Saturday, September 30, 2017


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A couple of years ago a woman roughly my age was in the congregation. I didn't recognize her, but she was quite attentive through the sermon and picked up a copy on the way out the door. We exchanged hellos and she mentioned that she is an Episcopal priest in Scotland. She is a cousin of a woman in the choir and vacationing in Canada. I had snooped around the subject of acceptance and what that sometimes costs us as Christians. I gave the example of the long and painful and important journey of the United Church toward acceptance of those who are LGBTQ, as well as same-gender marriage.  She mentioned that her denomination was in an earlier stage of exploring the same issue. We later exchanged emails to continue our conversation.

I noticed a couple of days ago that Scottish Anglicans will face "consequences" for voting in June to allow same-gender marriages. Here is how the Guardian describes what is unfolding:

The Anglican church in Scotland is to face de facto sanctions imposed by global church leaders next week for its acceptance of same-sex marriage. Leaders of the global Anglican communion, meeting for five days in Canterbury, are expected to impose “consequences” on the Scottish Episcopal church along the lines of the punitive measures dished out to the US Episcopal church last year for its embrace of LGBTI equality.
The measures include a bar on membership of representational bodies and an exclusion from decisions on policy. Scottish Anglicans voted overwhelmingly in June in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry in church,  setting the church on a collision course with the Anglican communion. The Anglican church in Canada is expected to follow suit.

It may surprise you to read that the Anglican Church in Canada still doesn't allow same-gender marriages. Because the range of "consequences" moving toward marriage equality can be costly in terms of church harmony, financially, and in the broader denominational picture these decisions can be difficult.

We'll pray for the Scots and the Canadians in their choices.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Forgiveness Revisited

It occurred to me this week that I tentatively ventured into the realm of blogging in September, eleven years ago. Some of you have been following this blog virtually from the beginning, and I thank you.  I've wondered about the relevance of continuing with this form of expression. I've had angry parishioners scold me for not expressing their views through my personal blog. I wondered if I would have the will to continue past retirement (apparently I have.)

It's interesting that my first blog entry, also on a Friday the 29th, was on the subject of forgiveness. I have a row of books on forgiveness but Helping People Forgive is a classic.

On the shelf in front of my computer is a recent book called The Limits of Forgiveness: Case Studies in the Distortion of a Biblical Ideal. The subject intrigues me given how often ministry presented me with examples of the challenges of forgiveness for others and myself. I'll let you know if I ever get around to reading it.


Friday, September 29, 2006


In this way we differ from all the animals. It is not our capacity to think that makes us different, but our capacity to repent, and to forgive. Only humans can perform that most unnatural act, and by doing so only they can develop relationships that transcend the relentless law of nature.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

On October 10th I am beginning a study group on the subject of forgiveness. It's probably because of my preparation that I'm noticing that anger, apologies, hatred, forgiveness, alienation, retaliation, reconciliation, are all themes that show up on almost a daily basis in the news. Yesterday the head of the RCMP in Canada apologized to Maher Arar for their part in his nightmarish suffering at the hands of the Syrians. Will Arar forgive them? Should he?

One of my favourite books on the subject of forgiveness is Helping People Forgive by David Augsburger. Augsburger says that forgiveness is a bridge which must bear weight under the coming and going of life. It's a helpful metaphor for me. All religions speak of forgiveness and Christianity focusses on the forgiving love of Jesus. But that forgiveness can't be flimsily constructed or it will fall to the ground.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


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Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.

1 Samuel 3: 7-11

Recently a BC father was approached by police because of a complaint that he was "neglecting" his children. At least that's the way I recall the story, because I can't find it anywhere! His response was that he has trained his kids in the basics of street and stranger safety and wants them to be independent.

Those of us of a certain vintage (old) grew up this way with "be home for supper" and "be home by dark" as the two after-school parental mantras. We did stuff that would be dangerous by today's hyper-vigilant standards. Our own three children grew up with greater supervision, yet they had freedom to roam. We discovered their range once they were older, and they were wise to keep quiet about it because we might have been more restrictive.

