Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Deadly Cycle of Retributive Violence

The Texas death chamber is seen June 23, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas.

Death chamber in Huntsville, Texas

Last week the attorney general of the United States, William Barr , directed the Bureau of Prisons to begin executing convicted criminals who had killed others. In the announcement the heinousness of the crimes committed was highlighted, an obvious choice to justify federally sanctioned murder. It has been sixteen years since a federal execution and in that time the number of states which have abolished the death penalty has grown to thirty. Many consider this a disturbing step backwards. 

Here in Canada the death penalty has not been carried out since the early sixties and was ended in 1976. Although some politicians and pundits predicted a rise in murders as a a result, the murder rate has steadily dropped during those 40+ years. While we would probably all agree that there are crimes which seem deserving of the death penalty it is important that the state does not perpetuate the destructive cycle of violence. 

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In the United States this is surely a matter of politics. The Trump administration is doubling down on hate and xenophobia, treating migrants like vermin, and casting suspicion on persons of colour, along with non-Christians. Choosing to kill criminals is a no-brainer in this strategy. Statistics show that the poor, those with cognitive challenges, and people of colour are far more likely to receive the death penalty. 

There will be resistance to this decision from rights groups and communities of faith, including Christians. Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame will continue her work. Still, this is a sad development in a nation that is careening toward systemic brutality which will never make it great. 

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cathedral of the Trees in Algonquin Park

Mike Henry, senior ecologist with the Ancient Forest Exploration and Research Group, tangles with the 408-year-old tree.

400 year old hemlock discovered in Algonquin Park

This morning I'm in Algonquin Park to lead worship as part of this summer's Cathedral of the Trees ministry. We'll be outdoors, God being our helper, and we will remind ourselves that trees matter a lot to the Creator and that they are symbols of strength and durability throughout the bible. The texts I've chosen are from Psalm 1, along with a gospel story of Jesus healing a blind man who begins to see people "like trees walking." If you're inclined toward prayer feel free to offer a petition or two that folk will join us and that we won't be communion bread for the mosquitoes. One worship leader described them as "apocalyptic" earlier this month!

Here is my earlier blog on this ministry: 


Friday, July 26, 2019

Christ as our Oasis

Toronto Oasis, Secular Community

I've offered my grumpy take on the United Church's singular failure as a Christian denomination to address the out-there atheism of the Rev. Gretta Vosper. I figure she's in no way faithful to the vows of ordination clergy undertake in the UCC and so do the majority of members and clergy I talk to. Some are puzzled, lots are bemused,  a few get angry. Why doesn't the United Church just part company with Vosper and her non-theist congregation, they want to know. It appears that the "Big Tent" UCC just doesn't want to make a fuss even though our Moderator Richard Bott has assured us:

The dance between these core values, how they interact with and inform each other, is one that we continue to explore as followers of Jesus and children of the creator. As a Christian church, we continue to expect that ministers in the United Church of Canada will offer their leadership in accordance with our shared and agreed upon statements of faith.

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Honestly this feels as though leaders are dancing around the issues and this is an example of the wonderful United Church at its embarrassing worst. I was intrigued by a recent article in The Atlantic about the initial success of secular congregations in the US and their failure to thrive over time:

Secular congregations such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis—a similar group started in 2012—seek to offer a solution. Both were founded by faithless seekers hoping to carry on certain aspects of religious life: the community, the moral deliberation, and the rich sense of wonder. When they were growing so rapidly in their early years, these congregations were heavily covered by media outlets. “The Hot New Atheist Church,” gushed a 2013 Daily Beast headline about Sunday Assembly. HuffPost noted that the number of assemblies had doubled in a single weekend in 2014...
But even as the growth of “nones” has revved up in the intervening years, the growth of secular congregations hasn’t kept pace. After a promising start, attendance declined, and nearly half the chapters have fizzled out... Building a durable community of nonbelievers, it turns out, is more complicated than just excising God...  
If the sudden emergence of secular communities speaks to a desire for human connection and a deeper sense of meaning, their subsequent decline shows the difficulty of making people feel part of something bigger than themselves. One thing has become clear: The yearning for belonging is not enough, in itself, to create a sense of home.

Wise words, which we might heed. Hey, I'm all for people having the freedom to gather as they choose providing it is not hateful or designed to exclude others -- everyone needs some form of oasis. At the same time a denomination which is clearly Christian in its foundation and purpose might learn from those communities which struggle to find purpose without a Higher Power. In the United Church we are formed around Jesus the Christ, or so I was told, and still believe. 


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Prayers and Amber Alerts

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I was up in the early hours of the morning doing what men in their 60's are inclined to do at that ungodly time. As I returned to bed I noticed my cell phone glowing, even though I always put it face down on my night table, as well as turning off the ringer. I thought I should check and discovered that an amber alert had been issued for a two-year-old child, a message repeated a short while later.

I had difficulty returning to sleep so I did some pondering and praying, including for that child. We found out this morning that all is well, but it was far from a false alarm. The girl was abducted from her mother's house by the estranged father who assaulted the mom after breaking down the door. Hamilton Police say it took about an hour of “communication” with a 37-year-old man before he surrendered and handed over his two-year-old daughter. This was obviously a serious situation which required immediate intervention. While we live several hours from Brantford the police couldn't have known where the suspect and his three accomplices were heading. 

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Amber alerts can be jarring and annoying and must be frustrating for those awakened from sleep. It is baffling that after recent alerts people decide to phone 911, an emergency line, to complain. There is a level of selfishness to this which is hard to fathom. We need to keep in mind that while AMBER is officially an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response this missing child alert was originally named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996. 

There are calls for persons to be charged with mischief for calling 911 to complain about the alerts. That works for me. Police don't issue them lightly, so perhaps we should all respond with prayers for the safety of those in peril. And selfish people should just grow up. 


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Importance of Housing First

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Homeless Jesus Timothy Schmalz

Bridge St. United Church in Belleville has impressive ministries to feed those who are food insecure, serving well over 10,000 meals a year. These ministries are also aware that food insecurity is connected with issues of affordable housing and homelessness. In the past couple of years Steve van de Hoef food ministry coodinator at Bridge St headed up a study of homelessness in the region.“There is rarely just one reason that people are experiencing homelessness,” said van de Hoef in an interview last year. They discovered that there is rarely a single cause of homelessness. Everything from an inability to pay rent or mortgage, job loss, conflict with a loved one, illness, eviction, abuse, incarceration, hospitalization, contribute.

Steve Van de Hoef

I was interested to see a Toronto Star article about Finland's program which has reduced homelessness by 40%. How? The government built more homes and provided them to the people who needed them most. What a concept. Address homelessness by providing homes. The article describes the effort as part of the Housing First movement conceived by by psychologist Sam Tsemberis, who grew up in Montreal. In Finland about 7,000 affordable homes have been built across three programs since 2008, recognizing that only rarely do the homeless find apartments on the regular rental market.

Feeding people through meal programs and ministries is good. Creating shelters addresses a need. Ultimately, though, every person needs secure, affordable housing and communities of faith can take a leadership role.  

Follow the Finns. Housing first.  


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Miracle of Saving Notre Dame

We went on our honeymoon to Britain a year after we were married in 1976. I was a student for the ministry and we were definitely poor as church mice but we had a wonderful time. Ruth did roll her eyes, in the nicest possible way, at the number of churches and cathedrals we visited. My undergraduate degree was in art history and I was eager to visit buildings which were the best of Medieval and Renaissance architecture.

This may explain why I continue to be so interested in Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris, which I first visited when I was but a lad of 19. The recent catastrophic fire has...rekindled?... that curiosity, and there is an excellent article from the New York Times about how close it was to total devastation. It was a combination of courage on the part of firefighters and prayer, I would suggest, that averted collapse. 

Master Cpl. Myriam Chudzinski

Even though mass was being celebrated at the time the fire was detected it was half an hour before the fire department was notified. One of the lead firefighters was a courageous 27-year-old Master Cpl. Myriam Chudzinski arrived, a few minutes before 7 p.m., Notre-Dame was surrounded by hundreds of horrified bystanders. Chudzinski had been trained to respond to a fire in the cathedral and climbed hundreds of stairs with 25 kilos of gear to be greeted by a blaze that was already raging. While she and others worked high above the spire collapsed in a roar. Other firefighters entered the cathedral knowing that they might not emerge again. Bold decisions on the part of those first responders meant that the historic place of worship was saved. 

