Thursday, January 31, 2019

Praise for Frost and Cold?

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O Ye Frost and Cold Bless the Lord
Praise God and Magnify God Forever
O Ye Ice and Snow Bless the Lord
Praise God and Magnify God Forever

Song of the Three Holy Children or Benedicte
 canticle taken from the book of Daniel in the Apocrypha

Some days the prospect of writing two blogs -- Lion Lamb and Groundling -- is just a little too much. Usually when I'm choosing one of the other it is Lion Lamb because it gets the higher readership by about five to one. Today I'll invite you to click on the Groundling link and hope there is some inspiration.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Forgiveness in Real Life

Yesterday two men were in Canadian courts, both of whom admitted to acts which killed many people. One, Bruce McArthur did so with evil intent and will surely spend the remainder of his life in prison -- we can only hope so. The other had no intent to harm others yet his inattention and admitted negligence as a truck driver resulted in the deaths of sixteen people, most of them young, none of them deserving to die in such a fashion. Not only did they die, many more were grievously injured, and families and friends have been wounded forever.

A court is now into the sentencing phase for the driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, and it will take several days because dozens of victim impact statements will be read in the his presence. We know that one parent labeled him a monster in her statement and stated that she despised him. While it occurs to me that this description better suits serial killer McArthur it isn't my place to claim what a distraught parent should or shouldn't say.

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Darcy and Christina Haugan and children

There are others, including the wife of  coach Darcy Haugan of the Humboldt Broncos, who took the opportunity to speak of forgiveness. CTV News reported Christiana Haugan's statement this way:

"Jaskirat, your actions while I believe to not be intentional were still incredibly negligent and irresponsible. You had a weapon in your hands in the form of a steering wheel," she said in her victim impact statement.

But the Christian faith she shared with her husband calls for her to look beyond her grief, she said. "I want to tell you I forgive you," she said. "I have been forgiven for things when I didn't deserve it, so I will do the same."

The CTV piece was appropriately titled Mercy or Monster.

We can't tell others to forgive, nor should we judge those who choose not to, or simply can't. I do admire those who want to begin a journey toward a release of anger through forgiveness, knowing that it may be a roller coaster of emotions for years as they do so. Christina Haugan and others who expressed forgiveness may be naming what they don't yet actually feel as one of the steps. I know what I would hope for myself in similar circumstances, but I have struggled with forgiveness for far lesser grievances through the years.

We can pray for all those who are mustering the courage to address the court in these difficult days, and in the process of healing for body, mind and spirit.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Other Anti-Semitism

Police conduct an investigation in Kingston, Ont., on Jan. 24, 2019.

Yesterday I blogged about the scourge of anti-Jewish sentiment and the lack of understanding of the Holocaust amongst Canadians, particularly those who are younger,

I suppose it makes sense to write about the other form of anti-Semitism, which is anti-Islamic words and actions.

I'm sure we've all heard by now about the arrests in nearby Kingston, Ontario of two young men on suspicion of plotting terrorism. There was a huge coordination of security agencies, including the FBI in the States and the RCMP here. We should all be grateful that there are such agencies which are vigilant on our behalf.

Within 24 hours one of these men, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee, was released without charges. While he acknowledges knowing the other, a minor, he says that he had no knowledge of a plan to build and place a bomb, and the police appear to agree. His family was sponsored by several church groups and they are convinced that this young adult who is working diligently toward a better education would not be involved in anything like this. His parents and siblings endured the trauma of having the police enter their home without warning to search everything. The father insists that the family came to escape terrorism and simply want to build a new, peaceful life here.

I am inclined to believe them because I have been involved with the sponsorship of several Syrian families, all of whom are grateful for new beginnings. I have seen them both struggle and flourish with the help and guidance of people from various faith communities, including Christians who respect their Muslim religion.

I am disheartened but not surprised to hear that this young man and his family have received hate mail and threats since the arrests were made. It's clear that Islamophobia does exist in this country, and I'm disgusted that the leader of the Conservative party immediately made a statement criticizing the federal government's vetting process for refugees despite having no knowledge of what had transpired. We need leaders who encourage calm and measured responses to threats, not fear-mongering.

I have no idea of the seriousness of the plot by the other young man, who some are saying is sixteen. Authorities say there was no immediate threat to the public, so we have to wonder if this was a sledgehammer response, to use the words of Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno. Her column is well considered, although I was baffled by her annoyance that the father of the 20-year-old was upset by police walking across their family prayer mats. Would she react the same way if police entered the home of devout Christians and knocked over religious objects such as a cross? Whatever the necessity of the raid, who are we to say what should or shouldn't upset this family?

When Canada welcomed forty thousand Syrian refugees, many of whom were already traumatized by displacement and torture, there was the risk, however small, that someone would eventually commit a crime or be radicalized. This was discussed in many sponsorship groups and in our area those groups received attended training about mental health issues. 

 Take a look at our history and you'll discover that there have been plenty of white Christians from European countries who emigrated to Canada but never left their national conflicts behind. Go into a courthouse on any give day in this country and you'll find people who are charged with crimes, some heinous, despite having every privilege of being born here.

I will both pray for and be vocal about supporting those who have come to this country to begin again and I'll resist any attempts to demonize refugees because of racism and fear or religious stereotypes.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Remembering the Holocaust

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Entrance to Auschwitz Death Camp

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial day, a solemn occasion to reflect on the systematic murder of an estimated six million Jews from a number of European countries by the Nazi regime in Germany. The day coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, the largest of many.

The number of anti-Jewish incidents are on the rise around the world, everything from the desecration of Jewish cemeteries to a horrific shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Canada is not an exception with acts of vandalism at synagogues and cemeteries.

Also here in Canada the publisher and editor of a miserable excuse for a newspaper were convicted in Toronto last week for “an overreaching and unrelenting depth of hate" toward Jews and women.

The vandalized Jewish cemetery monument in Thessaloniki. (Twitter)

The vandalized Jewish cemetery monument in Thessaloniki, Greece, last week

While it might seem less disturbing, a recent survey of Canadians found that there is a deepening ignorance about the facts of the Nazi campaign to eradicate Jews.

• One in five young people in Canada either hasn't heard of the Holocaust or isn't sure what it is.

• 15 per cent of Canadian adults and more than one fifth of Canadians under age 34 (22 per cent) haven't heard about or are not sure if they have heard about the Holocaust.

• Nearly half of Canadian respondents (49 per cent) couldn't name a single concentration camp. That's roughly equal to the U.S., where 45 per cent couldn't name one in a similar survey last year. There were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust. 

• Nearly one quarter of all Canadians (23 per cent) believe substantially fewer than six million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust, while another 24 per cent were unsure of how many were killed.

• Few Canadians believe there are many neo-Nazis in Canada today, while nearly half think there are many in the U.S. In fact, on a per capita basis, the two countries have roughly the same number of neo-Nazis.

I wonder what role Christian communities of faith could have in education and conversation with other faith groups, including Jews? Mainline churches have so few young people now that it's unlikely that acknowledging Holocaust Memorial Day would  make a difference. In the past I led a study group in a congregation called Bearing Faithful Witness (link below) which explored the relationships between Jewish and Christian communities. Perhaps it's time to revive this document and both literally and figuratively open doors.

What are your thoughts about this?

Today's Water of Life Groundling blog is not about ice fishing! Click here for more...–Jewish%20Relations%20Today.pdf

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Getting Teeth into Creativity

During the study of Celtic Christianity I've been leading at Trenton UC we've looked at the magnificent illuminated or illustrated manuscripts created in the simple monasteries of the time. The Book of Kells is probably the best known example, a remarkable artistic achievement.

We can imagine the monks working with limited lighting in cold cells or in the open air to produce exquisite books including gospels and psalters. In other parts of Europe copyists and artists created examples of the "book of hours" or texts from antiquity which might have been lost otherwise.

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Humanity and Life
Hildegard of Bingen 1150 AD

We were reminded recently that it wasn't just monks - men - who produced these manuscripts. While the role of nuns and other female religious has been ignored in the past there is growing evidence that they too were copyists, artists, and often literate.

