Friday, August 31, 2018

The Sinner Considered

 The Sinner TV Poster Image

Oh, sinner man, where you're gonna run to?
Oh, sinner man, where you're gonna run to?
Oh, sinner man, where you're gonna run to all on that day?

Run to the Lord, "Lord, won't You hide me?"
Run to the Lord, "Lord, won't You hide me?"
Run, run, "Lord, won't You hide me all on that day?"

Lord said, "Sinner man, you should've been a praying"
Lord said, "Sinner man, should've been a praying"
Lord said, "Sinner man, should've been a praying all on that day"
We have finished up the Netflix series called The Sinner and it was entertaining and well acted. Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman play the two key characters and they are compelling. This is a crime drama with plenty of twists and turns, as well as some reflection on the nature of sin. There is plenty of sex, drugs and rock n roll to be sure, along with a murder or two to solve.

 The reflection on toxic religion is a sub-theme, but an important one to the story. It comes across as sinister as the sins punishable by law. The repressive mother regularly gathers her two daughters around a honkin' big crucifix to prayerfully atone for her version of sinful acts, including hoarding a chocolate bar.
 Related image

It's hard to find any portrayal of organized religion that's positive these days, and perhaps for good reason. After the disturbing revelations about systemic sexual abuse in Pennsylvania and the cover-up by the hierarchy of the church we've now heard a report out of Australia which condemns the Roman Catholic church there. It's enough to shake anyone's faith.

I'm a firm believer in sin. I am still convinced that as Christians we recognize our shortcomings and self-deceptions and ask for forgiveness. This may be controlling personal behaviour or unwarranted suspicion of strangers or selfish behaviour that harms the environment.  It's important to say sorry and then change our foolish ways. It is the weaponization of sin which is so destructive.

There is a redemptive moment in The Sinner when the woman prisoner who leads the jailhouse prayer meeting encourages the Jessica Biel character to accept the grace of Christ. Mercifully, no one sings Amazing Grace at any point in the series. This prison lay-pastor figures that the God of shame and guilt isn't a god worth following. Amen.  

Anyone watched The Sinner? Are you a sinner? What about grace?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

JRR Tolkien: Faithful Christian

 Bilbo comes to the huts of raft elves
I discovered recently that there is an exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England on the life and remarkable achievements of J.R.R Tolkien. Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth is described this way:

This exhibition will explore the full breadth of Tolkien's unique literary imagination from his creation of Middle-earth, the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and his other works are set, to his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.

Tolkien survived World War I and the bloody battle of the Somme. While many were crushed by the horrors of war they informed his writing.

 Tolkien soldier

His grandson, Simon Tolkien, reflects that his grandfather was deeply affected by the "industrial evil" of war, which is portrayed through the desolate landscapes of Mordor and the slave-like Orcs of Sauron. In a BBC article Simon offers:

My grandfather, JRR Tolkien, died when I was 14. He remains vivid to me but through child-like impressions – velvet waistcoats and pipe smoke; word games played on rainy afternoons in the lounge of a seaside hotel or standing on the windy beach down below, skipping flat black pebbles out across the grey waves; a box of matches that he had thrown up in the air to amuse me, rising and falling as if in slow motion through the branches of a horse chestnut tree.

 These memories did nothing to illuminate who my grandfather was or how he thought beyond a sense of wise benevolence arching over me like that tree. Nothing except for his religion: I remember the emotion in his voice when he recited prayers with me in the evening – not just the Hail Mary and the Our Father but others too - and the embarrassment I felt at church on Sundays when he insisted on kneeling while everyone else stood, and loudly uttering responses in Latin when everyone else spoke in English. 

It's been pointed out that for all the strengths of the Bodleian exhibition its great weakness is that it ignores the Christian faith, expressed in Roman Catholicism,  which informed Tolkien's life so thoroughly. 

 I wonder why this aspect of his life was omitted? Are we in a time when religion is seen as an embarrassment, some sort of frailty? Do curators assume that identifying individuals as Christian will somehow alienate potential visitors. It's rather sad, but I'm grateful for his profound faith which no doubt sustained him in the trenches and informed his creative imagination. 

