Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Cheerful Boomer Funeral?

Funeral director Krystal Riddell shows Kathy and John Anstruther a wicker coffin
that is completely biodegradable. They’ve prearranged a ‘green’ burial. (CBC)

In recent weeks I've attended two funerals where I was a congregant rather than presider, one for my step-mother-in-law and the other for a dear family friend who was in his 95th year. One was in a church, the other in a funeral home. Both were Christian funerals conducted with dignity, yet there was laughter and fond memories at each.  I felt that it was important to be there, and with the family friend I drove a couple of hours each way to be present. I'm glad I did.

I've written fairly often about funeral and memorial practices, noting the changes which have occurred over time. So I was interested in a recent CBC article by Diane Buckner about the subject with the title Baby boomers moving toward cheap and cheerful funerals: Businesses 'transform' to meet demand for more upbeat memorials. It begins this way:

Forget the dimly lit, sombre mood of an old-fashioned funeral home. Consider instead a cocktail party-style celebration of life, complete with hors d'oeuvres and a video tribute. Ashes in an urn? Try a teapot, or a toolbox instead.

Canadians' ideas about what should happen after they die are becoming more creative and custom-designed to the individual. And that means businesses both big and small are racing to meet new demands. "We're a generation that's not traditional," said Krystal Riddell, a funeral director from Niagara Falls, Ont. Late last year, Riddell launched Essentials Cremation and Burial Services in a bright, modern space located in a strip mall.

The tone of the article is that the fusty services, perhaps by implication religious, are being replaced by an innovative post-war generation.

Hmm. First of all, there aren't many dimly lit funeral homes in my experience, which was more than 500 funerals and memorials through the decades. And interestingly enough, during my ministry there was a shift back to church funerals, when appropriate. I've had many younger family members who are "unchurched" comment on the beauty and tranquility of church sanctuaries even though they don't attend Sunday worship and never did.

I presided at a church memorial in my final year of ministry for a lovely woman in her nineties. She had been cremated and the "urn" was a an old wooden cigar box, which her father or husband had sanded and refinished years before. There was also a lot of music, sacred and not-so-sacred but evoking fond memories. Family members spoke lovingly, and this Christian service was also a marvelous tribute to an individual who had touched the lives of many.

In the rather sunny description of Boomer services Buckner mentions the "memorial to be held later" after cremation. Well, talk to funeral directors. Many lament the containers of the supposed beloved family members remains cluttering shelves in their establishments that folk never come to pick up, despite repeated requests. Or they describe the conversations with grieving partners and children who admit that not having a service where loss is acknowledged has them stuck in sadness.

Hey, I'm a strong supporter of having funeral and memorial services which are personal, loving, and hopeful. I also support less expensive and greener options. But Baby Boomers (and I are one!) don't get everything right despite our general conviction that we invented the world. I figure we are an aging and death-denying bunch, and it may be to the detriment of those we leave behind.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Lament for Puerto Rico

Image result for hurricane maria photos puerto rico

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth,
and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 
And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart. 
 So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created
—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air,
for I am sorry that I have made them.” 
 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

Genesis 6:5-8

Some of you have seen that I have revived my Groundling blog over the past month, now that I am gainfully unemployed and have more time to reflect x 2. The irony is that I have a passion for faith connected to the environment, and a conviction that " to live with respect in Creation" is God's call to all of us and vital to our survival as a species.

There are days when I wonder whether an emerging story is grist for this Lion Lamb blog or Groundling, and of course it can be both. In fact, today I'm publishing the same content for Lion Lamb and Groundling.  

Yesterday the outcome of a study into the effects of last year's Hurricane Maria indicate that it may have been more devastating that Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Washington Post reports the findings this way:

More than eight months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s slow recovery has been marked by a persistent lack of water, a faltering power grid and a lack of essential services — all imperiling the lives of many residents, especially the infirm and those in remote areas hardest hit in September.
A new Harvard study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath, making the storm far deadlier than previously thought. Official estimates have placed the number of dead at 64, a count that has drawn sharp criticism from experts and local residents and spurred the government to order an independent review that has yet to be completed.
This is a reminder that the warnings of climate scientists about the increasing severity of weather events must be heeded. It is also a story about perceptions of justice and the gap between haves and have-nots in the United States. Puerto Ricans are American citizens but the response to their plight was woefully inadequate and it would be hard to imagine that people along the Gulf Coast of the continental United States would be treated with the same disregard. The enduring image of President Trump tossing packages of paper towels into a crowd when he visited in the immediate aftermath of Maria is frankly disgusting and racist. Politicians in the US who were of Puerto Rican background knew this and spoke out, but were largely ignored.
Image result for noah climate change cartoons
The biblical story of Noah is a powerful myth, one which may not be factual but is true. We are inclined as humans to entertain and distract ourselves from the essentials of our existence and when we ignore the hardship of others with issues which don't really matter (kneeling during the national anthem at a sports event?) then we offend God. While the story of Noah ends with a rainbow and God's promise not to inflict such a cataclysm on humanity again, there is no assurance we won't do this to ourselves.
Well, this may be a rather ominous start to your day, but surely we need to be paying attention. It's never too late, is it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Courage of a Stranger

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I certainly hadn't planned on this being Refugee/Asylum-Seeker/Immigrant week but it is turning out that way. We've all seen it by now, the remarkable video of a passerby scaling an apartment building in Paris to rescue a toddler dangling from a fifth floor balcony as onlookers shout support. It turns out that this hero who has been dubbed Spiderman of Arondissement 18 is an undocumented immigrant who left war-torn Mali for France, where his brother is a long-term resident.

The next day French President Emmanuel Macron met with 22-year-old Mamoudou Gassama to thank him personally. He received a medal for bravery, immediate French citizenship, and an opportunity for work. The day before Gassama woke up in a hostel for immigrants. Now millions have seen his courageous response in a crisis.

Image result for gassama spiderman

It occurred to me that if not for this spontaneous act Gassama may have languished in the immigration system for years. Actually, Macron has instituted tougher laws for immigrants in light of a number of terrorist incidents but insists that the Gassama situation is not a contradiction. And in the United States he might be deported despite his heroism.  

Every day immigrants and asylum-seekers are bravely attempting to make new lives for themselves in cultures very different from those they left, and often without language skills. They are rarely celebrated for their courage, but they deserve our respect.

Gossama thanked God that he was able to save the child.  It might interest you to know that he is a Muslim because Islam is usually only mentioned when the person of interest is a terrorist. We can remember that God is the source of compassion and welcomes the stranger.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Cruelty Toward the Outsider

Image result for statue of liberty cartoon images ICE

Can you imagine a regime anywhere in the world where children are snatched away from their parents, sometimes never to be seen again, simply because they have showed up at the border seeking asylum?  It's hard to imagine the terror for both parents and children.

We would assume that this is the action of a totalitarian state with no regard for international law and without any moral compunction. Sadly, this is what is happening in the United States of America today.

While there are US laws and regulations about receiving refugees they are being ignored by the dreaded ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Go to the ICE website and you'll be greeted by photos of gang members from Central American countries who will be deported. There is nothing about separating families, with children as young as toddlers taken from their parents. Teens are incarcerated in rudimentary camps using thermal sheets for blankets. What is most alarming is that nearly 1,500 children are unaccounted for. Where could they have gone? This is our supposedly democratic neighbour and we have reason to be shocked and dismayed.

Yesterday I wrote about the challenges we are facing in Canada with a wave of refugee claimants arriving at our borders, many of whom don't qualify as immigrants. There are increasing concerns and resistance to this relatively recent phenomenon. The federal government must develop more effective strategies to address this. Still, we simply can't go the route of the Americans, and their president who unapologetically describes undesirable foreigners as animals and describes their countries as shitholes.

I'm glad that many US faith leaders are outspoken in their opposition to this draconian shift in US response to those who arrive at the country's borders. I am appalled, however, that the most significant group of Americans who support it are white Evangelical Christians. It is as though the gospel of Jesus Christ has evaporated from their conception of religion and been replaced with a mean-spirited and cruel distortion of patriotism.

I know I should pray for the United States but I'm running close to empty on this one.


Image result for suffer the little children cartoon

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Asylum and Compassion

Many Canadians are aware that a growing number of refugees and asylum seekers are coming across the border with the United States. This is not a legal immigration process and once the claims of these people, many of whom are Haitians, are reviewed they are deported.

This situation has resulted in a range of responses to what is a complicated situation. The border agents and police have been courteous and often kind. One officer has installed a child seat in his cruiser because families are arriving.  

One hot spot for crossings is Roxham Rd in Quebec and members of the small United Church congregation have been attempting to extend some form of welcome. The local Anglican congregation has hosted an information and question event. Some of these folk are elderly and enjoy the peace and quiet of their rural lives. They are also compassionate and understand the desperation of those who are making the crossing.

Some employers have worked with government to offer work opportunities to those whose claims are being considered. Those who are opposed to what is happening have organized protests, and while there has been some angry rhetoric there is still general civility. We can pray that this continues. I agree that people shouldn't be able to jump the queue when it comes to immigration. At the same time we don't want to become Americanized in the vile approach to those who are seeking asylum in that country. More about that tomorrow.


Saving whales and fisher folk. Today's Groundling blog

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bridge to Reconciliation

In the 1990's a Roman Catholic priest in the war-ravaged city of Sarajevo, Father Ivo Markovic, was faced with a dilemma. His congregation was approaching Easter but there weren't enough choir members left for the music of the season. Marcovic had courageously worked for reconciliation during the war so he proposed creating a choir which would be multi-faith and multi-ethnic despite the antagonism between groups which had led to the destruction of the beautiful city.

Image result for ivo markovic

Not surprisingly his congregation resisted but Markovic persisted, recruiting choristers who were Muslims and Jews and Eastern Orthodox. The choir they formed would sing music from all of their traditions although even they were sometimes reluctant to engage in the music of their former enemies. They called the choir, Pontanima:  “Pont” – meaning bridge and “Anima” – meaning soul. The music  Father Markovic  said, was to be a “Bridge among souls.”

As one writer put has put it, each tradition carried  its own strength.  There are the tender words and music of Islam and  the playful dance of Jewish music.   When they sing Eastern  Orthodox  hymns it was, he said,  as if  “we were angels.”  Orthodox Christian music richly acknowledges God’s presence on earth.  Rather than meeting to talk about peace or how to live together, Father Markovic encouraged the people in his choir to live the dialogue and live ecumenism in their singing together.

Twenty years later the choir flourishes and they have performed more than 400 times in various countries. Soon they will tour several cities in Great Britain.

For me this is a heartening story, good news and Good News.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Pride Bible?

Image result for

We are coming up on June, which is Pride Month in Canada. There will be events and parades in a growing number of communities, an opportunity for LGBTQ persons and those who support them to celebrate various expressions of identity. I notice that some organizations are now using LGBTQ2IQ. I was just catching up with one Q and now there is a second (questioning.) I'm so old that I can remember when gay didn't mean Gay.

Despite my decrepitude I support the growing openness about gender and identity expression in our culture, although we have a long way to go toward acceptance. I'm glad that our children grew up in a different era, that their circles of friends includes LGBTQ persons. The denomination I'm still part of has led the way in the regard, often at considerable cost. I've been on staff with a number of gay and lesbian co-workers and my life has been richer for it.

All this to say that I've been receiving ads for a Pride Bible, which appears to be a garden variety New Revised Standard Version bible with a rainbow cover. I wondered if it would be like the old Red Letter Edition, only with rainbow highlights for inclusive passages, but that ain't it. Apparently 50% of profits will go to the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a Canadian-based charity.

Of course the bible has been used to support exclusion, persecution and even severe punishment for the LGBTQ community for centuries. During my time at seminary 40 years ago the United Church was pondering the limited number of passages in scripture condemning homosexuality and noting that they had more to do with licentiousness than orientation. In fact, the term homosexuality didn't exist until the mid-19th century, with a host of other words used instead.

I won't be purchasing a Pride Bible, but it's an interesting initiative as a fundraiser for those who are oppressed. As food for final thought, some scholars are convinced that King James I whose Authorized Version was the first widely dispersed English language bible was gay.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Church at Yukuot Village

We have a membership for the Art Gallery of Ontario and we regularly head to Toronto for special exhibits. Even though we usually have a purpose for our visits I make a point of going to see one painting from the permanent collection virtually every time. It is by Emily Carr and until recently it was titled Indian Church. It speaks to me powerfully because the modest clapboard structure sits amidst of magnificent trees which are a natural cathedral and full of energy.

We have a reproduction of this painting in our home. As someone who spent a career in Christian ministry as an "insider," leading worship within a variety of church structures, some very beautiful, I have often felt that my soul needs were met as an "outsider," in places where the natural world invoked a sense of awe and wonder for the Creator.

This week the AGO announced that after consulting with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation in British Columbia, on whose territory the church was located, the name of the painting has been changed to The Church at Yukuot Village.

Image result for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation

The church was built by missionaries in the 1890's and the original building was destroyed by fire, but in endured through Carr's painting.

The AGO's move is part of a global trend of removing racially charged language from older pieces of art, a trend which is not welcomed in all circles. If an artist has named a work, as is the case with Carr, how can subsequent generations alter it to suit changing sensibilities? Carr had a fascination with and deepening respect for First Nations culture, even though she was still a product of her time.

The AGO has erected an informational panel beside the painting that details the history of the church and the context behind the name change. That is helpful and I do appreciate the reasons for the decision. I'll attempt to use the new name, although I may lean toward The Painting Formerly Known as Indian Church when my memory fails me, a nod to the late musician Prince.

Any comments about the choice of the AGO to change the name of this work?

Take a click and read my Groundling musings about the Kilauea volcano

Image result for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation