Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Balance of Justice

Okay, I'll admit that this cartoon is wildly biased, but I couldn't resist. The United States Senate confirmation hearing for prospective Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been lurching its way along, and what a mess. These American hearings are a form of bizarre theatre in which old white guys pontificate and make political points. This one is different in that testimony has been offered by a woman who claims that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teens. Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old professor of psychology, took an oath and told her story. I can't say whether this testimony was accurate, but she sure sounded credible. It's interesting that those who didn't want her there in the first place didn't deny what she was saying.  Kavanaugh testified as well and the combination of anger and indignation didn't make him look or sound well suited to one of the most responsible positions in the country. 

God only knows where this will go, but its interesting that the Yale School of Law, which Kavanaugh attended, and the American Bar Association have called for more thorough investigation. And America: The Jesuit Review has rescinded its endorsement.  Kavanaugh has pointed out his Jesuit prep school education to bolster his reputation, but the Jesuits are asking whether the controversy has rendered his appointment a liability to the office and the country. This is significant because Kavanaugh would have been seen as an ally of the Roman Catholic church in its opposition to abortion. In the Jesuit Review piece we find: 

 Restoring such a morally complex question to the deliberation of legislators rather than judges may also bring the country closer to a time when confirmation hearings can truly focus on the character and qualifications of the nominee rather than serving as proxy battles over every contentious issue in U.S. politics.

We continue to support the nomination of judges according to such principles—but Judge Kavanaugh is not the only such nominee available. For the good of the country and the future credibility of the Supreme Court in a world that is finally learning to take reports of harassment, assault and abuse seriously, it is time to find a nominee whose confirmation will not repudiate that lesson.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Taking Inclusivity to the Streets


Windermere United Church is a Toronto congregation with a commitment to radical inclusivity. The minister, Rev. Alexa Gilmour, has championed refugees and was involved in the community vigil for those killed in the terrible van attack earlier this year which killed a number of people. 

This commitment includes literally taking the message to the street with a sign which changes from week to week, proclaiming support for Pride Week and shout-outs to other religions as they enter into high and holy days. This became an issue for Windermere and another UCC congregation through the summer. The same company owns and services both their street signs and the owner refused Pride messages and a supportive message to the Muslim commnunity, in Windermere's case. 

Now the Windermere congregation has filed a human rights complaint against  Archer Mobile Signs and its owner Steven Thompson. Thompson says that these messages are contrary to his religious beliefs as a Christian, even though he has posted support of the Jewish community. It sounds as though Thompson may be homophobic and Islamaphobic, believing that his Christian faith calls him to draw this line in the sand. Chances are good that he'll lose, as have others who are providing a public service but want to bring their personal beliefs to bear in a way that is considered racist or exclusionary. 

This story is a reminder of the wide spectrum of outlooks about the gospel of Jesus Christ and what Christians perceive as the appropriate stand in certain circumstances. It will be interesting to see where this goes and how each will be regarded by the broader community.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Nickel and Dimed in Ontario

 Nickel and Dimed cover.jpg

Twenty years ago Barbara Ehrenreich became an undercover journalist in the low-wage economy. She wanted to find out whether people could survive, let alone thrive, making minimum wage or a little more. She discovered the desperate circumstances of millions in the United States who lived the grinding reality of precarious and under-paid employment. In her book, Nickel and Dimed she awakens to the fact that much of this work is skilled, even though it is often described as unskilled, and that much of it is physically demanding. 

In 2018 Ontarians elected a government which declared itself "for the people,"which apparently excludes those who are the under-paid workers of our province. In the past couple of days we've been informed that the promise of a $15 an hour minimum wage is no more. The latest is the prospect of repealing legislation to provide sick day and pay equity protections granted to Ontario workers earlier this year. Add in the cancellation of the guaranteed income trial project and we have even more evidence that "for the people" does not apply to those who are struggling at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

As Hugh Segal, a former Conservative Senator has put it:

 Inclusive government seeking to be fair to the entire community is more easily promised than delivered. Especially when some on the far left or far right view “fairness” as a code word used by elites to camouflage pandering to various special interests. The new Ontario government is obviously deeply challenged on the issue of fairness, especially in defining its core electoral slogan, “For the People.”

