiries have increased ten-fold in recent weeks.

Faith groups all over the city are holding meetings to strategize a response to the expected immigration crackdown. At Judson, they're hosting "know your rights" training, where participants learn what to do when approached by an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

What a sad reality in a nation which prides itself on freedom and justice for all.

What do you think about this sanctuary movement? In your view, if churches engaged in illegal activity harbouring illegal immigrants, would a "higher law" of justice take precedence? Would you participate in sanctuary activities if you felt it was necessary?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why I'm Not Lovin' MacDonalds

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Three times this week I've cycled to work at Bridge St. church, delighting in the opportunity while dreading the implications. The temperature should not be in the teens in Ontario in February, and records have been broken everywhere. The irony is that by cycling I'm doing my puny best to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but I'm able to do so at this time of the year is because of climate change.

As many of you know, I've written often through the years about the bigger issues of climate change as an aspect of Creation Care. Those issues are complex and will require the participation of governments around the world implementing initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. Humanity as a whole must redouble efforts to reduce fossil fuel dependency and develop cleaner alternatives in every sphere of life.

Meanwhile, we try to do the little things in our personal lives, in part to make the individual effort as part of the shift, but also to have the daily reminders about making a difference. Both of us cycle to work whenever possible, or walk, or take public transit as I did this morning. We have figured out life with one vehicle, we are careful about our water and electricity consumption. We make a conscious choice to make purchases with as little waste as possible, we recycle, and we have a vegetable garden. We've had earnest conversations about the sustainability of hopping on planes to travel here and there.

All this to say that recently I walked into a MacDonalds restaurant with my travel mug seeking java, waited patiently in line, only to be told that they would not fill it. I was perplexed --why not? After conferring with two other staffers I was told again that they couldn't fill the mug, and would I like a coffee in a paper cup? No, was my annoyed answer.

Later I phoned MacDonalds Canada and was informed that this was a national policy because of the additional work for staff to go to the kitchen. This was a nonsensical answer given that the server filled two jumbo paper cups for guys standing in line in front of me that were taller than my mug. There would have been no inconvenience whatsoever. Downtown Belleville coffee shops don't blink when I show up with my travel mug, nor does Tim Horton's, even in the drive-through (I hardly ever drive through because of the idling vehicle.)

MacDonald's Canada, creating waste for no reason is against my religion and you are discriminating against me as someone who is motivated by faith to care for the planet. It's 2017 and I won't be back until you wake up.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Shouting Religious Freedom

Ya, I know, it's been a week since I've blogged. And a very busy week at that. I'm surprised by how quickly a day and week can go sideways, even when I figure I know what my schedule will be.

Recently I saw a follow-up to a story I wrote about a couple of years ago. A Hungarian leader of the right-wing Jobbik party, Csanad Szegedi, spouted the usual grim hatred against Jews. He eventually rose to the vice presidency of the nationalist party. Then Mr. Szegedi discovers an inconvenient truth. He is of Jewish lineage and his grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor. After this revelation he was expelled from the party, an irrational decision -- but when does hatred make sense?

Now there is a documentary about Szegedi's growing awareness of his heritage. It's called Keep Quiet, and as the poster intimates, Szegedi does more than just read up on his background. Not all members of the Jewish community embrace Csanad's journey into the faith, but there is certainly grace extended to this former anti-Semite.
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While this is a story from Eastern Europe, we know that there have been a growing number of anti-Jewish incidents in the United States in recent weeks. Suspicious speech fosters anger and hatred. President Trump may claim that he is pro-Jewish but he has so-called alt-right advisors. And we've seen that Nazi-sympathizers have been emboldened to crawl out of the manure pile since his election. It will be interesting to see what happens in Canada in the days ahead.

We all need to be vigilant, to realize that the freedom to practice one's religion is a precious right we must uphold for one another.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Those Who Make America Great

Vietnamese boat people are pictured in an undated photo. A California Salesian priest who as a child was among refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat after the fall of Saigon recently wrote an open letter President Donald Trump offering to swap his own citizenship with a refugee from one of the Muslim-majority countries subject to Trump's travel ban. (CNS photo/Wikipedia)

Yesterday's hastily called press conference reminded us all of how unhinged President Trump of the United States is. He rambled and bullied, and raved, insisting along the way that he wasn't doing any of this. He offered the threat that another draconian executive order was on the way, and god knows who this one will affect.

In the midst of the mayhem it was meaningful to read about the action of a Catholic priest who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Vietnam as a youth. Many of us recall the Vietnamese "boat people" who were welcomed in Canada and the United States during the 1970s.

This Vietnamese refugee, Father Chuong Hoai Nguyen, has written to President Trump offering to surrender his American citizenship so that Trump could confer it on a Syrian refugee who would be barred under the president’s controversial order banning travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. He is even going to ask his religious superiors for permission to go live and work in one of the seven countries on the banned list.
In his letter to Trump he observed “I am an American and I have made America great in my own way for the 42 years since I was granted asylum in this great country. But now, I would like to relinquish my U.S. citizenship and ask that you grant it to a Syrian refugee."

I doubt any of us anticipate an empathetic, heart-felt response from the emperor...I mean the president. He seems incapable of genuine concern for others. But this is a powerful gesture and a reminder of what refugees and immigrants can contribute to the life of any nation.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Quiet Generosity

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“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

                                                                                                 Matthew 6:1-4 (NRSV)

Tycoon Mike Ilitch  died recently, and all I knew about him was that he built a business empire on Little Caesar's pizza. This allowed him to purchase both the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the Red Wings hockey team. Some team owners are self-aggrandizing meddlers but Ilitch was considered a model of successful ownership. Both teams had significant moments in the sun under Ilitch.

I'm even more impressed by the story which has emerged in the past few days about Ilitch's quiet generosity toward an icon of the civil rights movement in the United States.

(CNN)Those who knew Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers owner who died last Friday, have spent the past few days fondly remembering his impact on friends, on Detroit residents, and on the sports community.Ilitch also had an impact on the daily life of one of the most iconic figures from the civil rights movement.For more than a decade, Ilitch had quietly paid for Rosa Parks' apartment in downtown Detroit.
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Of course, as a multi-billionaire Ilitch could well afford this kindness, but it is the fact that he did this without expecting recognition is impressive. We've been spending time in the Sermon on the Mount these past few weeks and a passage we won't hear is Jesus teaching about keeping generosity discreet.

I have no idea whether Ilitch knew this passage, or whether he had any religious convictions, but he seems to have received the memo on authentic generosity.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sanctuary on a Cold Border

As dozens of clergy people stood behind JaNae' Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director of ISAIAH, as she announced 13 churches that have committed to being sanctuary and supporting congregations committed to protecting people who are in danger of deportation. Photographed at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, in St. Paul, Minn.
We've heard that frightened refugees and asylum seekers in the United States are fleeing the country to Canada and often crossing the border on foot. Doing so in the dead of winter is foolhardy and illegal but they fear being deported by the Trump government to their countries of origin where danger awaits. The federal government's ban on entry for those from seven countries has created wider chaos and uncertainty which has led to this panic. Some have lost fingers and toes to frostbite.

Social services in small border towns are overwhelmed by the challenge of providing adequate food and shelter. On the American side agencies are also scrambling to provide support to those who are considering the frigid walk to what the asylum seekers hope will be freedom. Churches in Minnesota are stepping up to be places of refuge and comfort under the auspices of a justice coalition called ISAIAH. Here is a report from a Minneapolis newspaper about what is unfolding:

Clergy from more than 30 congregations in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota vowed Tuesday to shelter immigrants facing deportation or to support other churches that do. Church leaders said they are forming a new network of sanctuary places of worship in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to step up deportations when he takes office in January. Organizers with the group ISAIAH said 13 churches have committed to shelter and feed immigrants in defiance of immigration authorities. About 20 additional congregations will provide financial and other support. “We will not let politics come before the sacredness of people,” said JaNae’ Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director for ISAIAH. “As a human being, you are sacred so you should be safe in our sacred space.”

I'm grateful that these Christians are going against the tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia in the U.S. Have you heard about this sanctuary movement? Does it encourage you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sinful Sixties Scoop

Marcia Brown Martel was removed from her family's home at Beaver House, near Kirkland Lake, when she was 4 -- one of thousands of indigenous children to be taken from their homes in what  is known as the Sixties Scoop. She is part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government, arguing Ottawa robbed them of their cultural identities.

I have been waiting this morning to hear the outcome of a class action law suit involving the Canadian government's program of removing aboriginal children from their homes and placing them with non-aboriginal families. This was different than the cultural genocide of the Residential Schools yet the "Sixties Scoop" was devastating in its own right.

A decision in favour of the plaintiffs has been reached which will affect thousands who were the children cruelly apprehended in the manner, but the person who was the lead plaintiff  is Marcia Brown Martel. I heard her interviewed this morning and it was heartbreaking. In 1967 she was removed from her parents and extended family at the age of four and placed with a non-aboriginal foster family which did not speak her language, the first of several. She was  nicknamed "Sad Sack" because of her downcast demeanour.

Sixties Scoop, Adopt Indian Metis program

She returned to the Beaverhouse First Nation near Kirkland Lake at eighteen, and is now a chief, which is a statement about her strength of character. Today she is celebrating the vindication which this judgement represents. Here is a portion of the CBC News coverage of the outcome:

Canada failed to take reasonable steps to prevent thousands of on-reserve children who were placed with non-Indigenous families from losing their Indigenous heritage during the Sixties Scoop, an Ontario judge ruled Tuesday.The ruling in the long-running and bitterly fought class action paves the way for an assessment of damages the government will now have to pay.In siding with the plaintiffs, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba found Canada had breached its "duty of care" to the children.

The lawsuit launched eight years ago sought $1.3 billion on behalf of about 16,000 Indigenous children in Ontario who claimed they were harmed by being placed in non-Indigenous homes from 1965 to 1984 under terms of a federal-provincial agreement.The plaintiffs argued — and Belobaba agreed — that Ottawa breached part of the agreement that required consultation with First Nations bands about the child welfare program. Belobaba was scathing in commenting on the government's contention that consultation with the bands would not have made any difference to the children.

As Canadians we can solemnly give thanks for this decision, realizing that it should never have been necessary. As members of a Christian denomination which was part of the overall travesty of  removal through the Residential Schools it can serve as a reminder that the work of Truth and Reconciliation is far from over.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bible History

 Artist renderings of the exterior of the Museum of the Bible set to open  in November in Washington, D.C.

If I visit the States during the reign of Emperor Trump (I'm reluctant to do so) the trip will likely include time with extended family in Maryland. That would give me the opportunity to take in two museums in Washington DC. One is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which all reports say is spectacular.

The other is the privately funded Museum of the Bible which is the baby of Steve Green, an evangelical Christian and president of Hobby Lobby, an American arts and crafts retailer that boasts $4 billion in annual sales. Green has amassed one of the most comprehensive private collections of Biblical artifacts at 40,000 pieces. The museum alone will cost a staggering $660 million.

I have mixed feelings about this one. You might recall that I wrote about the museum some time ago and mentioned that a noted biblical scholar is overseeing the collection, which is good. I'm pleased that a visit would not frustrate me because of the touting of a particular theological approach. But I'm not impressed with the legal battle Hobby Lobby engaged in over paying for contraception as part of the health care package offered to employees. The company successfully argued that because it is owned by the Green family it could be exempted from this requirement on the grounds of freedom of religion. Do I really want to support an institution funded by a company and it's owner which has taken this stand?

Mind you, how else would I get to see one of Elvis' bibles? Actually, there are many items and exhibits I would appreciate viewing when the museum opens in November. There is also a Babe Ruth bible, although with his reputation he may have been like WC Fields on his death bed, searching for loopholes.

A Gutenberg Bible fragment, containing the complete epistle of Paul to the Romans, in Latin, from Mainz, Germany, ca. 1454. Printed by Johannes Gutenberg and Johann Fust.

Would you be inclined to visit the Museum of the Bible? Does the bible still matter for you historically and/or devotionally?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Limits to Forgiveness?

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Most of us are aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which crossed Canada listening to the powerful and often tragic stories of those affected by the Residential Schools. The schools were run by the federal government and different denominations, including the United Church. Too often the schools perpetrated cultural genocide and many children were subjected to terrible emotional and physical abuse.

We are less likely to have heard about the abuses at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. It was established in the 1920s at a time when black children were not allowed in orphanages for white kids. Oh, Canada.

In 2014 the Nova Scotia government issued an apology, settled a class action lawsuit with former residents, and set an inquiry in motion.

This restorative justice inquiry is now underway but many former residents of the school want nothing to do with it. "Some people just feel that no matter what you say, no matter what you do, you can never ever replace that pain. I don't forgive you. I hate you. That's just the way some people are," said Tony Smith, inquiry council co-chair.

We would hope that there are opportunities for reconciliation with those who have been wronged, yet we must realize that we can never orchestrate or impose forgiveness or reconciliation. Unfortunately we want happy endings, and over time religions have, at times, created unfair and na├»ve expectations of forgiveness. Yes, God's forgiveness in Christ is at the heart of the gospel. No, we cannot insist on particular timelines or outcomes. We can only pray that the grace of God is at work in the uncertain realities of remorse, restitution, and reconciliation.

One of the many books waiting for my attention (retirement?) is The Limits of Forgiveness
Case Studies in the Distortion of a Biblical Ideal by Maria Mayo. This is a thought-provoking description of its contents:

Maria Mayo questions the contemporary idealization of unconditional forgiveness in three areas of contemporary life: so-called Victim-Offender Mediation involving cases of criminal injury, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, and the pastoral care of victims of domestic violence. In each area, she shows how an emphasis on unilateral and unconditional forgiveness is often presented as a Christian (and Christlike) obligation, putting disproportionate pressure on the victims of injustice or violence.

What do you think about the various commissions and inquiries in Canada? Do you understand the challenge of forgiveness for those who were wronged? Do you struggle with forgiveness in your life? Has it been freeing to forgive, or does it seem like a burdensome obligation of our Christian faith?

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Good Samaritans and Refugees

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This afternoon there will be a meeting at Bridge St. of those interested in participating in the support teams for the two Syrian households soon to arrive in Belleville. They are coming under the auspices of the multi-denominational and multi-faith coalition which made the commitment to sponsor a total of twenty-three members of one extended family living in Lebanese refugee camps. With the arrival of this family of five and the two grandparents all 23 will be safely in Canada, something of a miracle which has involved relentless work on the part of a dedicated group of caring sponsors.

Of course all this has happened with the blessing of the Canadian government and is perfectly legal. What if this was not the case? What if the government had discouraged family reunification and we had felt compelled to act in a clandestine manner to bring others after the Al Mansour family arrived in December of 2015?

I've noticed several articles in recent months about people in European countries being prosecuted for helping asylum seekers outside the law, because of their sense of compassion and justice. They have been charged with criminal offences for doing so. Here is one example:

PARIS—It was a split-second decision that would land Pierre-Alain Mannoni in court facing charges normally associated with human trafficking.Returning home from an evening out in La Roya — rugged, mountainous back country near his home in Nice, inland from the Mediterranean Sea — his friends invited him to see an old building appropriated by activists and NGOs. They were using the space to shelter migrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who had crossed the nearby Italian border.
With more than 50 people in the abandoned SNCF railway building, they were running out of space. Mannoni was asked if he could take some people back to Nice for medical care.
“I hesitated because I was working the next day, but when I saw them the answer was clear. Three Eritrean girls appeared. They were all badly injured, one wearing a cast, another could barely walk. They had come by foot. You could see they were cold, frightened and in pain. They needed help.”
They didn’t make it far. Stopped at the highway toll booth, Mannoni was arrested under Article L622-1 of France’s immigration law. It says anyone who “facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of €30,000.” Often referred to as the “crime of solidarity,” the law has been used to prosecute people who support migrants and asylum-seekers.

It's interesting that while these compassionate people are being charged, judges are choosing to either dismiss charges, or refraining from fining them upon conviction.  In a public statement, Mr. Mannoni, said his action was “neither political nor militant, it was simply human; any citizen could have done it, and whether it be for the honor of our motherland, for our dignity as free men, for our values, our beliefs, for love or for compassion, we cannot leave victims to die on our doorsteps."

As a law-abiding guy I wonder to what extent I would go to live out my compassion for refugees and asylum seekers? What about you? And what are your thoughts about these situations in Europe?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Memory and Hope

Yesterday I spoke with Rochelle Graham, a physiotherapist who founded the Healing Pathway program for the United Church and is doing interesting work on dementia and spirituality. An interview with Rochelle in the latest United Church Observer prompted me to call her and I appreciated our chat. We're planning a series on dementia and spirituality at Bridge St. and I'm searching out the different avenues to explore, everything from worship with those who have entered into cognitive frailty to community resources such as the Alzheimer's Society.

We agreed that a term such as dementia is descriptive, yet it labels individuals whose circumstances and levels cognitive challenge can vary greatly. My 91-year-old mother struggles on most days now, but not because of Alzheimer's. She has Parkinson's related dementia and has experienced several small strokes. Yet when I visit she is always attentive when I read scripture and say a prayer with her.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Shabbir Amanullah shows off a new interactive wall at Woodstock Hospital Tuesday afternoon. (HEATHER RIVERS/WOODSTOCK SENTINEL-REVIEW)

This morning I listened to a CBC interview with someone from the Woodstock Hospital called CogWall and I found this in the Woodstock Sentinel:

An innovative project for elderly patients at Woodstock Hospital is the only one of its kind.
Designed to stimulate a patient’s cognition, on Tuesday afternoon Woodstock Hospital unveiled an interactive CogWall, which they believe will help stave off memory loss. The project is the brainchild of geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Shabbir Amanullah who worried about elderly patients losing cognitive skills during hospital stays. “As you get older you need daily stimulation to reinforce memory,” Amanullah said. “In hospitals there is no stimulation.”

After ruling out introducing items such iPads to the elderly patients because many were unfamiliar with the technology, the hospital searched for a solution.“We realized we had a unique opportunity to create something new,” Amanullah said. The result of a partnership between the hospital and Fanshawe College, the wall is designed to engage and stimulate patients during their stay in hospital, and decrease both physical and cognitive decline.“It’s an eclectic mix of devices and environments that people have in their lives or have been exposed to,” Amanullah said. The wall is located on the complex continuing care unit where patients admitted are often older adults, who stay for longer periods of time, and have complex medical and intellectual needs.

This is a wonderful project and it got me wondering what the parallels might be in a faith community setting. My experience through the years is that familiar "oldy goldy" hymns and the sacrament of communion matter to those with dementia and other cognitive challenges. What else might we include?

Rochelle and I agreed that we are so preoccupied with attracting younger people in our mainline churches that we don't have much enthusiasm for our elders, especially those whose memories are fading. Yet honouring our mothers and fathers is a commandment, not a suggestion.

I would encourage you to seek out Rochelle's article and consider how we might respect and honour our elders who have entered into the twilight of memory loss. http://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2017/02/dementia/


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Interfaith Friendships

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Last Thursday between five and six hundred people walked from the Belleville mosque to a candlelight vigil behind City Hall in memory of the six men brutally murdered at a mosque in Quebec City, and in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters here.
This was a meaningful occasion and many members of our United Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Belleville group were in attendance. People kept saying "hi David" and because they were encased in parkas and scarves I kept asking "who's in there?"
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On Sunday morning during worship I read this lovely note from Jerry Saleh, an active member of the mosque who is on the Belleville Inclusivity Committee. We've come to respect and love Jerry because he has been a tireless worker with the family members we have sponsored, soon to number twenty-three.
On behalf of all the members of the Islamic society of Belleville we thank you very much for joining us in unity and sharing the loss of our Canadian Muslim brothers in Quebec city. It did meant so much for every one of us.
I  can't find enough words to express the gratitude for everyone was in the walk or who was with us in heart and mind. But after all this is Canada the land of the golden hearts. In unity we stand and our diversity makes us stronger.
The situation in Syria continues to be a horror, and we are well aware that the families we have sponsored are here because their lives were literally and figuratively blown apart. Still, we thank God for the partnerships and friendships which have developed with those of other congregations, denominations and faiths.

Sunday, February 05, 2017


I have a serious Superbowl problem. I'm a long-time New England Patriots fans and was delighted when they knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers (have you stopped weeping yet Roger?) But I've discovered that Patriots QB Tom Brady, Coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft are Trump supporters. It's one thing to cheat and lie, but this is crossing the line.

I couldn't care less about the Atlanta Falcons but an article this week about their quarterback, Matt Ryan, made the prospect of cheering for them a little more palatable. Ryan attended William Penn Quaker prep school which strives for academic and athletic excellence while upholding some of the key values of the Society of Friends. One of those precepts is silence and every week  students and their teachers gather in a meeting hall and sit side-by-side on long wooden benches in sustained and still quiet for 40 minutes.

It is also a central Quaker belief that no individual matters more than the community.The school’s ethos discourages self-aggrandizement or drawing attention to oneself.   Penn Charter athletes  celebrate team victories rather than personal accomplishments. A football player scoring a touchdown has been instructed to find a referee and simply hand him the football. Quakerism is the antithesis of Trumpism.

Although  Matt Ryan is an NFL star, he is a low-key athlete amongst those who often engage in elaborate, crowing touchdown dances and big stops. Another prominent athlete who attended William Penn admits that in the beginning the practice of silence seemed crazy, but after he graduated he missed it.

Will this be enough for me to switch teams today? We'll see.


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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Buried, scattered,,,or planted?

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No, I'm not obsessed with burying people, although I'll concede that I've blogged on a number of occasions about how we respectfully honour and dispose of our mortal remains. Having presided at more than 500 funeral and memorial services I've seen it all, everything from the poignant to the bizarre and back again.

One of my more confusing experiences was when I was told that a young man's cremated remains were to be buried in an urn shaped like a bagel. It proved to be my Uppity Canadian difficulty with a Nova Scotia accent. When the urn was removed from the bag it was in the form of his beloved BEAGLE. While it was still unusual, it made a lot more sense.

As you may have read along the way, I've become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our farewells. The recent tradition of burial involves lots of chemicals which inhibit the process of decomposition but don't go away in a hurry. Cremation has been presented as a "friendlier" alternative but requires a lot of energy for incineration.

Amongst the alternatives I've written about are wicker caskets, a bicycle-drawn hearse, and cemeteries with graves marked by trees. I may have written about a process of composting as well, which sounds grisly, but honestly, how appealing is oven-roasting our loved ones anyway?

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The lastest is the one I like the most -- for the time being, anyway. It's called the Capsula Mundi and it's still in the concept stage. Designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel use an egg-shaped burial pod made from biodegradable starch plastic as the coffin, in which the body is placed in a fetal position and buried under the ground. A tree (or tree seed) is then planted over the top of the pod, which will use the nutrients from the decomposing body as fertilizer for its growth. Here is the descriptive blurb:

"Capsula Mundi saves the life of  a tree and proposes to plant one more. By planting different kinds of trees next to each other it creates a forest. A place where children will be able to learn all about trees. It’s also a place for a beautiful walk and a reminder of our loved ones."

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We have arranged to be buried in the lovely Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, where Ruth's mother and my father are interred. It is an old cemetery with lots of mature trees. I could be egged on to be "planted" this way instead. With a concept name that includes "Mundi" I have to pay attention!

Have you decided on how you will be buried or scattered? Does this appeal to you, apart from the being dead thing?

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Exorcist

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When I was in my teens my father inexplicably gave me a copy of the very scary novel, The Exorcist, as a little light reading. My bedroom was at the back of the old manse in which we lived, with it's own staircase to the kitchen. In that atmosphere was absolutely terrified by the novel but I couldn't stop reading. I'm not sure I've recovered yet.

Peter Blatty's story is of a 12-year-old-girl named Regan who is inhabited by a satanic force, and the exorcist priest who does battle with this evil presence. Blatty, who died recently, was educated in a Jesuit school, and was inspired by an actual incident that unfolded in the States while he was in college, The Exorcist was published in 1971, followed two years later by the film. I was so traumatized by the book I couldn't bring myself to watch the film, but it was a big success. The book sold more than 10 million copies, so we obviously have a love/hate relationship with the devil.

Many years later Blatty claimed "when I was writing the novel I thought of it as a super-natural detective story, and to this day I cannot recall having a conscious intention to terrifying anybody, which you may take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying scale."

The interesting thing is that the Roman Catholic church does have exorcists, although there is a shortage of qualified priests as current church-sanctioned exorcists age, and shuffle off to their reward. There was actually a job fair of sorts in the United States not long ago where a hundred priests were given some background to the ancient practice.The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism."

Goya painting of an exorcism

The rite was updated in 1999 and it's clear that an exorcism can only be performed under the strictest guidelines and after ascertaining that the individual is not suffering from a medically diagnosis.

It may surprise you to hear that the requests for exorcisms are on the rise, even in this age of science. Were you aware that  exorcisms actually occur in the 21st century? What do you think about this? Do you believe in evil and dark powers, or is this all hocus pocus? Do you know someone who would be a likely candidate for an exorcism? I would like to nominate our cats!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Complicated Green

This past Saturday we decided to spend a couple of hours on Amherst Island just off Millhaven on our way to Kingston. It's a pleasant half-hour ferry ride, although we had a few anxious moments because a huge flock of birders were heading over and we weren't sure there would be room for us. We visited the famous Owl Woods, where we never see owls, and then made our way along the mucky south road before returning to the mainland. We always enjoy it there and sometimes go over with our bicycles rather than a vehicle.

The signs opposing wind turbines are still up everywhere, even though the Liberal government in Ontario summarily ended a three billion dollar plus green subsidy program last year. This will likely put the kibosh on many developments, including this one.

Image result for no wind turbines amherst island

I have mixed feelings because I feel that as a Christian who cares for the Earth we need to get off fossil fuels and consider energy alternatives. At the same time my concern for Creation includes preserving vanishing habitats for migratory birds. There are many different species of owls and other birds of prey which frequent Amherst Island, and wind turbines can be the Cuisinart of our feathered friends. Not only that, there is a power plant visible on the mainland which is used at partial capacity. Where is the sense in this?

Image result for no wind turbines amherst island

It's all very complicated, especially when some island farmers want the turbines because the additional income will allow their families to stay on land which has been farmed for generations. Many of the most vocal opponents are not year-round residents but want their holiday homes to be tranquil.

We also enjoy the silence of Amherst Island. We often just stand still and savour the quiet of the place, realizing that there is so much human-created noise in our everyday lives. Silence is a gift of God as well, one we take for granted.

Image result for no wind turbines amherst island

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Our Protestant Heritage

Calvin memorial

This year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of a world-changing declaration posted on a church door by a renegade Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther. The 95 theses challenged the authority of the church and four years later Luther was excommunicated by special "diet" or assembly convened to address his apostasy. Luther then went into hiding for his own safety, but continued to spearhead the reform movement which was to become the breakaway Protestant church.

The magazine Christian History sent me an issue which is the third of a four-part series on the history of Protestantism. This particular issue is on one of the early reformers,  John Calvin, who never met Luther, but forwarded the movement from Geneva, Switzerland, even though he was a Frenchman. It was illegal to be part of this reform movement in France, so Calvin moved to Geneva, supposedly temporarily but ultimately for more than twenty years.

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Portrait by Titian

Calvin was a prodigious writer who is often credited or blamed, depending on your perspective, for what's called the Protestant work ethic. It's been suggested that Calvinist  asceticism, which discouraged adornment, resulted in Switzerland being a centre for watchmaking because wearing a watch was one of the few permissible forms of jewelry.  

His views on the sacrament of communion differed from Luther and while he felt that Christ was present in the Lord's Supper, it was not in a bodily way. He did agree with Luther on the emphasis on the grace of Christ in salvation.

Like Luther, Calvin loved the psalms and singing them, and he was convinced that catechetical or religious education should begin early in life.  He was also thoughtful about God's revelation through the beauty of Creation: “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” 

My thanks to Christian History for making me aware of these issues on Protestantism. Take a look at the first three at https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/

Are you reasonably well informed on your Protestant heritage? Should we make more of a point in emphasizing our roots, or should we put our energy into ecumenism?