 Image result for lord of the rings book cover

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

False Prophets

 The word of the Lord came to me:   
Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; 
say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: 
“Hear the word of the Lord!”  
Thus says the Lord God
Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!...
 ...Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, 
saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; 
and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it. 
 Say to those who smear whitewash on it that it shall fall.

Ezekiel 13:1-3, 10

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 

Matthew 24: 11-12]

 "The biblical tradition reveals that whenever the prophetic gift is lacking in any group or religion, such a group will very soon be self-serving, self-perpetuating, and self-promoting. Without prophetic criticism, all sense of mission and message is lost."

 Richard Rohr

Those of us in communities of faith often use the terms "prophet" or "prophetic" to describe the ones who point us to greater truths which often run contrary to the zeitgeist or prevailing mood of an era. We think of the prophets of Hebrew scripture and could include John the Baptizer and Jesus from the New Testament. These voices often unsettled religious complacency and conventions to the point that they were punished, silenced, even murdered. 

There are also false prophets in the bible, those whose vision has given way to convenience in the service of power. As you can see above, the cautions against them are stern and unvarnished, including the warnings of Jesus in Matthew and other gospels. 

Earlier this week a group of 100 evangelical pastors and leaders visited the White House for a dinner hosted by Donald and Melania Trump. Afterward many of them gushed about the experience, praising the fancy-schmancy menu. Ironically, one of the attendees was Eric Metaxas, who wrote a book about Christian dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During World War II Bonhoeffer left Germany for the United States but returned, speaking against the Nazi regime. He was executed shortly before the end of the war, but his books, including The Cost of Discipleship are his faithful legacy. Metaxas was among those mugging for selfies with the president. 

 Image result for trump golden calf cartoon

It is a stunning development that so many in the American evangelical world have abandoned their moral and ethical values to cozy up to a modern-day "emperor," a man whose ways of personal and public life are antithetical to the witness of Jesus, the Christ. Trump told those in attendance that they should get out the Republican vote for the upcoming mid-terms, claiming that if Democrats win violence will ensue.

Are these leaders false prophets? One pundit commented that he doubted that there would be a Nathan amongst those gathered for the dinner. He was referring to the biblical prophet Nathan, who challenged King David for his moral failings, even though the result might have been death. 

I hope the food was wonderful. Personally, I'm struggling with indigestion. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Legacy of MLK

Image result for the heavens might crack

I've been reading The Heavens Might Crack: the Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a book which is revelatory, fascinating, and disheartening. It begins with the events immediately leading up to King's assassination just before Holy Week in 1968, and what has transpired in the fifty years since that fateful event in Memphis. Through the decades MLK has been transformed "from outlaw to saint" (a chapter title) in the American consciousness and he is the most respected non-presidential figure, according to polls. Yet King was hated by millions of white Americans, an attitude that endured for decades. He was viewed as a communist sympathizer who created havoc under the guise of non-violence. He was accused of fomenting violence, although it was nearly always people of colour who were the recipients of violence in encounters with authorities. Sadly, many blacks had distanced themselves from King because they were impatient with his commitment to non-violent change.

On the day of King's death and immediately following many whites literally cheered, while others refused to acknowledge the tragedy of his death nor his significant role as a civil rights leader. At least a quarter of a million people lined the streets of Atlanta to watch his funeral procession but by far the majority were black. Neither President Lyndon Johnston nor his vice-president attended the funeral, in part because Johnston disliked King's growing criticism of the Viet Nam war. 

 Image result for mlk funeral procession

When an annual memorial day was proposed for King there was widespread opposition and President Reagan was among those who strongly resisted creating the holiday. Even after it was signed into existence in 1983 it wasn't adopted by all fifty states until 2000. Several acknowledged it on the same day as Robert E. Lee's commemoration. Lee was the commander of the Confederate forces during the Civil War and a slave owner. 

There are now 650 streets and avenues across the United States bearing Martin Luther King's name, which is impressive. But again, there has been considerable resistance to doing so and some of those streets reverted to previous names because of protests. In many communities the MLK streets end as they leave black neighbourhoods because whites refused to have them run through their part of town. 