What was the discovery? Researchers found a special blue paint called ultramarine in the dental plaque of the skull of a nun who lived a thousand years ago. The pigment is made from lapis lazuli, which at one time was more precious than gold, and was used only in expensive documents, including religious texts. Why was it in the nun's mouth? The scribes would create a pointed tip on a brush the way we did as school kids, but popping it in their mouths. While this may sound like wild speculation the researchers were thorough in their work and I find it fascinating.

No friends, I do not have too much time on my more...

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Book of Kells 800 AD?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Falsehood of Conversion Therapy

David Matheson is now “seeking a male partner”

I have to confess that there are times when I wonder if I actually wrote a blog entry I had intended. Because there are so many subjects and opportunities I don't always recall. Often when I search my blogs I discover that I wrote something on a subject from a different perspective years before.

Did I write about the film Boy Erased? I don't think so, even though we thought it was a powerful picture. It is based on the experience of Garrard Conley who wrote a book with the same title. In the film he is Jared Eamons, the son of a small-town Baptist pastor who is outed as gay to his parents. His father and mother love their son but pressure him into attending a conversion therapy program.  Jared participates in the program, reluctantly but eventually comes into conflict with its leader and accepts his orientation. Lucas Hedges is exceptional as Jared and Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe are believable as his struggling parents.

In the afterward for the film we discover that the man who ran the program for years was not qualified in any way to do so and ultimately left to begin life as an openly gay man.

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I thought of Boy Erased when I saw a headline stating that "One of the most prominent "gay conversion therapists" in the US has divorced his wife and wants to start dating men."
David Matheson has acknowledged that his work was hurtful to people, and blamed his previous views on the "shame-based, homophobic-based system" of the Mormon church in which he was raised. He wrote "I enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage with my wife for many years. Overall, it was a beautiful relationship and being straight became a core part of my identity.

Matheson also said his desire to be in "an intimate relationship with a man" had become a "non-negotiable need" towards the end of his 34-year marriage, but admitted that he still found "too much homophobia in myself".

Through the years I've had conversations with a number of gay men who attempted to "marry themselves straight" even though they were aware of their orientation, struggling with guilt and shame. Some of them have been colleagues in ministry and often they have maintained loving and respectful relationships with their former partners after they parted ways as married couples. Still, what a sad reality for everyone involved.

Our society has changed, slowly, and LGBTQ persons are accepted for who they are in many settings, including in lots of faith communities. Yet there is still rejection and it is often in conservative churches that homophobia persists.

God be with those who want to experience love and acceptance in every aspect of their lives

Friday, January 25, 2019

Righteous Gentile

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 No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13  (NRSV)

I had no idea that January 17th was Raoul Wallenberg Day, nor that he was the first honorary Canadian citizen (1985). And yet there was Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledging Wallenberg last week:

Today, we pay tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, a hero and humanitarian whose work saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

A Swedish diplomat in Budapest, Mr. Wallenberg put his own life on the line to protect people from deportation and death. He issued ‘protective passports,’ known as Schutz-Passes, to thousands of Hungarian Jews. These Swedish documents shielded their bearers from deportation to the death camps of the Nazi regime. Mr. Wallenberg went to great lengths to distribute these. One witness recounts that he once climbed onto the roof of a train departing for the death camps and handed out passports indiscriminately, allowing their holders off the train.

Mr. Wallenberg also established safe havens to shelter Jewish people across the city, under the protection of the Swedish flag. This network of safehouses, soup kitchens, hospitals, and child care centres protected thousands more from deportation. Within months, Mr. Wallenberg saved more Jews from the Holocaust than any other individual, group, or government. His efforts also inspired other diplomats from neutral countries to do what was in their power to protect Budapest’s Jews.

This portion of the statement gives a fine summary of Wallenberg's courageous advocacy for persecuted Jews. It goes on to note that it was the Russians rather than the Germans who were responsible for his death.
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It is thirty years or more since I first visited Israel and walked along the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the solemn Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. I discovered that it was in 1963 that he Wallenberg was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. His mother asked not to receive the honours in his name, believing that her son would one day return. Only after her death, in 1979, was a tree was planted in Wallenberg’s memory in the Avenue.

I read a biography of Wallenberg and wondered whether I could be brave enough to take such risks for people of another faith and country. The honest answer if probably "no" even though I don't like the thought that I would choose personal safety over sacrifice in similar circumstances.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Sixties Scoop, Close to Home?

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The premier of Saskatchewan apologized recently for the complicity of that province's government in what is often called the "Sixties Scoop." It refers to the practice in several provinces of removing First Nations, Metis and Inuit children from their families  and communities to place them in foster homes or put them up for adoption in non-indigenous families. While this did occur in the 1960's in actually began in the 50's and continued into the 80's.

In the apology Premier Scott Moe observed:

However, during the Sixties Scoop, not nearly enough consideration was given to the fact that Indigenous children come from communities with their own rich traditions, culture and history.

Some Indigenous children were separated from their families and their communities, and as a result those children were cut off from their culture, and they were cut off from their traditions.

Despite the good intentions of many foster and adoptive parents, too many of these children were caught between two worlds.

They were stranded in a sense, with no knowledge of who they were, or where they came from.

Then these words of apology:

We failed the survivors we heard from in the sharing circles, and so many others.
We failed their families.  We failed their communities.  We failed.

On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan . . . on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan . . . I stand before you today to apologize . . . to say sorry.  We are sorry for the pain and sadness you experienced.  We are sorry for the loss of culture and language.  To all those who lost contact with their family, we are so sorry.

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Saskatchewan Sixties Scoop Survivors

Last Fall I had my own startling awakening about the Sixties Scoop in the context of my family. I have a cousin in British Columbia who was adopted by my uncle, a United Church minister, and my aunt. She is Coast Salish, if I recall correctly, and she was born in the early 1960's. I consider my aunt and uncle to have been loving parents and two others in the family were adopted, but she was the only Native child. Was she a Scoop baby, and a Scoop survivor? When she was a teenager she became increasingly unsettled, first running away from home, then living on the streets and involved in the sex trade. I saw her at my uncle's funeral 14 years ago and was gratified to learn that her life had moved into a new, much more positive chapter. I have no idea whether she has reconnected with her First Nations community or relatives.

I know that my aunt and uncle would have acted out of the best of Christian intentions, but I'll probably never know the full story. I shall pray for my cousin and all those whose lives were irrevocably changed by what we now realize was a misguided and ultimately racist policy. We need to remember that there are still thousands of aboriginal children in care today, often far from their communities of origin.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Revenge of the Vegetable People

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For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
for faith in a world where many walk in fear;
for friends in a world where many walk alone;
we give you humble thanks, O God. Amen

Table Grace -- Canadian Food Grains Bank

 One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields;
and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 
 The Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 

Mark 2:23-24

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Michael Pollan

On our way back to Ontario from my settlement charge in outport Newfoundland many years ago we stopped at my in-laws to show off our newborn son. Somehow my late mother-in-law got on to her conviction that eating meat and potatoes was what God intended and her suspicions about the cultish Vegetable People, meaning vegetarians, of course. We diplomatically kept silent, but through the decades we've looked at one another and intoned "the Vegetable People!" in response to a story on the benefits of vegetarianism or veganism.

I'll admit to being "hardened in sin" when it comes to a vegetarian diet. I do enjoy a wide range of veggies (although get behind me, parsnips and beets) but the many conversations about increasing the number of meatless meals in our home have not led to true repentance and change of habit. We have reduced our consumption of red meat over time and I have genuinely enjoyed many vegetarian meals but...well, I could do so much better

Enter the latest Canada Food Guide which does not suggest we give up meat but invites us to get necessary protein from other sources as well. Essentially it encourages a plant-based diet, which is the reality for billions of people on the planet.

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As a Christian I've known for decades that not only is eating this way is better for my health but it is more just in terms of the equitable sharing of resources so that all may be fed. I think we owned a copy of Diet for a Small Planet, a book which is now nearly 50 years old. Increasingly we are aware that eating a plant-based diet can make a difference in terms of greenhouse gases and planetary health.

So? I'm gonna try, harder, honest I am. If James Cameron  and Arnold Schwarzenegger say "less meat, less heat, it must be true, right?  I'm not saying that I'm joining the cult of the Vegetable People, but I may become a more committed Flexitarian. I figure that's what Jesus was, what with the fish and the grain and all, so it's good enough for me.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Is Youth Wasted on the Young?

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

There have been lots of aging male Republican politicians and pundits who've made a point of belittling the young, often female, and sometimes persons of colour who were elected to congress during the midterms late last Fall. The most notable is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aged 29, who was mocked for a video she made while in college in which she dances. Huh! Dancing in college! What's next! That one backfired as the video went viral and she received a ton of support.

Sadly, there are some aging male Democrats who have been just as dismissive. Screenwriter, director, producer, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) encouraged newly elected Democrats to "stop acting like young people". Since when it acting young a problem.

Of course the old people in American politics are doing a fabulous job of running the country, including the 72-year-old in the Oval Office. It got me wondering about the man the United States and many around the world celebrated yesterday, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. I did some sleuthing and guess what? King was all of 26 when he became involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, the series of events which gave impetus to the Civil Rights Movement. He was an old man of 34 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. King went to college when he was 15, and at age 19 he played a lot of pool and smoked a lot of cigarettes but he worked it out.
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Greta Thunberg climate activist

I wonder if these aging leaders have given much thought to the age of Jesus when he began his ministry?(probably 30) The disciples may have been in their late teens or early twenties when Jesus called them, which explains both some impetuous behaviour and bold commitment to leave everything to follow him. Oh yes, Mary, the mother of Jesus was almost certainly a teen when she accepted her role and proclaimed the words of hope in the Magnificat of Luke's gospel. And the whole lot of them were kinda brown-skinned and most were peasants.

There are lots of others who figure that young people will be the ones who bring about change in a number of crucial areas, including the climate crisis and I pray this is true. As a Baby Boomer geezer-in-training I'm convinced that we need to repent of our foolish and destructive ways and listen to the youngsters who have the biggest stake in the future.

We sure need a dose of youthful energy in Mainline/Old-line churches. And hey, they might teach us to dance if we're nice to them.

Take a look at this article from The Atlantic about MLK's teen years.

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK and Howard Thurman

You might figure I'd reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. today, this being an American holiday and all. There is no question that King was a giant of the 20th century and arguably a Christian martyr and saint.

However, I'll bring your attention to another African-American Christian whose influence on MLK and others in the Civil Rights movement was profound. Howard Thurman's name was vaguely familiar to me, but a recent article about a new documentary on this preacher and theologian was eye-opening. The doc is called Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story, and will be shown on PBS stations during February.

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Thurman was instrumental in founding an interracial and intercultural congregation in San Francisco, The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, in 1944. According to John Lewis, another key civil rights figure, it was Thurman who provided Dr. King with a spiritual basis for nonviolence after visiting Mahatma Gandhi in India, shaping King’s strategy for resisting Jim Crow laws in the American South of the 1950s. Lewis offers that Thurman “came back (from India) speaking and talking about the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence and he would preach and teach at colleges and universities, would give these unbelievable lectures. It influenced Dr. King a great deal. He painted a picture. He made it real.”

The film’s director, Martin Doblmeier, said that when King arrived at Boston University as a doctor of theology student, he was already aware of Thurman. Thurman, who was on the faculty at the university and served as dean of its chapel, had attended Morehouse College with King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr.

What’s most important, I think, historically is not just the personal friendship but the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. would come and sit in those homilies and those lectures that Howard Thurman gave, He took voluminous notes because he really did believe that Howard Thurman had a lot to say and then would go on oftentimes and quote Howard Thurman in his speeches over the course of the next many years.

Not only do I appreciate learning about Howard Thurman, and look forward to this film, it is an important reminder that we are all shaped by those who have gone before us, for bad and for good. Thank God for the witness of Howard Thurman and MLK.

Oh yes, a full-length film is on the way as well.

Here is my Groundling howl about the Wolf Moon last night

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