I've read articles about the very different attitudes in Japan where young children ride the subway and go on errands by themselves as young as six or seven. Their parents begin by accompanying them until they are confident to go alone. An American mother living in Japan writes about her two-year-old son taking  a ‘secret’ field trip with his yochien (preschool). The kids were packed  on a bus, and while the school told them it was happening they wouldn't tell them where.
It seems to me that in middle class North America we conflate independence and neglect. And neglect is a form of child abuse, so independence is guilty until proven innocent. We are told the lurid stories of actual neglect and "stranger danger," even though the latter is rare. The vast majority of child abductions are by parents.

Why does this matter? I wonder how we learn to listen, to be aware of the world around us if there is no independence through childhood? There is a lovely book called The Sound of Silence about a boy named Yoshio who discovers the sounds of his environment through attentiveness and discovery. It occurred to me as I mused about this blog entry that he does this essentially alone, although it didn't occur to me as I first read it.

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Many of the leading environmental scientists explored as children, often alone, developing a sense of wonder which grew into scientific curiosity.

We also need the opportunities from our earliest days to listen for the voice of God, as did the boy Samuel. This is more than sitting in a Sunday School class or a worship service. God is made known in the solitary walk or gazing into the night sky.

What do you think about this? Should there be more opportunity for children to be independent? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Silence and Simplicity in the 21st Century

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Pope Francis greets Abbot General Eamon Fitzgerald during an audience with Trappists at the Vatican Sept. 23.

I've spent time in monasteries and convents across the continent, and a couple of them have been Cistercian or Trappist. Thomas Merton, the contemplative author  may be the best known Trappist monk, and I chatted with an elderly brother in New Brunswick about his time in the same monastery in Kentucky with Merton. The Trappists lead an austere life, with an emphasis on silence and simplicity. I appreciated this commitment when I would visit with them for a couple of days or longer. I could sense the underlying life of prayer both liturgically and individually.

A few days ago Pope Francis encouraged a gathering of Trappist leaders at the Vatican to share these values with the world.

“This element of spiritual and existential simplicity,” the pope said, “preserves all its worth as a witness in today’s cultural context, which too often leads to the desire for ephemeral goods and illusory artificial paradises.” The Trappist dedication to prayer, he said, is “an expression of your love for God and a reflection of a love that embraces all of humanity.” Being contemplatives, he said, is a process or journey in which the monks and nuns become “men and women of prayer, ever more pervaded by love for the Lord and transformed into his friends.

This is an interesting observation for Pope Francis to make. He is an activist in many respects and engaged with the world. Yet he understands the importance of solitude and prayer, the communion with God which informs our social activism. This is a good reminder for the United Church, where we haven't put much emphasis on the contemplative life.


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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

And when I Pray, I Kneel

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I like George Clooney. He has grown as an actor through the years and got involved in some unconventional film projects. He was smart enough to marry a brilliant woman, Amal,  after decades of hinting that he just wasn't the marrying kind. And he has committed his time, influence and money to worthwhile causes. is well known for his work to stop genocide in Sudan through Not On Our Watch,  and he has visited the area personally. So far, Apart from work in Darfur, the organization also operates in Burma and Zimbabwe. Work in Zimbabwe has included supporting UNICEF in its child protection and welfare services efforts for Zimbabwean refugee children.

Today Clooney offered up a prayer for the United States in the Daily Beast, a response to the controversial and profane remarks made by The Great Divider, Donald Trump. Trump stated that pro athletes "taking a knee" during the national anthem should be fired, a subject he should not have addressed at the best of times, let alone during the humanitarian crisis in the American territory of Puerto Rico.

The esteemed John Lewis, civil rights activist during the 60's, reminded everyone that folk responded to injustice by kneeling in prayer long before NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his quiet protest against what seemed to be a rash of unjustifiable shootings of people of colour.

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Trump's inflammatory comments resulted in hundreds of athletes following suit before games by kneeling or absenting themselves from the field. The NFL response including Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and a Trump supporter.