It's good to know that in many situations coalitions of union groups and civil rights groups and Christians persisted in bringing about the recognition of King. They understood that his legacy should not be brushed aside, nor should it be air-brushed of the long, hard work of peaceable change.

In a time when anti-racial sentiments are growing around the world, including here in Canada, often under the sinister guise of patriotism it's important to be aware of this history. Martin Luther King deserves to be regarded with respect and as a source of costly inspiration.

 Image result for mlk in prison

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hospitality and Suds?

‘Taste and believe’ is Benedictine Brewery motto; taproom opening soon
We had a member in one of my congregations who was a gregarious fun-loving guy who knew next to nothing about being part of a church but was there for his family and was enthusiastic about learning about his faith. He was a representative for a major Canadian brewery and regularly brought me his products to try out, which made me happy. He joked at one point that we could address all our congregation's financial concerns by starting a craft brewery of our own. He was aware that there was a long tradition of brewing in monastic communities and that some European monasteries still made a fine product respected around the world. 

Well, since our Methodist forbears would have spun in their graves, not to mention some of the present day teetotallers, so we didn't get beyond that casual conversation. Yes, there is a former United Church which is now a brewery, but that's a little different.

 Image result for church key brewery
Still, here is a story about some Benedictine's in Oregon who are venturing into the craft brewing market. God bless them!

Tyrant Cascadian Dark Ale and the less-forebodingly dubbed St. Benedict Farmhouse Ale will be among the beers crafted not at the trendiest Portland brewery but on the peaceful, prayer-suffused land of Mount Angel Abbey.

The abbey’s Benedictine monks began making beer about four years ago - honing recipes at a small brewery at the monastery but primarily working out of Seven Brides Brewing in Silverton. This September, Benedictine Brewery will complete its own on-site brewery and taproom, located on the west side of the abbey hilltop and seating about 50 people. It is one of just three monastic breweries in the United States, according to Father Martin Grassel, abbey procurator and lead brewer. “Procurator” is much like a chief financial officer.

Benedictines are committed to hospitality, so why not include beer? Perhaps some United Church congregations need to prayerfully consider this avenue in our changing times? 


The Last Hours, Then and Now

 Image result for the last hours minette walters

Minette Walters is an award-winning novelist whose specialty is crime. I enjoy her work so I ventured into her latest, called The Last Hours. It is a departure for Walters, in some respects, because it travels back to the 1400's and the period known as the Black Death, or the Great Plague. It's impossible to establish exact figures for the deaths from this plague, but it could have been up to 200 million and at least a quarter of the world's population. It took 200 years to recover from this devastation.

This novel focuses around in one feudal community with the intriguing name of Develish, Dorsetshire, which is under the leadership of Lady Anne when her husband, Lord Richard, and his retinue dies of the plague while visiting another town.

Lady Anne is an enlightened woman who already treats the serfs with a respect not normally accorded to them. They eat better and as a result they are more able to work and produce for their lord. When the plague sweeps across the region she wisely keeps her subjects within the walls of the keep and encourages them to follow strict hygiene protocols. Lady Anne is not a conventionally religious person, although she knows her scripture and tends toward the Christ of compassion rather than a capricious God of judgement. She dismisses the "wrath of God" pronouncements of the local priest. 

Image result for black death

Walters does an interesting job of addressing the existential earthquake the Black Death wreaked upon Europe. Not only did it destroy economies and change social relationships, it led people to question why God would allow this to happen and why so many who were innocent of sin, such as children, would be struck down. 

This is a 547 page novel, and at times it seemed to be searching for its true identity, although there are elements of mystery and suspense in the story to engage us. It did get me thinking. We live in a time when we seem to be unwilling to accept the consequences of our actions in terms of gobbling the Earth's resources and we ignore the "signs of the time" when it comes to climate change> Will we find ourselves in the throes of our own existential crisis as the planet's systems and cycles are disrupted to the point that population collapses. Who will we blame?

In the last pages of the novel Lady Anne writes in her journal: "Was there ever a night such as this? God raised me from despair to joy and yet, despite His kindness I feel my spirits lowering again. It is truly said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn."