As a Christian I follow a Jewish peasant who understood the uncertainty of work in his culture and often told parables which made sense to those who were just getting by. His vision for shalom was egalitarian rather than hierarchical and privileged. I hope that communities of faith continue to speak truth to the power of Premier Doug Ford and his government.


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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Love and Marriage

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In the earlier years of my ministry I worked with colleagues from other congregations to provide marriage preparation events for the couples who would tie the knot in our churches. We ran Friday night, all day Saturday events which looked at a number of important areas of married life, including spirituality. Of course, all the couple in the 80's and 90's were heterosexual because same-gender marriage didn't exist yet.

They were well attended because couples still got married in churches back then and some even attended them! Couples were nearly always grateful for the experience, even when they were reluctant to attend. We felt that we were doing something to address the growing rate of divorce in those days. The statistic that half of marriages would end in divorce was bandied about a lot but it was never true in Canada. Still, a fair percentage of marriages foundered and we wanted to respond in a positive way with the couples we were marrying. 

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Now many ministers in mainline denominations preside at just a few weddings each year and some don't conduct any. Couples tend to be less religious and more likely to get married in a barn than a church. So, I'm intrigued to read that American Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, are less likely to divorce than Baby Boomers. A Toronto Star article on the subject begins:

Americans under the age of 45 have found a novel way to rebel against their elders: They’re staying married. New data show younger couples are approaching relationships very differently from baby boomers, who married young, divorced, remarried and so on. Generation X and especially millennials are being pickier about who they marry, tying the knot at older ages when education, careers and finances are on track. The result is a U.S. divorce rate that dropped 18 per cent from 2008 to 2016, according to an analysis by University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen.

Go figure. Evangelicals of the previous couple of generations were disturbed to discover that their divorce rate was pretty much the same as the culture around them. Even though they preached the "sanctity of marriage" it didn't always show up in reality. It would be nice to think that vows of commitment within a Christian relationship made a difference to the longevity of a marriage, but that's not always the way it turns out.  

I decided a long time ago that judging others about their marital status was unkind and unfair and I was always willing to marry divorced couples. I am glad that couples are more likely to stay together for a number of reasons. All three of our children are Millennials, and two are married with partners we love. 

Any comments about this changing trend or your own experience in marriage? 

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Good Neighbors and Good Neighbours

 Image result for the good neighbor book fred rogers

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man 
who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The conclusion of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke10:25-37

What is it with Mr. Rogers these days? He seems to be everywhere, first in what is apparently a moving documentary, Won't You be my Neighbor, and now with a new book called The Good Neighbor. Fred Rogers died fifteen years ago but there has been a resurgence of interest in his themes of acceptance and unconditional love. I've admitted in a previous blog that I never watched even a portion of an episode of Mr. Roger's Neighbourhood because of my impression that Fred Rogers was rather insipid, bland. The truth is that he was a deep and purposeful man whose Christian faith informed his message even though he rarely mentioned religion on his show.

 Mr. Rogers Had a Dangerous Side

There is an article in a recent issue of Christianity Today which reviews the new biography. It suggests that Roger's was not just meek and mild, that he had an edge which drove his vision for working with children:

Given Rogers’s kindly public persona, it’s easy to forget the simple truth that anger over how the world treated children was a driving force in his life. Rogers was the first to truly envision a world where technology could be used to educate children, to help them develop a healthy sense of themselves as both loved and safe. He wanted to equip them to play a healthy part in a flourishing neighborhood. “Until television became such a tool for selling,” he once mused, “it was such a fabulous medium for education. That’s what I had always hoped it would be.”

I actually like the notion that Fred Roger's was a bit edgy and passionate beneath his calm demeanour.  And it makes a lot of sense that it a climate of incivility and a disturbing lack of basic decency and kindness in the United States he's getting a lot of retrospective attention, as a Christian and a broadcaster. Any way you spell neighbour, compassion and respect is essential.


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Monday, September 24, 2018

Hospitality, Gift and Practice

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Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 
 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  
 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

 Romans 12:9-12

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, 
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2

We're just back from a wonderful vacation on the archipelego of the Azores, the lush islands in the Atlantic which are part of Portugal. We went for the scenery, loved the food, and were disarmed by two occasions of hospitality which were highlights of our trip.