There has been plenty of finger pointing since the fire was extinguished and lots of criticism that so much will be spent to restore it. I'm glad that it was saved -- some described it as a miracle -- and it will rise from the ashes. It also occurs to me that "God moves in mysterious ways, God's wonders to perform." There are many saints recognized in the cathedral but surely the heroic efforts of the firefighters were a holy task.

The closing words of the Times article are fitting: 

That sense of the cathedral as a living, wounded entity has only intensified since the fire.“First off, this is all about our fragility,” Monsignor Chauvet, the rector, said on reflection. “We are as nothing. The fragility of man, in respect to God. We are nothing but — creatures.”


Monday, July 22, 2019

There's Something About the Other Mary

12th Century Mary Magdalene shares the Good News of the Resurrection

A few months ago I wrote about what was then a new film about Mary Magdalene starring  Rooney MaraJoaquin Phoenix, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Despite the excellent cast is was a dud at the box office and in reviews. It was unfortunate because the movie was an attempt to allow a misunderstood and misrepresented biblical figure to become an actual person who chose to follow Jesus. 

Today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene and in keeping with the occasion there was an article in the Religoion News Service about a researcher named Elizabeth Schrader, whose doctoral work is to liberate Magdalene from what she believes arethe patriarchal overlays of ancient Christian scribes who recorded the New Testament’s four Gospels.

To quote from the article:

Schrader’s central discovery, which she wrote about in a paper published by the Harvard Theological Review two years ago, is that Mary Magdalene’s role was deliberately downplayed by biblical scribes to minimize her importance.Specifically, Schrader looks at the story of the raising of Lazarus told in the Gospel of John. In today’s Bibles, Lazarus has two sisters, Mary and Martha. But poring over hundreds of hand-copied early Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Gospel, Schrader found the name Martha had been altered. The scribes scratched out one Greek letter and replaced it with another, thereby changing the original name “Mary” to read “Martha.” They then split one woman into two.Schrader argues that the Mary of the original text is Mary Magdalene, not Martha or Martha’s sister, Mary. The two sisters belong to another story, in the Gospel of Luke, that is not repeated in John’s gospel. 
Elizabeth Schrader is a Duke University doctoral student in religion. Photo by Megan Mendenhall, Duke University
I haven't the slightest idea whether there is any scholarly credibility to Schrader's contention. Still, I'm impressed by her commitment to liberating this biblical Mary from the false characterization as the rescued prostitute. Although not one of the male twelve, she was a disciple and the first to encounter the Risen Christ. There is a growing movement to recover women's roles in early Christianity after centuries of attempts to minimize or suppress them. 
Whatever we feel about saint's days, this is an occasion to uphold these women as faithful witnesses to the gospel. And there is something about this other Mary. 
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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Communion on the Moon

Apollo 11 Moon landing: A brief timeline from 1961 to 1969

Buzz Aldrin's Scripture Note Card

After throwing shade on the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing a couple of days ago  I will continue with other thoughts on this event. Hey, I never promised to be predictable or consistent!

I was thinking about one aspect of the demanding descent to the moon's surface and the brief religious ceremony which occurred in the Lunar Module before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong went for a walk. I had to check whether my memory was serving me well and came on a Fox News article -- yup, the same Fox News which is Trump's Pravda. Here are a couple of paragraphs: 

Fifty years ago, when American astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, a devout Christian, made history landing on the moon, the first thing he did was give thanks to God.Aldrin, seated next to Neil Armstrong, became the first person to celebrate a religious sacrament on a heavenly body outside Earth. The ordained Presbyterian elder wrote in a piece for Guideposts in 1970 he chose Holy Communion because his pastor at Webster Presbyterian, Dean Woodruff, often spoke about how God reveals Himself through the everyday elements.And on July 20, 1969, after the Eagle lunar lander touched down on the surface of the moon, 

Aldrin pulled out the wafer that was in a plastic packet and the wine, along with a small silver cup provided by his church, which he kept in his "personal-preference kit," before he spoke into the radio, according to the Religion News Service. “Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM pilot,” Aldrin said, referring to the lunar module, shortly after the Eagle lunar lander touched down on the surface of the moon July 20, 1969.

“I would like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be," Aldrin said, "to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way."Aldrin silently read from John 15:5, which he penned on a 3-by-5-inch notecard: “As Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in Him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”

That Aldrin prepared so carefully for this moment, and made it a priority in the midst of the elation and tasks before him is remarkable.  And that he read from a handwritten note and requested a few moments of silence before God is touching. 
I wonder if this would be allowed today? Do you remember hearing about this, since pf course none of you was even born at the time? 
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Aldrin Communion Kit

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Irrelevant Clergy?

When I was a student at seminary (1977-80) one of our professors commented in a lecture about his dismay at a recent poll which indicated that public trust in clergy was waning. A fine man, he was obviously rattled by the growing public perception that men and women of the cloth were lacking in integrity and no longer relevant in our society. As clergy in training we weren't thrilled by this report, but we may have felt that we had the opportunity to prove people wrong. 

Over the years I found that some folk in society had ridiculous expectations of what I might do on their behalf, and the less involved in church life they were, the crazier it got. One bride ended a phone call in anger because I wasn't interested in conducting her wedding in a hot air balloon. On the other hand, there have been times when I have been given a unique public voice on social issues because I was clergy. The rather public discussion of the use of revenues from the new casino in this community was an example. I became a very public figure because I challenged Belleville Council to designate funds to agencies which addressed gambling addiction and I spoke at a city council meeting. Sometimes my harshest critics were those who didn't want me to be in the public eye on issues such as support for the LGBTQ2 community. And as the years went by I felt that a nasty few were emboldened to show little respect for my role or office, let alone me as a brother in Christ. 

A recent Religion News Service points out that the decline in trust has continued, even in the United States where religion appeared to have a stronger base than here in Canada

A NORC/AP poll of 1,137 adults released this month shows that doctors, teachers, members of the military — even scientists — are viewed more positively than clergy. The less frequently people attend church, the more negative their views. Among those who attend less than once a month, only 42% said they had a positive view of clergy members — a rate comparable to that of lawyers, who rank near the bottom of the list of professions.
While frequent church attenders still hold clergy in high regard — about 75% viewed them positively — they give them only passing grades on a number of personal attributes. Only 52% of monthly churchgoers consider clergy trustworthy (that number drops to 23%  among those who attend less than once a month) and 57% said they were honest and intelligent (compared with 27% and 30% among infrequent attenders).
“If you buy into the religious worldview, then the religious leader looks completely different than if you don’t buy into the religious worldview,” said Scott Thumma, professor of the sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary. “The perception from the outside is pretty bleak.The survey confirms previous studies. A 2018 Gallup survey of the public’s views of the honesty and ethical standards of a variety of occupations found that only 37% of Americans viewed clergy “very highly” (with 43% having an “average” view of clergy). It was the lowest Gallup recorded since it began examining occupations in 1977.

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Hmm. They began these polls around the time I went to seminary! God knows that the scandals regarding clergy sexual abuse, the rise of shady televangelists and prosperity preachers, and the failure of the Religious Right to uphold a gospel of campassion and inclusion have all contributed to this. What a reminder for those who remain as ministers and pastors and priests to live and act as faithful followers of Christ and leaders within Christ's body, which is the church. We always do so as people with foibles and failings, and by the grace of God. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Not a Climate Evangelist

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I've mentioned Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and a Christian, a number of times in my blogs. Hayhoe is a Canadian working deep in the heart of Texas where the realities of climate change are a tough sell. She managed to convert her husband, an evangelical pastor on the subject and has become a relentlessly positive spokesperson for what is a hugely contentious subject in the United States. 

I marvel at her grace under constant criticism and when I heard her a couple of years ago in Kingston her message was clear and unambiguous without being hectoring or gloomy. Still, she points out: “People sometimes call me a climate evangelist, and I’m like, ‘No, this is not Good News.’ ”

Hayhoe is clever in knowing her audience, whether it is a church group, or a gathering of climate activists or a congressional hearing, Recently she reminded 1500 attendees at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference that  women should be grateful for the Industrial Revolution and for coal and oil because before this a woman’s work was an endless cycle of drudgery. In that address she said: I realized that I am truly and profoundly grateful for the benefits and the blessings that fossil fuels have brought us.” The reality is, though, that we must become a post-fossil fuel civilization, 

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Hayhoe is the subject of a recent, lengthy Washington Post piece which explores her faith and her conviction that the climate crisis will be addressed by faith. It is remarkable that an article in a secular publication includes a number of references to scripture and defines Hayhoe as a prophet for our time, in the tradition of the prophets of old. 

I'll include the link here and encourage to take a few minutes to read it. Of course the biblical prophets often went unheeded and were even vilified for offering uncomfortable messages. Not only should we be grateful for this remarkable Christian, we can pray that God sustains her in this essential work.


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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Attention, Please

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Elijah Touched By An Angel -- Marc Chagall

Even though I've preached on giving our attention to God through the years I may have been too distracted to notice the way different cultures describe attentiveness. Recently a linguistics wonk named Javier Santana tweeted these observations on the subject: 

In Spanish, attention is something you "lend", because you kind of want it back. In French you "make" it, because it's not there if you don't. In English you "pay" it, because it's valuable. And in German you "gift" it, because it's really a present. I wish I knew all languages!

This intrigued me and served as a reminder that attention is active rather than passive, something we engage in for any number of reasons, including strengthening relationships. Thanks Javier, wherever you are. 

This also led my fevered brain to consider what I've been reading recently in the second volume of Maggie Ross's Silence: A User's Guide. She points out that the word "behold" is used many times in the Older and New Testaments. When we enter the portals into silence we open the mind, the eye of the heart.  She regards this profound attention, often born in silence, as central to the biblical message. This is an antidote (my term) for the constant distraction of our age. 

Attention and the divinely deepened ability to behold are costly, and perhaps only possible by God's gift of grace. I find that I am able to lend my attention most deeply when I'm in the natural world, in a canoe or kayak, 

Hmm...see what a random tweet gets started!

Fess up, is your ability to pay attention diminishing in this day of social media distraction? 

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Apollo 11 and Prophetic Voices

Reverend Ralph Abernathy, flanked by associate Hosea Williams stand on steps of a mockup of the lunar module displaying a protest sign while demonstrating at the Apollo 11 moon launch site.

Reverend Ralph Abernathy, flanked by associate Hosea Williams stand on steps of a mockup of the lunar module displaying a protest sign while demonstrating at the Apollo 11 moon launch site. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

When Canadian astronaut Chris Hatfield spent months in space I followed him on Twitter so that I could enjoy his spectacular photos of our planetary home. We learned what a creative guy he is, a musician, writer, and photographer. Hatfield was inspired to become a space traveller by the lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20th 1969 when as a boy of nine he watched with his family.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the moon landing I'm underwhelmed, although I've enjoyed exhibits about the moon. I'll confess that I'm not all that interested in actual space exploration, nor space-fi, whether its books or films. The Emperor Trump's notion of creating a "space force" should be an embarrassment to the American people, but they have a lot of cringe-worthy Trumpisms to choose from. 

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For me there is so much that need to be addressed here on Earth, whether is issues of poverty and inequality, or making sure that the planet is habitable for humans and all other creatures. Why spend untold billions of dollars on space exploration?

It turns out that the American people weren't all that impressed with the space program of the Sixties, putting it near the bottom of priorities in national polls. People understood that it was a Space Race with the Russians which had more to do with Cold War rivalry here than the benefits from "out there."

I hadn't realized that there were protests at the site of the Apollo 11 launch on July 15th of  '69. Most of the 500 protesters were African-American  led by civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, a close friend and colleague of the late Martin Luther King Jr. They arrived outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center a few days before the launch. 

The administrator for NASA, Thomas Paine later recounted a conversation with Abernathy who said “One-fifth of the population lacks adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, [Rev. Abernathy] said. The money for the space program, he stated, should be spent to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and house the shelterless.”
Abernathy told Paine that he had three requests for NASA, that 10 families of his group be allowed to view the launch, that NASA “support the movement to combat the nation’s poverty, hunger and other social problems,” and that NASA technical people work “to tackle the problem of hunger.”
Today there is still huge inequality in America and race is still an issue. Globally there are 70 million refugees and untold millions more could become displaced persons because of climate change. Perhaps Christians everywhere need to acknowledge those protests in 1969 and express prayerful gratitude for those who raised their prophetic voices.
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Earth and the Moon -- Chris Hatfield

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

3 Amigos, 3 Good Samaritans

I mentioned on Sunday that the Ecumenical Lectionary gospel passage from Luke was one of those passages that everyone seems to know, or knows about, regardless of faith. Jesus tells a parable about a Good Samaritan who couldn't pass by a stranger in need. It is Jesus' answer to the question put to him "who is my neighbour?" 

Last week three teens from Fonthill, Ontario, had been swimming and were heading to Tim Horton's, when they spotted a smoking car on the highway around 1 a.m. The friends stopped and realized that a young woman driver was stranded and couldn't afford a tow. So, they pushed her car for seven kilometres (you read that correctly) to her driveway. Another passerby "rode shotgun" in his vehicle as they pushed to make sure no one was injured. 
While people have responded to the social media posts of the other motorist with offers of rewards the lads have said thanks, but no thanks, insisting they just wanted to help 
Perhaps if Jesus was telling his parable today Billy Tarbett, Bailey Campbell, and Aeron McQuillin, would have been named. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Disappointing Time for LGBTQ2 Anglicans


Around the time I became what was then called an intending candidate for United Church ministry in the early 1970's there were intense conversations with the Anglican Church in Canada about union. Eventually they fell through for a number of good reasons but I had many conversations with colleagues through the years about the value of having bishops as decision-makers rather than what sometimes felt like the cumbersome processes of the UCC. 

In the past few days Anglicans have met in Vancouver for their General Synod, the equivalent of the UCC's traditional national General Council. At this meeting the delegates rejected a motion which would have amended the church's marriage canon to remove references to the sacrament being a union between a man and a woman — effectively allowing same-sex marriage.

The motion required 2/3rd's of laity, clergy, and bishops to vote approval. In the end 81% of Anglican laity and 73% of Anglican clergy said yes. Only 62% of Anglican bishops approved, meaning that only a handful of bishops --perhaps three or four - blocked what would have been a historic decision. 

I find this very sad for a number of reasons. This synod elected a woman as Primate, which is important, and took steps toward more effective reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Yet the news reports have focused on what seems to be a regressive stance on same-sex marriage, one which will undoubtedly change in the years ahead. Meanwhile the message to the country is that Anglicans are not welcoming to LGBTQ2 persons. And the laypersons and clergy who are already part of the Anglican communion will continue to feel that they are treated as second-class members. I think of Anglican clergy I know who will be discouraged by this decision. 

So, bishops? Maybe not. 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Mike Pence Needs to be Born Again, Again

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US vice-president Mike Pence was not likely to be in a church which uses the ecumenical lectionary or table of scripture lessons this morning. Pence became an evangelical, "born again" Christian as a young man, apparently to his mother's dismay. Pence wears his faith on his sleeve and seems to feel that Christians are persecuted for their faith convictions in America, a notion which is absurd. 

Mike Pence needed to hear from the book of Amos, the 8th century BC prophet who challenged the hypocrisy of religious, go-to-temple Jews who ignored the plight of the destitute as they praised God. The gospel lesson today is the story of the Good Samaritan, the outsider who lifts a beaten man out of the ditch while supposedly righteous people pass by. 

A couple of days ago Pence visited a Border Patrol facility holding migrants. There were about 400 men in a fenced area meant for half that many. When the detainees saw reporters arrive, many began shouting, saying they had been there for 40 days or more and they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. Agents guarding the cages were wearing face masks and the stench was overpowering. 

Those who watched the Veep say he was impassive, as though he wasn't taking in the plight of these men. Later he claimed that they were being treated well, although he changed his tune on this to a degree the next day. 

It would seem that Pence needs to be "born again", again, to have his eyes opened to Christ's powerful reminder that we can't claim to love our neighbours as ourselves yet act as though we don't see or hear the pain of others.

The same applies to all of us as Christians. Read this pointed criticism of the hypocrisy of some Christian leaders who ignore those who are in the ditch next door while they are raising money for efforts elsewhere. 

Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx)
Where are the pastors of the Christian megachurches who raise money from their flock for soul-saving missions to Latin America? 

And when they return they tell the congregation how bad things were there and how much good they did. When will you use your voices? This is wrong.