Then along came Clooney's prayer, and here it is:

I pray for my country.

I pray that we can find more that unites us than divides us.
I pray that our nation’s leaders want to do the same.
I pray that young children like Tamir Rice can feel safe in their own neighborhood.
I pray for all of our children.
I pray for our police and our first responders.

I pray for our men and women of the armed services.
I pray that dissent will always be protected in this great country.
I pray for a more perfect union.
And when I pray, I kneel.


Take a look at today's Groundling blog

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Big Shift in Religion

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We saw the film The Big Sick recently and really enjoyed it. It is based on the real-life story of Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner get together for a one-night stand but can't convince themselves to leave it at that, try as they might. They fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, and to challenge his family's expectations.

I liked this film even though in the first few minutes I was taken aback by how strong it resonated with the acclaimed Netflix series, Master of None, at least for me. Master of None revolves around character Dev Shah, an Indo-American actor, who along the way has a Caucasian girlfriend. Dev is played by Aziz Ansari who just won an Emmy with Lena Waithe for their script writing.

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Of course they are different in many respects but in both the film and the series these young men deal with family expectations brought by their parents from their homelands. These include religion, which in both circumstances is Muslim. Both are expected to pray and both end up conceding that their religious observances aren't honest. They have been given the opportunity to flourish in the United States, but that includes the possibility that they will reject customs such as arranged marriage, avoiding alcohol, and regular prayer.

This is the tension faced by many families in different religions, including Christianity. Lots of Millennials have chosen to walk away from church except for high holidays and "hatch, match, and dispatch" occasions. Not long ago evangelicals were somewhat smug about retaining their young people when mainliners had already slipped out the exits. Now their young people are exiting in growing numbers and this is true in both Canada and the United States.

I appreciate the honesty of The Big Sick and Master of None. I wish that congregations could have more realistic conversations about this societal shift, instead of acting as though there are some magic beans we can plant to grow a fresh crop of young'uns.

Have you watched either of these? Why are we so reluctant in families and faith communities to have conversations about a generational shift in religious beliefs?

The Pastor's Daughter

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Today Germans go to the polls and there is a strong possibility that Angela Merkel, the chancellor for the past twelve years will be re-elected. For a time this didn't seem possible because of the national grumpiness over the Christian Democrats' decision to allow upwards of a million migrants and refugees into the country over a relatively short period of time. Her party paid attention to the backlash and has developed more restrictive immigration policies, but it was an extraordinary response to a real and continuing crisis.

Angela Merkel has demonstrated a remarkably even leadership style which has made her arguably the most powerful woman in the world and someone with a moral compass which is woefully absent in the supposed role of leader of the free world to the south of us.

Some of this comes from her upbringing in a Christian family where her father was a pastor and seminary director, although he was emotionally and physically distant enough that she credits her mother as a strong early influence. They lived in what was East Germany until reunification in the early 90's and while her father became disaffected with communist rule he looked to the bible as source for his strong socialist convictions. He actually moved the family across the Iron Curtain with a mission to build a distinctly East German Protestantism but to separate state and church — rendering, as the scriptures taught, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. I encourage you to read this article from the Washington Post to gain insight into the roots of Merkel's social conscience.

We can all pray for the outcome of today's election, knowing that the anti-immigration right may get a foothold in Germany. We can ask God to bless Merkel who was born in 1954, the same year as me, and she ain't ready to retire?!

What do you think of Angela Merkel? Were you aware of her religious background? Are you hoping she will be re-elected?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Margaret Atwood, Religious Oracle?

Elizabeth Moss Margaret Atwood Handmaids Tale Emmy Win

It was impressive when the adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale won a bunch of Emmys at the television awards ceremony last weekend. And there was the Grande Dame of Canadian fiction, in the flesh, receiving a Standing O, no less. The world loved that she hauled her purse on stage to receive the award. She may be a rock star in the world of literature and television, but she is also a sensible Canadian senior!