The first was courtesy of an 80-year-old Montrealer who was a "friend of a friend," both having grown up on the island of Faial and eventually emigrating to Canada. Ted wanted us to meet Tomas who spends several months a year in the Azores at his lovely home there. We made tentative plans to do so, although we knew nothing of how that might happen. Tomas got to work tracking down who would be our guide on Pico, the one day we would explore with help. He had the guide bring us to his house for a visit, then took us out to a restaurant by the sea for a sumptuous meal. He couldn't have been more gracious and welcoming, even though we were total strangers.

On the island of Terceira we stayed at a four hundred year-old manor house which is now a hotel. Early in the morning we chatted with Randall, a baroque musician and oboe builder (I couldn't make this up!) who comes to this spot every year with his partner Alain from Switzerland. Then we headed off for what was a fascinating but exhausting day. We returned to our lodgings weary, and willed ourselves toward our vehicle for a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant. Randall intercepted us as we were leaving and invited us to join them at the same eatery. It turned out that they wanted to host us, and again we enjoyed a marvelous meal and an evening of lively conversation.

In both instances we were overwhelmed by the hospitality of people who'd never set eyes on us before. We were enlivened by both experiences and will never forget them.

I've mused since about hospitality, which in scripture is both a gift of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual practice. There was minimal discussion with these kind folk about religion or faith and it didn't seem that any of our hosts were religious themselves. Yet they are gifted and, practiced when it comes to hospitality and their warmth and welcome touched our souls. In both circumstances our hosts were the angels (I ain't no angel, as most of you know.)

It was such a reminder of the importance of hospitality in our individual lives and in our communities of faith as a concrete expression of Christ's love. 


Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Nature of Love

 Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger in Tell It to the Bees (2018)

The day we flew to the Azores two weeks ago we stopped in downtown Toronto to take in the Toronto International Film Festival premier of Tell It To The Bees, starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger. It;s the story of a single mother who moves in to the home local doctor with her son to serve as housekeeper. The doctor has returned to her hometown to take up the practice of her late father, and we learn that she left as a teen because of her harsh reputation as a "dirty dyke." 

The two women develop a passionate relationship which is eventually "outed" in the small British community of the 1950's. Needless to say, folk are unkind and there is both sadness and hope in what unfolds.

The doctor is a beekeeper and tells the boy, played brilliantly by Gregor Selkirk, that secrets can be told to bees, and the hives are important characters is the story...nuff said...

It's interesting that this novel of the same name has been developed into a film a year after the acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, which is the love story of two men, set in the 1980's. In both stories the love is transformative but illicit according to the mores and values of the culture. Call Me By Your Name is a much better film but Tell It To The Bees is still moving and thought-provoking. 

I may have written before about the minister of a congregation I served in the eighties whose woman minister in the late sixties and early seventies who lived with a female "friend" in the manse. As the discussion about same-gender relationships became prevalent and heated during my time in the congregation some folk wondered if these two women had been intimate partners but lived quietly together without identifying the nature of their relationship. This minister was much-loved by the congregation but may have been censured if people had known about her orientation.

Our society and our denomination has moved toward acceptance and support through the years and it's important that these stories are told in novels and films. Still, many clergy struggle with whether to identify their sexual orientation to congregations and there are two many incidences of homophobia and cruelty. 

God be with us as we continue to find a place of true shalom and love for all who are part of the community of Christ.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

God's Sunken Cathedral

 Image result for algar do carv√£o terceira

I'm still a little jet lagged after our wonderful trip to the Azores. I write about our descent into the "sunken cathedral" of a hollow volcano in today's Groundling blog, so I'll invite you to look there. My apologies that you can't just click on the link to get there.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Intimacy of Devotion

 Image result for angra do heroismo sao goncalo convent

Where did David go?, you might ask...I hope you've asked. 

I'm up this morning at home for the first time in twelve days, jet-lagged and sleep deprived after a wonderful vacation on four of the nine islands which make up the Azores archipelago. They are part of Portugal, situated in the Atlantic, 1500 kilometres from the mainland of Europe. Our flight home was delayed by 27 hours, but the airline put us up in a nice hotel in the downtown of Angra do Heroismo, a beautiful town on the island of Terceira. It's great to be retired and have no worries about getting back for work

We walked by the sea, had coffee in an outdoor cafe, and visited a convent, of all places. It is a remarkable historic site established in the 1540's for the Poor Clare Sisters, a Franciscan order. The nun who took us on the tour was a lovely woman who spoke very little English, but we figured out how to communicate with the important stuff.

She took us to the Baroque chapel where the public congregation sat on one side of what looks like a medieval portcullis -- a gridwork of iron bars -- while the sisters sat, segregated on the other side. What was even more jarring was the room where nuns would meet with family who came to visit. This area also had bars, a double set far enough apart that there could be no physical contact. This denial of any sort of intimacy was heart-breaking to ponder, a severe asceticism which no longer exists but was prevalent for those in Roman Catholic orders in the past.

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After we left we talked about how inhumane and soul-destroying these practices were, in a misguided understanding of total devotion to Christ. We know that Jesus touched people when he healed them, and he also healed a woman who violated social conventions when she touched him. We were never meant to be exiled from our bodies or intimacy because of our Christian devotion. Sadly Roman Catholicism isn't the only stream of Christianity to view physical intimacy with suspicion. Evangelicalism has often promoted a bizarre purity culture which was hypocritical and destructive. Now we are seeing how Christian conservatives in the United States are giving a free pass to male leaders, including the president, for predatory sexual incidents while insisting that women be "pure." 

Jesus, born of a woman, whose body was anointed by women in death, save us all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Last Rites


My brother Eric and I each visit my 92-year-old mother in her nursing home once a week, and sometimes more. Eric is very attentive to her practical needs, but both of us are finding that our principle role these days is to be a attentive presence when we visit. As she approaches her 93rd birthday Mom becomes more ghost-like, struggling to form a sentence or follow conversation. Even the videos of great-grandchildren no longer seem to bring her the pleasure they did only weeks ago. She is failing physically as well, and while the medical staff are excellent, they can't turn back the clock. Last week we arranged to visit Mom together and we took her outside, as we often do. At the conclusion we prayed, which she always likes, and told her we loved her as we were leaving. Her "I love you too" was the only full sentence she managed.

It did not occur to me to kill Mom during our time together. This may be a startling statement, but I know she did not want to end life this way. She was always a person of energy and dignity and this is not what she would have chosen. Perhaps two years ago I talked to her about MAID -- Medical Assistance in Dying -- because of a guest who came to the congregation I was serving to speak about the subject. Somewhat to my surprise she said she thought this was a good option for people, herself included. She was already dealing with dementia, so the conversation went no further, but she was clear in that moment.

I thought of my mother as I read Sarah Lyall's honesty and touching article in the New York Times about her mother's request that she help her die.

Right now my mother is in bed across the hall, in the endgame of Stage 4 lung cancer. She is nearly 83, she has had enough, and she is ready to die. More specifically, she is ready to have me help her die.
I can see her point.
An unsentimental, practical person, she has for many years been preparing for the moment when death would become more alluring than life. 

In New York state assisted death is not legal, so Lyall knew that her mother's request was challenging on many levels: " I am not a trained assassin. I am not a doctor. I am not very brave. I’m just a person who wants to do the most important thing that her mother has ever asked of her."

Every day, in places around the world, the personal dramas of the end of life are played out. They are at the same time similar and yet unique. I imagine most of us wonder what to do for those we love, often feeling inadequate or even whether we should assist in hastening the end. 

I do know that my mother's life is still precious as she drifts away. I don't want her to be in distress or to feel alone, and I don't think she does. In recent weeks several of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been to visit her, as have her daughters-in-law. We're doing the best we can, as so many others attempt to do, and for now we continue to pray, give her a kiss and say "I love you."

Monday, September 10, 2018

What Brand of Christian are You?

 Image result for generous orthodoxy brian mclaren

Are you a liberal Christian, or a conservative Christian? Do you consider yourself evangelical, small e or large E? Are you a Cradle Christian, always a part of the church? The old categories aren't really working anymore, so Pew Research Center has come up with a new typology, at least for the United States.

Personally, I like the "generous Orthodoxy" term coined by Brian McLaren years ago. He claims he is "Post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, ... emergent, unfinished Christian." Tbis works for me. Here is what Pew suggests. What do you think?

 The Religious Typology: The highly religious, nonreligious and in between

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Freedom to Worship in Rwanda

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 It was back-to-school for lots of Canadian students this past week and it will be back-to-church for a some people this Sunday, although cottage season stretches longer and longer into the Fall. What if we couldn't go to a building for worship because of state persecution. For so many Canadians attending a service of worship is something they literally never do, so they wouldn't need to be dissuaded, but what about those of us who do?

In Rwanda thousands of churches and mosques have been shut down, supposedly because the pastors are poorly trained and there are no washrooms. The faithful see it as government suppression of freedom of religion which has been growing steadily for a decade, with the deaths of a number of leaders and the intimidation of worshippers.

This news is disturbing in a country where hundreds of thousands were murdered in the genocide of nearly 25 years ago. Many took refuge in churches, only to be murdered in the sanctuaries, their bodies left to rot. 

Despite the closures many Christians are gathering for house meetings, according to Religious News Service:

KIGALI, Rwanda (RNS) – Grace Umutesi has secretly been conducting services in her house in the Bannyahe slum on the outskirts of the capital since officials shut down her church in July for failing to comply with building safety standards and other regulations.
“I’m very disappointed by the decision of the government to close our church,” said Umutesi, 35, a mother of four. “But we cannot stop to pray and praise God because our church has been closed. God is everywhere and he listens to our prayers.”

God be with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all those Rwandans who desire freedom of worship. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Beyond Fear

 Image result for fear bob woodward

 do not fear, for I am with you,
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
 but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 

Romans 8:5

Bob Woodward, award-winning journalist best known for partnering with Carl Bernstein in revealing the Watergate break-ins 45 years ago is back in the news again. The Watergate investigation and the insider revelations of the mysterious Deep Throat were the beginning of the end for the Richard Nixon presidency.

Woodward has a book, soon to be released, on the Trump White House and it is already creating a major stir in Washington. It shouldn't surprise anyone that it portrays an administration in disarray which one senior official describes as "Crazytown" and in which non-elected administrators are doing their best to steer an "amoral" and unpredictable president away from catastrophic decisions. Surprise, surprise. We've heard this before but Woodward's credentials as an investigative journalist give this book heft.

I'm intrigued by the title which focuses on the world FEAR, emphasized in bold capital letters. For me the title may be as revealing as the content of the book. Trump may be a wildly inconsistent POTUS in terms of policy and diplomacy but he is steadfast and skilled in engendering fear in those who support him, including a large conservative religious base. After a recent dinner for evangelical leaders at the White House he offered a warning that they were “one election away from losing everything.” Christianity Today, an evangelical publication asked shortly afterward What Are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing? The author, Michael Horton admonished those who buy into this fear-based message:

And yet, swinging from triumphalism to seething despair, many pastors are conveying to the wider, watching public a faith in political power that stands in sharp opposition to everything we say we believe in. To many of our neighbors, the court chaplains appear more like jesters.

These are strange times we find ourselves in, aren't they?  Perhaps we would be best to stick with Jesus who told his disciples "let not your hearts be troubled."

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Red Carpet and the Synagogue

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The hoopla is coming out the TO wahzoo these days as the Toronto International Film Festival gets underway. Roughly 150 of the hundreds of films to be shown during these ten days are making their debut, which is impressive. The red carpet will be busy once again with movie stars from around the world.

It happens that this year the opening weekend of TIFF overlaps with one of the most important Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah. Here is the description from the Independent:

 The Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a joyous occasion celebrated by members of the religious community all over the world.
The festival consists of many elements, including prayer services in synagogue and the blowing of an ancient musical horn called a shofar, which is made from a ram’s horn.
However, one of the most anticipated aspects of Rosh Hashanah is undeniably all of the delicious, sweet foods that Jews eat throughout the festival, which starts this year on the evening of September 9 and ends on Tuesday September 11.

The film festival's answer to this coincidence is to create what it's calling a pop-up synagogue for actors, movie mucky mucks and anyone else who would like to attend condensed but traditional services in a chapel at the Windsor Arms Hotel. The hotel will also provide meals which reflect the holiday. The synagogue is the brainchild of Rabbi Meir Dubrawsky, whose congregation is on Avenue Rd.

It's good to see that glitzy, secular TIFF is showing respect and consideration in this way. Now, if we could just get kids' hockey tournament organizers to show similar deference and stay away from Easter weekend. 


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Last night at TIFF Gala


Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Nazis and the Church Bells


There is a church bell which has been ringing out over a German village Herxheim  Am Berg a variety of occasions for more than 80 years and is now at the centre of controversy. It was installed in 1934 and it inscribed with the words“Everything for the Fatherland — Adolf Hitler, ” as well as a swastika. The swastika is actually an ancient symbol but was adopted by the Nazis and became synonymous with hatred and a war of domination which killed millions, including six million Jews. 

Some in the small aging congregation have always known about the bell and one member recalls writing an essay about it's installation as a child. The community has been aware as well, and there have been no attempts to hide its existence. There were a couple of dozen more communities across Germany with similar bells. They removed them when they realized they were in their church towers but this congregation and village is resisting removing their bell despite the outcry about it. The organist did quit in protest, Jewish organizations have spoken out, and the church council has agreed not to ring it. But some feel that it is historical and should remain.

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Cornwallis Statue, Halifax

 Increasingly communities are asking what they should do about memorials to those whose importance is marred by acts of racism and violence. Statues of Confederate Civil War figures are being removed in cities in the States, although not without protest. In Halifax, Nova Scotia the name of Edward Cornwallis, the founder of the city, was removed from the middle school our two daughters attended and his statue taken down because he was also the author of genocide against Aboriginal people. Now there are questions about the name on just about everything of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, due to his role in the development of Residential Schools and efforts to starve out First Nations and Metis peoples in the West. 

The conversations about these figures and how to remember them is important, as is the debate about the Nazi bell and other memorials. We can't change history, and some claim that what is happening is revisionist and an over-reaction. It is important, it seems to me, to ask what we want to remember publicly and who we choose to honour. There are no more statues of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, and surely that is the right thing. 

What happens in churches is arguably even more important in these days when hatred and xenophobia and aggressive nationalism are on the rise. In the United States some brave Christian leaders are asking why the national flag is prominently displayed in church sanctuaries when their allegiance is first and foremost to Christ and there is supposedly a separation of church and state.

What do you think about this? Is it important to enter into these discussions, and, more importantly, to take action?  

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MacDonald Statue, Victoria

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Broken Cameras and Justice

 5 Broken Cameras.jpg

We don't partake of the ancient technology of the DVD (remember them?) often anymore but I noticed a documentary at the library recently which we'd intended to watch a couple of years ago. It's called 5 Broken Cameras and it was shot almost entirely by West Bank Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son. In 2009 Israeli co-director Guy Davidi joined the award-winning project. 

Burnat becomes an important witness to the illegal expropriation of land around his village for the construction of Israeli settlements. Even though the villagers protest relentlessly and Israeli courts decide in their favour a fence is constructed separating farmers from their land, while olive trees are bulldozed and burned by settlers. By the time the fence is rerouted  settler communities have been built and won't be removed.

Over the course of the years five cameras are destroyed as Burnat films what is transpiriing, some smashed by Israeli soldiers, some taking direct hits from bullets which might otherwise have struck him. During the intense encounters tear gas is often used, even on groups of children, and a number of villagers are shot, some fatally. It is so brutal that my viewing partner had to leave. 

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I wondered about Burnat's four sons and how they were and are being shaped by these injustices. The newborn infant becomes a child who wonders why his father won't kill the soldiers who had shot a beloved family friend. I was deeply saddened by the deaths of people attempting to protect land which the courts upheld as theirs, to no avail. I pondered the young Israeli soldiers, required to do military service, who were required to view these Palestine farmers as the enemy when they are simply trying to survive. Burnat's wife begs him to stop filming along the way, concerned for his safety and weary of the conflict.

 We know that the Americans have taken a hard-line political approach to the Palestinians in recent months. But lest we feel smug, there are Canadian companies involved in the construction of the settler homes.

It's important to note that at times the villagers are joined by Jewish activists from Israel who are in solidarity with the Palestinians. They are swimming against the current of their own Prime Minister Not long ago Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that

the weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history
while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.
 The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong,
 and in the end peace is made with the strong. 

I've checked to see if this could possibly be accurate. Apparently it is. Someone described it as the most unJewish thing he'd ever read.

Have you seen the film? Thoughts?

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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Two Funerals and an Absent President

 Image result for al sharpton criticizes trump

I've made no secret of the fact that I detest the president of the United States, Donald Trump. There is no point in naming all the reasons why -- this is a blog entry, not my magnum opus. As a Christian I pray that I not hate any human being and God has sent Trump to test my resolve.

That said, I wonder about the Right-wingers in the States who are grumbling that two recent funerals  became platforms for dissing the sitting president, and whether they have a point. At the funeral for Aretha Franklin activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton was very specific:

“You know, the other Sunday on my show, I misspelled ‘respect.’ A lot of y’all corrected me. Now, I want y’all to help me correct President Trump to teach him what it means. And I say that because when word had went out that Miss Franklin passed, Trump said, ‘She used to work for me.’ No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us. Aretha never took orders from nobody but God.”

The next day, several speakers at the funeral of Senator John McCain, including his daughter Meghan and past presidents George Bush and Barack Obama made less direct hits on the absent Trump, although there was no doubt about the subject of their remarks. Meghan's rebuke contrasted her father’s legacy with the “opportunistic appropriation” and “cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.” Even more pointedly she said that the “America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because it was always great.”


While a part of me wanted to cheer these condemnations of a corrupt, immoral excuse for a leader, I gave my head the proverbial shake. What is the purpose of a Christian funeral? I've always felt that it is to uphold Christian hope in the face of death and to honour the person who has died with reflection on his or her life that is affectionate and respectful. Some people who walk this earth are exceptional because of their accomplishments and courage, and that should be recognized. We can be inspired to greater things in our own lives by the greatness of others. I'm not so sure about politicizing funerals, particularly in a time when there is already so much dissension and anger. Would John McCain have been lionized in this way if the political climate of the United States was different?

What did you think about it all, or did it even show up on your radar? Should funerals or memorials be commandeered in this way? Just asking!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Dignity and Respect for Workers

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 God of the working world:
Thank you for meaningful work that fills us with satisfaction,
the way challenges can spur us on to greater efforts
that pay off with a job well done...

from a prayer by Carol Penner

 I began this Lion Lamb blog in September 2006, at the encouragement of a parishioner and I haven't figured out how to quit. During those years I've written about Labour Day, although not as often as I imagined. 

Meaningful work, respected and adequately compensated, is always worth our consideration. The apostle Paul discouraged members of fledgling faith communities from loafing about while others laboured, and he had a "real" job as a tent-maker, even though he was trained as a rabbi and became an evangelist. We've all seen the images of Jesus observing in the carpentry workshop of his father Joseph, even though we aren't sure that the Greek word means anything more than general labourer. We tend to say that all work is worthwhile, and that it can be a vocation, although I'm not sure we mean it. Do we come close to valuing mind-numbing factory work in Bangladesh with the skills of a neurosurgeon in Toronto.? We certainly don't in terms of compensation.

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Today I'm thinking of all those in the province of Ontario who saw light at the end the tunnel with a promise of a minimum wage of $15 an hour, only to have that snatched away by Doug Ford, the new supposed "for the people" premier. There is lots of evidence that the initial transition to $14 has stimulated the Ontario economy rather than weakened it, as the gloom and doomers predicted. So, why is it okay to pay those who care for our elderly and our children wages which can't sustain them?

I'm also mindful of those who are part of the Guaranteed Annual Income Pilot in Ontario, which has also been kiboshed by the new Conservative government. Recently the three-year project was given a reprieve of sorts, with an extension to next March. Still, that's only two years into a three-year initiative designed to see if providing a basic income would allow people to find their way out of the vicious cycle of precarious work and non-living wages. Many of the 4,000 or so participants were back at school or developing skills which would allow them to be contributors to the economy rather than hand-to-mouth survivors.

I have no idea whether this pilot would have been successful, and neither did the government. It didn't give it a chance. I have read that similar projects have had positive outcomes in other parts of the world. I figure this is another example of regressive conservative values which keep the marginalized in poverty and then blames them for being poor. 

God bless all those who work and earn and want to provide for themselves and those they love. We can encourage every level of government to treat all who work or are seeking work with dignity and respect. Isn't that we taxpayers pay them to do with the money we have earned?  

We pray particularly that you look with favor on…
…those who care for people at the beginning and at the end of life;
…all who help others cope with crises;
…men and women who put themselves in harm’s way
to ensure the safety and security of others;
…people who inspire our imaginations and touch our hearts through their work;
…those who do dirty and dangerous jobs that are necessary,
but no one else wants;
…first-time teen workers and workers who have retired after long years of service;
…all who contribute to the common good in any way by working.

From a prayer by Tom Cheatham

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Faith, Freedom, and Women Talking

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 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
 if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, 
think about these things.
  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received 
and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4: 8-9

Miriam Toews is a celebrated Canadian author who was born in a small Manitoba town. She grew up as a Mennonite, a Christian denomination which has a range of theological expressions. Fundamentalist Mennonites adhere to a form of community life and patriarchal theology which can be oppressive. Other Mennonites hold to traditional values of pacifism and forgiveness without living in the 16th century in terms of  dress, suspicion of technology, and misogyny. And of course they all happily make sturdy furniture all day long to sell in strip malls...kidding, I'm kidding!

While Toews came out of a conservative Mennonite tradition she has left that behind in her own life, in terms of a faith practice. It still infuses her excellent writing and it is at the heart of her latest novel, Women Talking.

The women who are talking in this story are part of a small Mennonite community in Bolivia. Toews unfolds a speculative narrative based on the true story of a group of women in what was called the Manitoba Mennonites who were drugged, then sexually violated by men from the community between 2005 and 2009 In the beginning the women thought they were being attacked by demons, only to discover this terrible, darkly conspiratorial violation of trust.

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In Women Talking the men who have committed these crimes have been arrested, and so the women meet and discuss their options. Will they leave to begin a new life, or will they stay and openly resist the men when they are eventually released, or will they simply remain and resume some semblance of their previous life? In this repressive social order these women cannot read, or write, and some aren't able to spell their own names. They have lived in a hierarchical community where fourteen-year-old boys can direct grown women because they are considered "men." It is a man who has returned to the community after years away who acts as scribe for the women as they ponder the alternatives, a sympathetic figure named August who is considered less than a man by others because he does not fit the stereotypes of this agricultural lifestyle. August recalls that his father told him "that the twin pillars that guard the entrance to the shrine of religion are storytelling and cruelty." Sobering, but true?

I wasn't sure how I would respond to the book, but I was drawn into the story. Despite their repression through generations they think, speak, squabble, laugh, curse, sing, and encourage one another. In the end Women Talking is a theological treatise which is compelling and sophisticated. They wrestle with their own issues of forgiveness and peace-making, even as they address their betrayal and desire for personhood. Even though they literally know nothing of the world beyond them they are no longer willing to be treated as commodities.

Oh yes, one of the women quotes from Philippians 4, one of my favourite passages, and together they sing For the Beauty of the Earth, one of my favourite hymns.

Have you read this novel? Are you intrigued? 


Saturday, September 01, 2018

Creation Time Begins

 Yesterday Ruth and I paddled on the Moira River, early in the afternoon. We paddled through the gauntlet of shoreline fishers, with their cigarette smoke and blaring country tunes. Soon they and the racket of the O'Brien bridge were fading behind us and we entered into the quiet of the tranquil river. This may have been the calmest we've ever seen it, at a time of the day when the breeze tends to come to life. It allowed us to experience clouds and birds in flight on the surface of the water. 

When we arrived at the rapids below Plainfield we found an eddy to dwell in, to absorb the sight and sound of the rushing water. There were no other watercraft of any kind, again a rarity, although it's never particularly busy. I noticed a feather on the surface close to where we were sitting in the canoe and I edged closer so that Ruth could take a photo.

The experience was lovely and while we were only on the water for an hour or so. We saw herons and kingfishers fly across the river and disciplined ourselves to watch their reflection. It was a unique paddle, as each one is through the seasons with which we are blessed in this country.

Today marks the beginning of Creation Time for 2018. This is the mini-season of the Christian Liturgical Year which will stretch over five weeks until the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th. Many Canadian churches will begin this time on Sunday, September 9th, because of Labour Day Weekend and extend it until our Thanksgiving Sunday which will be October 7th this year. There are many themes for these weeks, and the Rise for Climate Day of Action will fall on September 8th. 

Whatever your congregation does (or doesn't) undertake I hope that all of us as people of faith will make time to contemplate the beauty around us during this season devoted to Creation. I suppose none of us makes time, do we? We order our days according to what is most important to us. As we bid farewell to Summer and embrace Fall I encourage you to celebrate the fullness and fecundity of Creation. 

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