There is actually a sense of "dawn" in this book, despite the grim subject matter, and it's worth reading, I can't help but wonder whether Walters is offering up something of a parable from the 14th century to address the challenges of the 21st.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Deadly "Domestic."

Image result for peterborough shooting update

Last week one of the few news items not related to the Trump dumpster fire or the west coast in flames was about the execution of a woman in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Peterborough. The 70-year-old was shot three times by her assailant as she sat in her vehicle, with shoppers in relatively close proximity. We now know that the man who killed her in cold blood was her 73-year-old husband. After shooting her he phoned police, put the handgun on the hood of his vehicle, and smoked a cigarette as he waited calmly for them to arrive.

This is one more chilling example of what is often called "domestic violence." although what was domestic about this killing? As I've said so often, these incidents continue to occur on an alarmingly regular basis, and what we actually hear about are the most sensational situations. Most unfold quietly, and while they may not result in death, they are destructive for both the abused partners and their children. Partner violence isn't restricted to one age group, nor is it dependent on financial circumstances. 

We might all ask when we last heard about this issue in our place of worship, whether in a sermon or invitation to greater awareness of the issues, or seeking practical support for shelters and their programs. We can pray and act within our faith communities. 

 There's no place poster

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Rudy, Pilate, and the Truth

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” 
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. 
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. 
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  
 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

                                    John 18:37-38

 It's bad enough that America has one crazy uncle, who happens to be the president. There is second one now, and he gives legal advice to the first one. Rudy Guiliani is one of the bevy of Trump lawyers who is supposed to protect President Trump from himself, but he's a loose cannon in his own right. In a recent interview Guiliani chose to play fast and loose with truth, quite literally:

Guiliani:  When you tell me that [Trump] should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly, because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.

Chuck Todd: Truth is truth.

Giuliani: No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.

 Image result for jesus before pilate
Jesus Before Pilate

Truth isn't truth. Holy Pilate! This has happened before, nearly two thousand years ago. Peasant Jesus stands before Roman Procurator Pilate in what is really a sham trial. Jesus says that he has come to testify to the truth and the world-weary Pilate says, eh, what is truth? It is a rhetorical question he really doesn't want answered.

Jesus isn't trying to lure Pilate into a philosophical exchange on the relativity or objectivity of truth. In his simple statement he does cut through the temptation in every age to claim that truth is the invention of those who hold power and who want to avoid the consequences of their actions. Jesus bears witness to God in both word and action.

What we are seeing around the world at the moment it the attempt by dictatorial leaders to undermine the truths of equality and compassion and justice and loving our neighbour. There are an alarming number of people willing to follow them. Still there is truth, and as Christians we are called by Jesus to uphold it, whatever the cost. 


Friday, August 24, 2018

Pilgrims in a Secular World

Image result for the hajj pilgrimage 

Today is the end of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj. Most major religions have some form of pilgrimage, a spiritual journey which is also physical, requiring a commitment of time, resources, and activity. There is often a degree of risk, and in the case of the Hajj it involves bringing two million people from around the world and putting them into a relatively small area. Pilgrimage, specifically the Hajj, is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with faith, charity, prayer, and fasting. It's expected that each Muslim will endeavour to complete the Hajj at least once in a lifetime. 
 Image result for the hajj pilgrimage men in white

There have been years when hundreds of people died because of stampedes and each year there are promises that steps will be taken to make venues safer. Unfortunately the Hajj can be quite dangerous for women, especially if there is any perception that they are unaccompanied. Men wear white as a symbol of equality. It's too bad that some of those men haven't taken this to heart when it comes to women.

I like the notion of an intentional, spiritual journey which is costly, in some form. We would all do well to put aside our striving and scurrying for a time and intentionally seek the holy. Our world is increasingly secular, but perhaps pilgrimage should be that much more important.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Care for the Little Ones

 Image result for jesus and children

 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  
He called a child, whom he put among them,  
 and said, “Truly I tell you, 
unless you change and become like children, 
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

  “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, 
it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck
 and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 
  Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!
  Matthew 18 (NRSV)

Earlier in the week I criticized Pope Francis for his silence about a report from a Grand Jury in Pennsylvania which addressed the sickening systemic abuse of children by priests over decades. Since my blog the pope has responded bluntly and openly. I include some of his words here and will say that they express contrition and shame.

I also wonder if this is simply too little, too late. These were 300 priests in one state who may have abused thousands of children. How many are there worldwide? And how will the Roman Catholic church change its hierarchical and secretive structure to ensure that this has come to an end? It's not just the sexual abuse of children. It's the shaming and subjugation of women over the years and the insistence that power must rest with a select group of men. 

This is not the intention for the body of Christ, and while Pope Francis knows this, it remains to be seen whether change will occur.
Please read this and feel free to offer your thoughts.
"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it" (1 Cor 12:26)...In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. 
We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. 
Mary's song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: "he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty" (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite. 
With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ's betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison -- Lord, save us!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Jim Carrey, Jesus Guy?

Image result for jim carrey jesus

Jesus -- Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey's manic humour often stikes me as both hilarious and demon-possessed. I never think of Carrey as a Jesus guy. Now I discover that he's created a number of images of Jesus and that he reflects on the importance of religious and spiritual concepts. Last year he spoke to Homeboy Industries, a remarkable ministry founded by Father Greg Boyle.

Here is part of an article about an article about that straight? Relevant magazine shares a profile of Carrey from the Hollywood Reporter. You just never know how Jesus will sneak up on people.

In the piece (Warning: It contains strong language), Carrey talks about why he walked away from the spotlight in recent years, his displeasure with the business of Hollywood, his thoughts on the current political climate and his unique collection of artwork, much of it, he created.

At one point, the writer is invited to Carrey’s home and notices a painting depicting “a Jesus of every race hanging in the entryway.” Carrey explained, “I wanted to capture Christ’s consciousness coming through the ether.”
In recent years, Carrey has expressed interest and thoughts  on an array of spiritual and religious ideas, including the teachings of the Jesus. 

Last year, he spoke at a meeting for the ministry Homeboy Industries led by Jesuit Rev. Greg Boyle, which seeks to rehabilitate former gang members and inmates. 

He told them: “You are heroes to me, and I admire you. When you stepped through these doors, you decided to be a part of this family. You’ve made a decision to transcend and to leave darkness behind, and it takes a champion to make that decision.”
He said: “I believe that suffering leads to salvation. In fact, it’s the only way…that we have to, somehow, accept, not deny, but feel our suffering and feel our losses. And then, we make one of two decisions. We either decide to go through the gate of resentment, which leads to vengeance, which leads to self-harm, which leads to harm to others. Or, we go through the gate of forgiveness, which leads to grace.”

Carrey then spoke about Jesus, saying: “Your being here is an indication that, you’ve made the decision to walk through the gate of forgiveness to grace, just as Christ did on the cross. He suffered terribly and He was broken by it, to the point of doubt and a feeling of absolutely abandonment, which all of you have felt. Then there was a decision to be made. And the decision was to look upon the people who were causing that suffering with compassion and with forgiveness, and that’s what opens the gates of heaven for all of us. I wish that for all of you. I wish that for myself.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Residential Schools and Another Stat

 Image result for residential schools

Are you aware that there is a proposal for a new national statutory holiday in Canada? It will commemorate the dark legacy of Residential Schools in this country, a period of a hundred years during which Aboriginal children were taken from their families and lived in boarding schools where culture was expunged and abuse was rampant. It was a program instituted by the federal government but carried out in most situations by Christian denominations. The United Church of Canada participated and while we have apologized and worked toward restitution and reconciliation the work is far from over. 

This holiday would take place either on June 21st, which is Indigenous Peoples Day or September 30th which is Orange Shirt Day.The latter day is named after an orange shirt given to residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad by her grandmother on her first day at St. Joseph's school only to bes taken from her.

There are mixed feelings in Native communities across the county about this announcement.  Some wonder if it is one more example of "window dressing" rather than the real work of truth and reconciliation. Others ask if it will be yet another day off for Canadians with no real significance in terms of pondering the ugly legacy of colonialism. And doesn't is seem cynical when the feds are assuring Canadians that a pipeline will be built in BC despite the objections of some First Nations communities.