You might think that Ms Atwood doesn't have much use for 'ligion, given the dystopian nature of The Handmaid's Tale. Actually, she has taken part in forums where she acknowledges the value of religion for positive change in the world, including on the environmental/Creation care front. In a United Church Observer piece a few years ago she describes, humorously, her insistence on going to a United Church Sunday School as a kid, and how she won an essay contest on temperance as a nine-year-old. We may have helped to nurture her literary greatness. In the article she ponders:

In fact, when one looks back in time, one realizes it is only very recently that religion — specifically the Christian religion — came unglued from nature and turned away from it. Many other religions never broke that bond. In the Qur’an, animals are to be respected and are credited with having societies equal to ours. Buddhists and Hindus, the Shinto of Japan and the Parsis of India all maintain quite strong links to the old ties. What happened in the West?

 She does have what has been described in The New Yorker as an "oracular sheen" regarding the perils of fundamentalist religion, of any stripe.

I'm retired now, so I've lost the opportunity to do a book study that could have included The Handmaid's Tale and After the Flood.  Ah well. I do have more time for personal reading these days.

Here are a couple more worthwhile interviews, including one with Atwood singing a hymn she wrote for one of her novels.

What are your observations on Dame Maggie of TO? Have you read or watched THT? Were you aware of her UCC roots?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Please Walk the Walk PM Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York Thursday, where he spoke about his government's efforts to reconcile with Canada's Indigenous people.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye,
but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother,

Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye;

and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 King James Version

After the president of the United States addressed the United Nations and threatened to retaliate against possible North Korean aggression by killing millions of innocent civilians the prime minister of Canada had nowhere to go but up when he spoke to the assembly yesterday.

Justin Trudeau addressed a number of issues including climate change, and global unity, but did so briefly compared to his focus on aboriginal issues in our country. While this is a Canadian issue and a national shame, he decided to acknowledge our failings in this international forum and promise to work toward positive change. Here is the Globe and Mail report on the speech:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his address at the United Nations General Assembly to shine a light on a dark chapter of Canadian history: the story of Canada's Indigenous peoples and their challenging relationship with the government.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau described the struggles Canada's Indigenous peoples have faced since colonialism through today. He emphasized the government's responsibility to improve that relationship, saying the world has a similar duty to respond to global challenges.
"For First Nations, Metis Nation and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences," Mr. Trudeau told the UN.
"For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect, and abuse." Mr. Trudeau spoke about the lack of safe drinking and bathing water in Indigenous communities across Canada, pointing to the government's elimination of more than two-dozen boil-water advisories and its plans to end those that remain. He spoke about the youth suicide epidemics on some reserves. "There are Indigenous parents in Canada who say goodnight to their children, and have to cross their fingers in the hopes that their kids won't run away, or take their own lives in the night."
I am one Canadian who is pleased that Trudeau put this subject at the forefront of his speech. I'm also intrigued that his recent cabinet shuffle has assigned two capable ministers to the issues of indigenous peoples in this country.  I think this is an encouraging strategy. At the same time I'm concerned that there seems to be a lot of high-minded talk without substantive action halfway through the mandate of this Liberal government.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is a shambles, with key members quitting and frustration expressed by others in leadership. The families of those missing persons are frustrated that they aren't being consulted and the whole process seems to be teetering on collapse. Educational funding for First Nations children isn't being adequately addressed, nor is safe water supplies for reserves. It does appear that systemic racism toward Native people exists in police forces and in our justice system We need to hear more, but more importantly to see more from the feds.
Trudeau actually got King James biblical in the press conference following his speech. He said that Canada must acknowledge the beam in its own eye rather than pointing to the motes in the eyes of other nations. Perhaps as a self-proclaimed feminist he could have used a more inclusive version, but we get the point.
Thank you Prime Minister Trudeau for addressing this before the United Nations. As a Canadian citizen and as a member of a denomination, the United Church, which was sadly complicit in the destruction of First Nations culture, I want more. Please walk the walk as well as talking the talk. None of us should be hypocrites when it comes to equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada.