Saturday, August 31, 2019

1619, Slavery, & Newfoundland

You may have seen that in this past week the United States has commemorated a dark milestone its history. On Sunday thousands of people gathered in Hampton, Virginia to mark 400 years since the first slave ship landed in America. Prayers were offered and Episcopal (Anglican) churches across the nation were encouraged to toll their bells as a sombre reminder of the injustice and inhumanity of slavery in the US. It may actually be that slave ships arrived even earlier than 1619, but this is a documented landing. It's estimated that between 400,000 and 700,000 Africans were transported directly to North America but 12.5 were shipped to the New World. At least 1.5 million of them perished on the journey. 

It was a shock for me to discover that some slave ships were built in what was then the British colony of Newfoundland, at least 19 constructed between 1751 and 1792. Newfoundland also traded in cod for rum, sugar and salt as part of the slave economy.  An artist named Camille Turner is highlighting these grim realities in an exhibition which is part of the Bonavista Biennale.

Camille Turner
We do know that British merchants were deeply involved in the slave trade. Owning slaves was permitted until a long campaign for abolition, led by William Wilberforce, Parliament prohibited the practice by passing the Slave Trade Act 1807. Slavery ended in Canada in the 1830's and there are several slave cemeteries in different provinces. 
I'll mention that Wilberforce was an evangelical Christian and member of parliament who was strongly involved in social issues For 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament until the cause was successful. Wilberforce was strongly encouraged in his efforts by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, which is part of our United Church of Canada heritage. 
We need the reminders that evil can be normalized and flourish in any era, and has often been supported by those who claim to be Christians. Thank God for those who opposed slavery and brought about an end to that shameful practice. 

People lined up on the street to get free copies of The New York Times’ 1619 Project

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Importance of Grief and Hope

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13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
about those who have died,
so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

There are so many important circumstances and subjects which arise in each day about which I could blog. I just can't get around to them all and sometimes powerful moments are lost. I've been thinking about the recent interview by CNN's Anderson Cooper of Stephen Colbert, host of the satirical Colbert Report.  The portion I watched was 10 minutes in length and it is about loss, suffering, and grief. Both of these well-known, intelligent, "together" men lost their fathers at age ten. Colbert's two older brothers died in the same 1974 plane crash that killed his father. Cooper only recently lost his mother, fashion icon Gloria Vanderbilt. 

The interview is remarkable honest, and even emotional at moments as they reflect on how the deaths of their parents while young became defining milestones in their lives. Cooper tears up as he speaks of those who have shared their grief with him since his mother died in June, even as they offer consolation, and how we are not inclined to speak about grief in our culture. 

I was touched by Colbert's reminiscences about his mother, who had a strong and sustaining Christian faith. He recalls how she prayed before a crucifix, which he now has, but she prayed through "Our Lady", Mary, the mother of Jesus, because she had lost a son. 

Whether we lose cherished people in our lives when we are young or they live a long and full life, grief is real and should be acknowledged and honoured. Grieving with hope has always been important to me, and that hope is found in the resurrected Christ. 

I would encourage you to watch the interview which is only a Google search away. 

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.
    Thanks be to God.

Image result for in life in death in life beyond death

 New Creed Booklet illustration Gary Crawford

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Big Pharma, Addiction, and Grace

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When I served a downtown congregation in Sudbury, Ontario, our administrator approached me about renting space to a group called Sex Addicts Anonymous. They wanted absolute anonymity and didn't want the actual name of the group on the posted schedule in our lobby, for obvious reasons. We said yes, and we both admitted that we wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall for one of the sessions. It only met on a few occasions before folding, but it was a reminder that addiction takes many forms. The son of lovely members of my congregation in Halifax lost his home and eventually his marriage because of gambling. A number of congregants in different places struggled with alcohol or drug addictions. 

This week the massive pharma company Johnson & Johnson was fined $572 million US for misleading the public about the effects of the opioids it markets. The owners of the company which produces Oxycontin are facing fines of $3 billion of their personal wealth, as well as divesting their control of the company, Purdue. 

Image result for opioid deaths 2018 canada

While punishing companies and their owners for deliberate greed and untold damage to peoples' lives is necessary, it doesn't address the public health crisis faced by the United States and Canada. About 4,500 people died of opioid overdoes in Canada in 2018, the numbers are rising steadily,  and we really can't how many others struggle with addictions. 

This is also a spiritual crisis, it seems to me, which is why people with addictions often reach out to clergy when they are in the throes. Here we are in wealthy countries where there is great opportunity for so many. Yet the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence is a dead-end street for so many. 

I've written about my appreciation of the book Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions by the late Gerald May. It is a wise book with the reminder that all of us have addictions of some sort or another and we seek God's grace to address them: 

Similarly, grace seeks us but will not control us. Saint Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. If our hands are full, they are full of the things to which we are addicted. And not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds, and attention are clogged with addiction. Our addictions fill up the spaces within us, spaces where grace might flow.

I pray that those who are accountable for flooding the market with drugs which have done untold harm will be brought to account. At the same time, we would do well to consider the spiritual void of our societies and ask how God might fill it. 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Bibles In and Out of China

Bibles Escape Trump’s Tariff Fight with China

President Trump, the failed businessman and shyster, decided that trade skirmishes with various countries, including Canada, and massive tariffs against imported Chinese goods would be a good plan. This approach is costing American consumers billions of dollars and bankrupting farmers, but the self-proclaimed "very stable genius" carries on as the economy wobbles.

One product that is entering the States duty-free is the bible, or more accurately, boodles of bibles.  I had not realized that China is the world’s largest Bible publisher, thanks to Nanjing-based Amity Press which has printed almost 200 million since 1988 in partnership with the United Bible Societies.

That's a lot of bibles printed in a country which has increasingly repressive regulations and laws concerning religious freedom, including for Christians. I've written about the jailing of pastors and demolition of church buildings, not to mention the deal the Chinese government struck with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops and cardinals. 

An article in the Guardian earlier this year notes that:

As of 2018, the government has implemented sweeping rules on religious practices, adding more requirements for religious groups and barring unapproved organisations from engaging in any religious activity. But the campaign is not just about managing behaviour. One of the goals of a government work plan for “promoting Chinese Christianity” between 2018 and 2022 is “thought reform”. The plan calls for “retranslating and annotating” the Bible, to find commonalities with socialism and establish a “correct understanding” of the text.

Isn't that chilling, that the government is rewriting the bible for its purposes? While Christian publishers in the United States may be relieved that there won't be a tariff on bible imports, they might ask whether solidarity with Chinese Christians could involve not buying them at all. Just a thought. 

Wang Yi, pastor of the Early Rain church, who was arrested and detained three months ago, along with his wife.

Wang Yi, pastor of the Early Rain church, who was arrested last Fall along with his wife. 
Photograph: Early Rain/Facebook

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

12 Passages on Welcome for the Stranger


It is so discouraging to see how hearts have hardened in Western democracies toward migrants and refugees. Even though the imperialistic policies of those nations have been the cause of dependent economies and left vulnerable to climate change we don't trust those who come seeking opportunity in desperate times. In some countries those who are acting with compassion are being punished, by law, for their actions. Here are 12 passages that discuss how Christians should treat immigrants, refugees and those in need of help gathered by Relevant magazine. Apologies for the font size and spacing. 
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)


When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Image result for migrant centers texas
Texas Migrant Centre
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)


Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)


Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)


“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)


“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)
No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)


For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)


Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)


For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
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Roxham Rd Quebec
He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour 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.” (Luke 10:29-37)

Monday, August 26, 2019

God's Fiery Nun

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You may remember Dead Man Walking, the 1996 film about a death death row inmate Matthew Poncelet, played by Sean Penn, who asks Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) to help him with a last appeal, maintaining that he is innocent of the murders of a young couple. This was a powerful true story based on a book of the same name by Prejean. 

Through the years Sister Helen's name has continued to surface in the ongoing debate about capital punishment in the United States, and she has been the unrelenting advocate for those who have been sentenced to death. She has always understood the need for justice and honesty. In the film she is firm with Poncelet that he must take responsibility for his actions rather than live in denial. She has also maintained that “people are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives”. 

A print of Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” is a touchstone for the nun. “There’s this thing of how you discern God’s will in your life,” Sister Helen said. “Or how your boat catches a wave and you begin to ride the current.”

CreditWilliam Widmer for The New York Times

 Prejean has just released her spiritual biography and its being covered across the media, including a worthwhile piece in the New York Times by Penelope Green. She offers these insights:

Sister Helen’s awareness of social justice came even later, when she attended a talk by an activist nun who noted that Jesus’ message about the poor is that they be poor no longer. That their fate was not God’s will, and that just praying for people was not enough. Social justice, the nun said, meant being involved in political processes, because doing nothing was tacit support for the status quo.

What stung the most, Sister Helen said, “was the realization of how passive I had been.” A year later, she moved into Hope House, a Catholic service ministry in a New Orleans housing project. She was 42 years old. And a year after that, she would begin writing to a death row inmate.“I had to break out of two cocoons,” she said. “One was the spiritual one that by praying you helped the world be a better place. And the other was white privilege because I was taken care of in every way.

I am grateful for people like Sister Helen whose Christian faith has led them to places they never anticipated. They are encouragement for us to do the same, in our own modest ways. Should I order this autobiography?...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Making Do and the Good Life


 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 
 for we brought nothing into the world, 
so that we can take nothing out of it;
but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

I Timothy 6:6-8

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, 
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed;
to turn, turn will be our delight

'til by turning, turning, we come round right.

Do you remember the month or so earlier this year when Marie Kondo's name was on everyone's lips? She was the guru of simplicity as true joy, encouraging people to jettison their junk, preaching the gospel of goodbye to all the stuff which encumbers us. At the time I both applauded Ms Kondo's message and cautioned that she isn't the first person or movement to suggest that we pare down. We tend to respond with zeal and then lie down until the feeling goes away.

A few weeks ago the Globe and Mail ran an opinion piece article with the title The Life-Changing Magic of Making Do by Benjamin Leszsz. Of course he pays passing homage to Kondo but the article has a thoughtful scope worthy of our attention. He notes:

Our bloated culture of consumption extends far beyond clothing. Each year, Canadian adults spend about $9,000 for consumer packaged goods – about twice as much as 25 years ago. We replace our smartphones every 25 months. We swap out TVs like toothbrushes. We browse for Instant Pots, pet-hair-removal gloves and spa bath pillows when we’re at dinner, when we’re driving and when we’re drunk. Shopping isn’t just convenient; it’s inescapable. The shiny and new is seldom more than a click and a day away.
Unsurprisingly, we are drowning in stuff. Despite the average Canadian home doubling in size over the past generation – and family size shrinking – the self-storage industry is booming, with nearly 3,000 jam-packed facilities nationwide.

Image result for drowning in stuff

It's rather sobering to think of how much we acquire and accumulate, all the while looking for more, even buying other people's discards at the now endless round of yard sales in every community. I'll say here that I'm impressed by Ruth, my wife, who loves to cook and bake. She regularly resists my enthusiasm to buy her the latest culinary gadget, figuring that they just take up room. Who am I to argue? 

Even though we are often described as consumers in our society, it is rare for us to fully consume, to employ what we purchase until it reaches its useful end. 

It's interesting that an illustration for the article shows a darning needle, once used to mend something that was torn so that it didn't have to be replaced. To me it looks a lot like a Christian cross. Jesus spoke far more about simplicity than sex, but we tend to ignore him in our "what's next?" culture. The Good News is that the "good life" is rooted in the love of God, not the love of stuff. What a concept!

Benjamin Leszsz also quotes Laurie Santos who created a Yale University course called Psychology and the Good Life 

Laurie Santos, who created Yale University’s most popular course, Psychology and the Good Life, often says, “Our intuitions about what to do to be happy are wrong.” This simple truth is at the heart of making do, which emphatically reminds us that our things will never make us happy. Our things are a healthy, normal, inevitable part of life, but in the end, they are just things. By asking of them only what they can give us – not love, or joy, or a sense of purpose or connection – we are far more likely to get it. That doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it clears the path, highlighting an essential, unmissable truth: The stuff of life isn’t stuff at all.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Challenges of Radical Hospitality

Four of the six pastoral charges I served through my years of ministry had food ministries of some kind, including food distribution and sit-down meals. Thousands of people took part in those programs and the vast majority of them were grateful for what they received and just wanted to gather in peace. For some the meals were physical nourishment and a social time in a safe place. Often friends sat together, something which wasn't always possible if they were living in a rooming house or tiny apartment. At Bridge St UC a hundred or more were/are fed each evening for the six weeks of Inn from the Cold, but the hall is rarely crowded. This is important for those who needed to eat by themselves, perhaps because of mental health issues.

I reflect on this knowing that in each setting there were occasions which got tense, because of squabbles and even physical aggression. More than once I was called out of a meeting to mediate between disgruntled guests, although folk usually calmed down quickly. Once we had to call paramedics for a regular who uncharacteristically arrived under the hallucenogenic influence of something. And once at Bridge St we had to lock the doors to keep out a very aggressive woman who tried to kick her way back in. I went outside to talk with her but she was wild, and a short while later I watched police arrest her for belligerent behaviour towards passers-by a block away. 

I was reminded of the potential for difficulty and even danger when I heard the report of a stabbing death at an "open door" program in Toronto. St Matthew's United Church hosts the program run by another agency. The terrible irony was that it was a service provider who is accused of the death of a homeless man who is a regular guest, or client. 

When congregations provide this sort of ministry there will be circumstances which can't be contained or controlled. What a reminder that along with security protocols it's important to pray for the well-being of guests and hosts, something which I encouraged volunteers to do and included in the prayers of Sunday worship.

God be with all those involved in the program in Toronto.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Homeless and Tempest-Tost

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus Emma Lazarus 

When we were in New York City several years ago we went on a boat tour of the harbour. 
While we passed by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty we didn't land to read the well-known poem or declaration at the base of the statue. 