We do know that Remembrance Day in not a holiday for many, yet the importance of this occasion has grown in recent decades. So much of this has to do with education and an encouragement to express gratitude to veterans in a tangible way.

It might be helpful if governments began by acting in good faith with Indigenous peoples. And perhaps focusing on education is more important than another day off. If there is a new "stat" it must be accompanied by the resources necessary to acknowledge the past and the present effects of residential schools. It could be a  true"holy day" rather than just another vacation day, and faith communities might be instrumental in setting the tone.

What do you think about this proposal? 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jesus Christ, Sissy

  Image result for justin trudeau shedding tears

 And when he drew near and saw the city, [Jesus] wept over it, saying,  
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! 
But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Luke 19:41-42 (NRSV)

Jesus began to weep.

John 11:35 (NRSV)

 I have been disappointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on several fronts lately, but primarily because of what I consider the astounding misjudgment of using billions of taxpayers dollars to purchase an aging pipeline in British Columbia that no one else wants. 

This said, I'm shaking my head at the recent focus of the Trudeau haters on his freedom to shed tears on occasion. The list of his sins, according to his detractors includes misting up during formal apologies to Aboriginal peoples in this country, as well as other groups who have been wronged. He cried when acknowledging the death of musician Gord Downie and he's even been criticized for weeping at his father's funeral, derided as a sissy by some of these vile individuals who so courageously use social media to spew their nonsense.

It's interesting that this still happens given that the stoicism once expected of males is no longer the norm in Western society, by and large. We see public figures, including athletes and soldiers shed tears in emotional moments. Many of these individuals are physically strong and truly brave, yet when they speak from the heart they display emotion. 
  Image result for jesus wept over lazarus

I suppose I am a disciple of a sissy, if tears are the measure. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he pondered the city's turmoil, and perhaps his own with a foreknowledge of the suffering before him. And when he came upon the mourners of his friend Lazarus, including Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, he shed tears. The shortest verse in the King James Version of the bible is "Jesus wept," although it is translated a little differently in more recent versions and paraphrases.

Through the years I have become more willing to express emotion through tears. Sometimes it catches me off guard and I have limited control. This happened in worship services I conducted, on occasions such as saying goodbye to teens who were heading off to college and university. I did notice that a handful of people who would chuckle affectionately about women colleagues who they described as "having their bladders behind their eyes" were critical if I showed any emotional vulnerability. Some of them were women, which shows that we still have a way to go in sorting out the stereotypes of what we consider male or female behaviour. 

You may recall that President Obama shed tears on occasion, often out of compassion for those who had experienced great loss. The current resident of the White House never does, which reflects his disturbing lack of empathy and concern for anyone other than himself. This is a failing, not a strength.

Back to Jesus. If God has chosen to dwell among us -- to me the upside down power of the gospel -- with all of joys and sorrows then we must acknowledge the "cry for happy" and "cry for sad" realities of human existence. So dab away Justin, you're in good company.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Truth of Grief for Tahlequa

 Image result for tahlequah orca and calf

The entire world followed a tragic drama that unfolded off the coast of British Columbia recently. A mother Orca named Tahlequa, or J35, carried her dead calf for 17 days and about 1,700 kilometres. It was interpreted as an act of mourning and it's hard to imagine what else it could be. Researchers were concerned that Tahlequa would suffer irreparable harm by ignoring her own needs, but she has rejoined her family group and appears healthu.

This is not the first time observers have watched the grieving patterns of whales and dolphins, but it was the lengthiest and most public. We have also heard and seen elephants and wolves mourning the death of a member in a family group. 

What an important reminder that grief is a fundamental aspect of the lives of intelligent, sentient creatures. It is not the preserve of humans, who have ritualized death in a variety of ways across cultures. I am a strong believer that we need the experiences of leave-taking to acknowledge loss and I'm concerned that we seem to moving away from more traditional funerals and memorials in our society without working through what the replacements will be. 

You may notice here that I referred to this mother Orca by her name before her number, even though a number of reports do the opposite. We tend to objectify non-human creatures by numbering them, or at least by only referring to them by their research numbers. And I use the term "family group" rather than "herd" or "pod" or "pack." Scientists tell us that family connections are vital to the health of these creatures.

