Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beyond Platitudes with the MMIW

Yesterday Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau had an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The meeting was cordial and the PM asked the pontiff about an apology to aboriginal people in Canada for the misery of the residential school system. Many denominations including the Roman Catholic church and the United Church of Canada colluded in what amounted to cultural genocide, as well as abuse of every form.

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Apparently Pope Francis affirmed the dignity of all people without making any commitment to a formal apology. A tweet described the meeting as platitudes without apology. I responded by saying that the Canadian government has apologized, but has offered only platitudes rather than substance.

Today the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women begins, already dogged by delays and criticism that those who should be able to speak won't be given the opportunity. The inquiry begins in Whitehorse NWT, and this morning I heard a woman from the region note that some of those affected live without internet or even television, so they may not be aware of what is transpiring. They won't tell their stories of loss because they aren't aware of the opportunity.

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The "truth gathering process" began yesterday with the lighting of a sacred fire and an opening ceremony closed to the media. I hope that the inquiry gains purpose and strength as it progresses across the country. We can pray that this is so. It's the least we can do as members of faith communities which did not live the love of Christ with First Nations peoples.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Legacy of Rachel Carson

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This past Saturday, May 27th, would have been the 90th birthday of Rachel Carson, had she not died an untimely death from cancer in 1964. Carson wrote books which allowed people to appreciate both the science and the beauty of the natural world and she was deservedly popular. This popularity was challenged when her Silent Spring was published in 1962. She became the lightening rod for the anger and dismissal of the chemical industry and politicians who defended the use of pesticides and herbicides, including DDT.

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Whatever her personal religious faith might have been, Carson gets at least honourable mention as an eco-saint. As her biographer Paul Brooks rightly points out, “her attitude toward the natural world was that of a deeply religious person.” She was selfless in upholding her position, even though she was very ill at the time Silent Spring was released. Her courage and scientific integrity changed the worldview on use of chemicals, although we continue to foul our own nest with Bisphenol and Atrazine and Roundup and...It is discouraging, although this shouldn't dampen our gratitude.  I've included a few images here to celebrate her legacy.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sleepless in Belleville

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Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray to Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I don't sleep. At least I don't sleep long, or well. It's rare for me to achieve six consecutive hours of shut-eye, and all too often I'm roaming the house rather than fretting in my bed while my partner Ruth is in full restoration mode. I've watched some really interesting documentaries in the wee hours, and I'm always right up to speed on sports.

Part of my somnambulance is age, I'm sure, while some is the stress of work. I'm always thinking ahead, which is both gift and curse. I am also less resilient when it comes to silly and nasty people. Most congregations I've served have a handful of meanies, but they tend to "punch above their weight." I think I used to handle the petty nonsense of ministry better, but now it literally keeps me up at night. I probably have poor "sleep hygiene." which is a strange phrase. Maybe if I start brushing my eyelids...

I also pray in the darkness but I appear to have flunked out of Nocturnal Prayer 101. The irony is that I pray more at night yet too often experience God's presence less.

This is a long-winded preamble to a little piece entitled The Theology of Sleep which arrived in my email inbox recently.
  I was surprised to find that the Bible has much to say about what John Ballie called the theology of sleep. Sleep is a gift from God: "I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for You alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety." (Psalm 4:8)
It is an act of trust: I am reminded when I go to sleep that the world is in God's hands, not mine. The world will get along very well even though I am not awake to try to control things. At the appropriate time, my eyes will open and I will receive the gift of wakefulness once again.

"I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5)

John Ortberg in “The Life You've Always Wanted” 

I suppose that I could find these observations discouraging, but I won't. As I move into retirement I may find new things to be anxious about, but I plan to do a lot of letting go and trusting that the world is in God's embrace. I will continue to try to make a difference as a follower of Jesus, but I'll try to trust and sleep on it as well.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
His Love to guard me through the night,
And wake me in the morning's light.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Positive Change in World Religions

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Yesterday our Syrian sponsorship group heard that a Mothers Day gathering for the women was a big hit. There are six moms amongst our 23 family members and they were as animated and open as the women who offered the event has ever seen them. Wonderful. Now, what about Fathers Day? The challenge is that this celebration falls during Ramadan. This means no food and a less than celebratory atmosphere. Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. It is a time of increased prayer and charitable deeds.

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I heard Ziyaad Mia interviewed on CBC radio yesterday about the Give 30 campaign he began in 2012 to give Muslims and others of good will the opportunity to be systematically generous during Ramadan. This morning I received an email from him which included this:

I am inviting you to join Give 30, a grassroots movement against hunger and for positive change that's inspired by Ramadan.  The 2017 campaign launched recently and runs until September 5 (Ramadan is May 27 - June 24).

Once again we are reminded that all of the major religions of the world encourage generosity and compassion as part of authentic faith.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hey, attention!

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“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver

Hey...yes, you...over here! Please pay attention to this blog entry. The Christian Century magazine did a cover article recently on poet Mary Oliver called An Invitation to Wonder.
We have a number of  Mary Oliver's volumes of poetry and have been intrigued that in her later years Oliver has included more overt Christian imagery, although it is subtle. What we have always appreciated is her awareness of the world around her.

The author of the article, Debra Dean Murphy, observes:"a mystic of the created order, Oliver listens to moths, trees. and other nonhuman neighbors."  As someone who has revelled in mystical experiences in creation I like this description.

I appreciate that Oliver invites us to "pay attention," a phrase in each of the poems I've included here. In this time of generally accepted distraction and inattention it is often when we put away our devices and walk in the world, beautiful and fierce that we enter into the presence of God.

As I read the article Murphy makes reference to Robin Wall Kimmerer, a plant ecologist and I was intrigued. So, instead of reading on I pulled out my smart phone and made the dumb move of googling Kimmerer. Then I was off on the "snakes and ladders" search for...what was I searching for?
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                                                                             Iris in Galilee

Jesus invited us to look to the birds of the air and to consider the lilies of the fields (Matthew 6) to give us a perspective on worry and anxiety. I have walked amidst irises on a hillside in Galilee, so we can include them in our gaze as part of a spiritual practice of attentiveness.



It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

--- Mary Oliver

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Climate Clock is...Ticking?

2017 Tick Night

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.  Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate;  and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”
Genesis 7:1-4

I receive Twitter and email info about upcoming events from Quinte Conservation. The seminars cover a range of subjects and I have a sense that they are doing their job well. I can't bring myself to attend next week's Tick Smart event, just the same, even though I know that ticks are a real and present danger. When we lived in Nova Scotia both of us ended up with ticks on our bodies and we weren't thrilled, to say the least. We weren't aware of illnesses such as Lyme Disease at the time, and that was probably a good thing.

When we talk about the effects of Climate Change we tend to think of catastrophic weather events and melting glaciers. Yet migrating, disease-bearing insects such as ticks are a threat as well. Those of us who are Canuck baby boomers hadn't heard much about ticks until twenty years ago. Now we are warned, justifiably, that they are everywhere. A group of hikers in Manitoba this past weekend figured they removed at least 400 of them during and after a hike. That is unimaginably gross.

Were there ticks on Noah's Ark? I don't see any mention of insects. Okay the story of the ark in Genesis is likely a myth rather than factual, yet life on God's Earth is about the intricate balance amongst the passengers on this planetary vessel. It's good to learn about being "tick smart," and even better to learn how to "live with respect in Creation."

Has anyone developed a nervous tic(k) reading this? What are your thoughts about a planet that is out of kilter?

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

You Shall Love the Alien as Yourself

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

                                             Leviticus 19:34(NRSV)

Many Canadians have been aghast at the chaotic first months of the Trump administration which has managed to undermine the dignity and moral authority of the presidency with lightning speed. It's a challenge to know where to start, given the gaffes, the disrespect for checks and balances, and the dismantling of environmental protection.

Add in ICE, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is becoming the strong arm tactical force to institute the phobic approach to those who are living in the country without proper documentation. Although they are being arrested for living in the States illegally, many have been there for decades, running successful businesses, paying taxes, and raising families.

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There are faith communities which are responding, at least 800, which are providing sanctuary to those who fear deportation. The program Sixty Minutes did a thoughtful exploration of this movement on the weekend, and while I caught only the final few minutes, it was worthwhile. There was an interview with a Methodist minister describing his convictions and here is a portion of the transcript:

Philadelphia's Arch Street Methodist Church was built by Abraham Lincoln's favorite minister. 
Rev. Robin Hynicka: We are a sanctuary church.
And a 155 years later, Reverend Robin Hynicka is on the same chapter and verse.
Rev. Robin Hynicka: My baptismal covenant, there's a vow that's taken either on my behalf when I was baptized as a child or as an adult, that I would take the power and the freedom that God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they show themselves.
Scott Pelley: Well, in your view what is this, evil, injustice, or oppression?
Rev. Robin Hynicka: It's injustice and oppression, all of which is evil. Yeah, when a human being's human rights are denied, when they can't stay with their family, when they can't work, when they can't participate in the community in which they have deep roots, all of those apply.

He's talking about Javier Flores Garcia who has lived in the church basement for six months. He came from Mexico, illegally in 1997. He's a landscaper with a decade-old DUI on his record. His other offense is crossing the border repeatedly. A judge ordered him deported but he moved here rather than leave his three children who were born citizens.

Javier Flores Garcia: I think you have to keep fighting and I'm doing this for my kids. And I would do it again if it became necessary.  
Rev. Robin Hynicka: We're taking a leap of faith, right, in many respects, because we don't know what's going to happen.

There have been sanctuary congregations in Canada through the years. A new couple at Bridge St. came from a congregation in Winnipeg which was home for several months to a family from Pakistan who feared for their lives if they were deported. They were eventually allowed to stay.

I'm a law-abiding person, yet there are times when the rule of law is not the moral law of God. Deciding what to do in those circumstances isn't always straightforward. Listening and discerning and acting to the God of justice is a higher calling.

Can you imagine your congregation providing sanctuary, if necessary?

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Deserted Island & 38 Million Visitors

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Many of us became aware of a tiny island in the South Pacific ocean we would never have heard about if it weren't for a human-made obscenity. There are no people living on Henderson Island, a coral atoll, because it is so remote Yet marine scientists have declared Henderson to have the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.

The nearly 18 tonnes of plastic piling up on an island that is otherwise mostly untouched by humans are a 3-D parable of the catastrophic extent of marine plastic pollution. That is about 35,000 pounds, for those of you who are still imperial dinosaurs. Somehow the scientists have come up with the figure of 38 million pieces in total. Crabs now make their homes in this junk, 
One of many hundreds of crabs that now make their homes out of plastic debris washed up on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn island group. This particular item is an Avon cosmetics jar.
There is plastic everywhere in the world it seems and, even a remote chunk of coral in the largest ocean on the planet is covered in this garbage. We're told that by 2050 plastic will outweigh fish in our depleted oceans and that fish samples reveal micro-plastics, including the beads in our body wash and other products. We are drowning in the stuff, which has only been around since 1907. The use of plastics really picked up steam after WWII and now it's difficult to buy anything that isn't made of it or wrapped in it -- sometimes several times.

In scripture we are described as clay molded by the hands of the Divine Potter. No injected polyurethane or polystyrene in the bible. I wonder if we need a theology of plastic, or to develop liturgies repenting of our addiction to it. If we really do care for the world God created we must figure out a way toward simplicity and alternatives to our destructive practices.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

God vs Mammon?

The historic church has stood at 21 Trinity Square since 1847.

A downtown church is suing the Eaton Centre and not surprisingly this recently announced legal action is in the news. The Anglican Diocese and the Church of the Holy Trinity is taking the cathedral of retail to court over structural damage the congregation says is caused by delivery trucks rumbling through two tunnels beneath their structure. Holy Trinity decided to stay put decades ago as properties where purchased all around them for the Eaton Centre. The Eaton Centre has been cautioned about the effects of the underground truck traffic in the past, and now the church wants the owners to pick up the tab for the $2,000,000 in repairs.

The congregation has maintained a strong social justice ministry for more than a century and chose to continue its ministries in that location rather than "take the money and run." In years past the neighbourhood around the church was a slum occupied by struggling Irish immigrants. The church built public housing and in recent years has sponsored more than a hundred refugees. The congregation has a ministry to the homeless and maintains a homeless memorial, to remember the names of those who have died on the streets in Canada. Here is their logo and how they describe their ministries:

loving justice in the heart of the city
Repairing the cracks has included putting 50-foot screws into the bedrock beneath the corner of the church where the cracks are.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Problem of Pain & the Opioid Crisis

The provincial government and the regulatory body that governs physicians have lately tried to reduce the imprudent prescribing of opioids such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl. (Graeme Roy/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

When I heard about the results of a report on prescription opioid use in Ontario, just one province in Canada, I couldn't comprehend the figures for a moment. I went online to get more information and this is what I found:

TORONTO, ON – May 17, 2017 - People in Ontario filled more than 9 million prescriptions for opioids in 2015/16, up by nearly 450,000 prescriptions from three years earlier, and the opioids being prescribed have shifted toward stronger types like hydromorphone and away from weaker opioids like codeine, a new report has found. 

According to 9 Million Opioid Prescriptions, a report by Health Quality Ontario, nearly two million people in Ontario fill prescriptions for opioids every year -- translating into one in every seven Ontarians, or 14% of the province’s population.

One out of seven Ontarians? Is this not gobsmacking? The researchers aren't speculating about illegal opioid use here. These are prescriptions filled by physicians to alleviate pain, although we know that a significant number  prescriptions are used to satisfy addictions or for illegal resale.

Of course there are many people in chronic pain for whom opioids are life-changers. We'd probably agree that they should not suffer.  Yet we have to wonder why the use of opioids is on the rise when we know the danger they pose. It seems to me that there a lot of us are a mess, physically, and drugs have become the solution. I have to wonder if our inattention to our physical and spiritual wellbeing in a fast-paced society has led to a pharmaceutical fix which is dangerous, costly, and masks root causes. Who is paying attention to those who are suffering? What other solutions are there?

I'm curious to know what your reaction has been to this report. Do you find this as unsettling as I do?

Friday, May 19, 2017

'Reconciliation in its best form'

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We are very aware in our United Church of Canada that relationships with First Nations peoples need to be mended in this country. Governments and churches must provide leadership in this regard, but it is remarkable when an individual takes the steps to do so.

The CBC radio program As It Happens shared the story of Kenneth Linde, an 86-year-old retired rancher donated half his land to a B.C. First Nation. For Linde it was  not so much a gift as an act of reconciliation, says Esk'etemc Chief Charlene Belleau. "When he talked with me, I thought, you know, this is reconciliation in its best form," Belleau told As It Happens host Carol Off. "He's not just talking about reconciliation; he's actually doing something about it."

According to the accompanying piece, Linde bought 260 hectares of land on the east side of the Fraser River near Alkali Lake, B.C., in 1961 and worked on it for decades.His family owns the nearby sawmill that employed many members of the Indigenous community, Belleau said, and he has long been a friend and trusted neighbour to the Indigenous community.

Belleau said that when she spoke with Linde he observed, "When I bought the land ... I paid for it. Every year since I bought the land, I've paid my taxes so I could continue to use it. But I've always, always known it's your land. I would like to give it back to you."

 She goes on to say "Our ancestors, years ago, knew that our people would go through a hard time with other people — that they would take our land, that they would put us in residential schools, that they would put us in foster homes, they would incarcerate us, that we would go through very difficult times. So the Creator gave them a song and a ceremony to heal from that. So when we had this big day with Kenneth Linde on Monday and we did our declaration of title and rights, it's our children asking us to let go of everything that's happened to us in the past, to be able to be forgiving, to be stronger for what we've been through and to be able to move on into the future. Our children led the way on Monday. And it was, it was — I can't even express it, it was so, so beautiful."

This is a beautiful story of reconciliation. May there be many more.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


‘Champing’ at All Saints, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, beds made up on the floor, sunlight streaming through the windows.

Have you heard of "glamping?" It is a newfangled term for a recent trend, a mash-up of glamorous camping. Rather than sleeping on the ground in a tent with mosquitoes hovering nearby "glampers" have much more upscale digs in yurts and luxury treehouses and other cool structures like the one we saw in Fundy National Park last year (below.) Some would suggest this isn't camping at all, but, hey, glamp away.

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The latest British trend is "champing," which has nothing to do with horses and bits. It is church camping, in sanctuaries which have been decommissioned or deconsecrated. There is more and more vacant church real estate, some of which gets repurposed for other causes. Why not include camping experiences in the mix?

You can see a champsite above, in a lovely old church, one of seven now used for this purpose. More than 600 people paid for the privilege last year and champing is so popular that twelve churches will be on offer in 2017.

When I was at St. Paul's church in Bowmanville the youth group attended the Maundy Thursday service, then slept over in the sanctuary and sleepily took part in the Good Friday service. These young people had no idea that they were trendsetters, but they were obviously ahead of their time.

Would camping in a historic church appeal to you? Is this a creative "sign of the times" or a sad commentary on the state of old-line church buildings?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God's place and God's grace

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We will probably pull the plug on cable TV this summer, after much consideration. Will I miss Jeopardy? Of course -- Alex is Canadian! Yes, I may go through withdrawal during football season. And there are PBS and CBC shows which I find very worthwhile which I will miss, although most are available online now.

I was channel-surfing on Sunday and came upon a program called Saving Place, Saving Grace. It's about Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. After WWII Holy Cross saw an influx of those yearning for a spiritual life which led them to monasticism. Many were in their late teens or early twenties and the community grew to more than sixty brothers. Now the abbey is on the decline in terms of numbers, with about a dozen aging monks, the youngest in his late fifties.Image result for saving place saving grace pbs doc

Still, they are committed to being a witness in the world, welcoming visitors seeking solitude and peace, regardless of their faith convictions. They have also entered into a remarkable reformation of their home by embracing an intense sustainability initiative both in their daily life and in stewardship of the land around them. They are working with various partners to make this happen, and the documentary was inspiring.

There are a growing number of Roman Catholic monastic communities, both convents and monasteries, which are addressing Creation Care with purpose and conviction. It is impressive and to be applauded. Saving Place, Saving Grace is available to watch online and I would encourage you to take a look.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Spiritual Power of Creativity

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Along the way I've blogged about the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the tour de force paintings by Michelangelo Buanarotti. Even though Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor he took on this monumental project which he undertook without a plan. The ceiling depicts dozens of biblical figures and stories, including the iconic creation image of a bearded God conveying the divine spark to Adam, the mythical first human. I just read a big think article about speculation that Michelangelo concealed images around and beneath these various figures, including an anatomically accurate brain behind God in that creation image. Outlined this way it doesn't take a brain surgeon to see it...sorry... This isn't as far-fetched as you might imagine. Michelangelo was a student of anatomy, doing dissections of cadavers at a time when this was considered a desecration of the human body.

Image result for Behind the figure of God, the clouds form a brain. Neurosurgery. May 2010.

This is an excerpt from the big think piece:

At age 33, Michelangelo Buonarotti began the project. It was 1508. He finished in 1512. It wasn’t easy. He painted mostly standing up,not on his back as rumored. Craning his neck for long hours caused him terrible headaches, spasms, and muscle cramps. A mold bloom made him scrap the first draft. He scraped the whole ceiling and started over. The great master even had to create a system of scaffolding and platforms to allow him to complete the work.

The highlighting is mine because it chucked me upside the head. Michelangelo had to erase the first draft of what is one of the great accomplishments of fine art and the depiction of the biblical narrative. What if he had abandoned the project in frustration? Or what if his church sponsors had decided to choose a less ambitious form of decoration?

This is more than an example of "if at first you don't succeed..." It speaks to the power of creativity, God's and ours, which is a profound form of spiritual expression.


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