I suppose we can say a prayer for the spiritual recovery of Tahlequa, as well as her physical recuperation. Perhaps we would take better care of the planet and all its inhabitants if we did. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Aretha's Gospel Power

 Image result for aretha franklin gospel songs
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Well, loving tributes to the musical genius of Aretha Franklin are pouring in on news of her death, and Emperor Trump is claiming she worked for him -- she sang once at his casino -- even though she stated that she wanted nothing to do with him. The emperor's unrelenting narcissism aside, Franklin deserves every accolade she receives. She won twenty Grammys during her long career and even into her seventies she could command a stage. Her version of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman sung at the Lincoln Center tribute to Carole King was powerful, even though she was 72 at the time. A real leader, President Obama, was present at that event and he was visibly moved to tears. Franklin sang at Obama's first inauguration and wowed everyone with her hat. 

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Franklin was known as the Queen of Soul but she began as a gospel singer in her pastor father's Detroit congregation. Her earliest recording was as a 14-year-old playing and singing Precious Lord in church (see words above and image below). 

It's stunning to realize that Aretha had already given birth to one child and was pregnant with another at that early age. Throughout the years she dealt with bad relationships and substance abuse and yet managed to develop a remarkable career. And many commentators have noted that while her music could be raunchy, there was always the sense of "church" as well, an up-welling of gospel power which sustained her through the hard times and triumphs.

Franklin supported civil rights during the 60's when her career was at its height. She knew Martin Luther King and she sang at MLK's funeral. She was also quietly generous, paying for the funerals of people too poor to do so on their own.

I'm not big on cornball "she's now an angel in the heavenly choir" declarations, but she has to be part of the chorus somehow! I'm having some computer challenges at the moment so you'll have to put the link below into a search engine yourself. It's the Globe and Mail top ten Aretha songs and its worth reading and listening.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Soul Murder in the Church

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I'm a big fan of the writing of Canadian author Linden McIntyre and his novel The Bishop's Man is one of his best and most disturbing. It is about a priest who is essentially a "fixer" for the Roman Catholic church in Nova Scotia, successfully addressing abuse scandals in a number of parishes in Cape Breton and elsewhere. It is a grim tale of institutional cover-up and the perverse logic behind it.

This novel came to mind two days ago when a Grand Jury in Pennsylvania released a 900 page report on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy which took place in the state over decades. More than 300 priests were implicated and 1,000 victims were identified. Of course that latter figure won't be accurate. This is the number of victims included in church records. The likelihood is that there are thousands more who weren't recorded. The vast majority were children, often "groomed" by priests who were in positions of trust.

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The stories are horrendous: several daughters abused in one family which welcomed the priest into their home; boys who were given gifts of large gold crosses so others in a ring of paedophile priests could identify them. As disgusting as these incidents were, there are many others which are as bad.

The report describes what happened in what was a sophisticated and systemic network of secrecy and deception. What was unfolding was known by those in authority and every effort was made to protect the priests rather than the victims. Millions of dollars was paid to these victims as part of the cover-up, but it bought their silence rather than providing restitution and contrition.

This sort of "soul murder," which is how I describe child sexual abuse, is so despicable I can hardly contain my anger. I truly believe that the perpetrators should be imprisoned for life because of the predatory and destructive nature of their crimes. The fact that they were supposedly servants of Christ in positions of trust makes this exploitation even more egregious.

So far there has not been a word of response from Pope Francis, who has denounced clergy abuse on a number of occasions but has been slow and even obstructive when it comes to addressing actual incidents of exploitation. He and other church leaders know that there are huge implications regarding the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the church. This is a top-down, authoritarian institution which is well suited to systemic abuse and the statements of dismay ring hollow because meaningful change is not on the horizon.

Sexual abuse is evident in other denominations as well. Sadly, in every sphere of life and every profession power corrupts people. I am also aware that the majority of priests in the Roman Catholic church have been faithful pastors, and that Pope Francis has done a great deal to bring about reform in a number of areas. Still, this is one more example of a world-wide cancer in the body of Christ.

Pope Francis -- we are waiting for honesty and justice, for Christ's sake.
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