Emma Lazarus was the 19th century woman who penned these words, one of the many children in a large and wealthy Jewish family in New York. Many generations before her family members had found their way to the United States after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Despite her own life of comfort and limited religious conviction she took up the cause of destitute Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from the Russia. In 1883, she founded the Society for the Improvement and Colonization of East European Jews.She was a proponent of establishing a Jewish homeland  years Theodor Herzl began to use the term "Zionism."

The New Colossus plaque and Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Imagine how she would have felt hearing the head head of Citizenship and Immigration Services paraphrasing the passage: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".He added the words "who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge". Then he said that the poem had referred to "people coming from Europe". Of course those destitute Russia Jews Lazarus supported were from Europe but not from one of the countries which 19th leaders considered desirable.

We are witnessing a terrible era in American politics and religion, given that so many supposed Christians support Trump and his administration. Should we be frightened, or saddened, or both? 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pharisaic Bravado?

Back in June Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, a Roman Catholic high school  in Indianapolis, Indiana, was told by the diocese that it would no longer be recognized as a Catholic school. Why? Because a teacher on staff is an LGBTQ person who entered into a same-gender marriage and the school decided to support this person rather than fire him/her, despite diocesan rules:

All those who minister in Catholic educational institutions carry out an important ministry in communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students both by word and action inside and outside the classroom,” the archdiocese said in a statement Thursday.
“In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, every archdiocesan Catholic school and private Catholic school has been instructed to clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all ministers must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church.
The school has been told that mass will no longer be celebrated at the school, and that sports teams cannot participate within the broader school system. Now, this is a Jesuit school, and Jesuits have a tendency toward independence, so they are sticking to their decision, despite the cost. 
Through the years I've known Catholic school teachers who were not active in their faith outside of school walls and at least one who may not have believed in God, let alone RC doctrine. Yet they were baptized Catholics who were presumed heterosexual, so all was deemed well for their role in shaping young hearts and minds. This seems like hypocrisy to me, and a former Brebeuf school board member agrees. In a newspaper opinion piece about the controversy he says that the diocese has created an unnecessary "three-alarm fire" and observes that:“As a community of many faith traditions, yet proudly Catholic, those of us in the 50-year-old Brebeuf family hope for less Pharisaic bravado from the archbishop and more Christ-like gentleness.”
Well said, but sad as well. This is yet another reminder of churches defending principles which don't have any sense of the gospel in them. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Strife in Kashmir

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Demonstration in Kashmir

I know next to nothing about the region called Kashmir which is both a province in the north of India and another separate region under the control of Pakistan. Both countries claim Kashmir as their own.  There are about 14 million people in the Indian portion of Kashmir and for years they have existed as a semi-autonomous state. I had to start snooping around to find this information and I sure hope I'm getting this right.

Kashmir has been in the news a lot in recent weeks because the Indian government has revoked the special status for the region, sending in troops and setting curfews. People there claim they are going hungry under what is effectively martial law and demonstrations are shut down. Schools are empty as parents fear violence and in this largely Muslim area people are restricted from gathering for prayer and worship. 

While I'm relatively uninformed about Kashmir I have blogged about India a couple of times since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Modi has a suspect record when it comes to religious freedom, despite assurances to the contrary. Christians in India feel that they have been marginalized because of the pro-Hindu policies of the Modi government and tensions have risen in many parts of the country. It seems that what is happening in Kashmir is more evidence of this disrespect for religious freedom and expression. 

We can't keep up with every conflict in every place in the world, yet it is important that we care about justice and the freedom to gather for worship, whatever the religion may be. 

Political Map of Kashmir

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Thank God for the Hidden Martyrs


I have wondered many times about the untold numbers of people who have led "saintly" or exemplary Christian lives, without the rest of us having a clue about their existence. Human societies have tended toward pushing some, including those who are religious, up on pedestals, and there are times when they haven't deserved or sought acclaim. Then there are those who attempt to live out their allegiance to God and Christ even though there is risk, even death without the wider world ever being aware of them. 

The celebrated film-maker Terrence Malick, is telling the story of one such person. His latest film explores the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War 2. He avoided military service on religious grounds for several years but was eventually imprisoned and executed at the age of 36. 

Image result for Franz Jägerstätter icon

Austrian theologian and writer Erna Putz has written about this conscientious objector and martyr over the past 40 years, determined to promote his faithful life to the public. She was impressed by the film when she attended an advance screening. 

I'm hoping that this will make it the Empire Theatre here in Belleville, perhaps as part of Quinte Film Alternative. I could use a little inspiration these days. Take a look at the trailer.


Edited by Erna Putz Orbis Books, 2009

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Doug Delusion


I don't want to trash the Premier of Ontario and his government...wait, yes I do! I was discouraged when the Conservatives did a U-turn on being "progressive" and elected the regressive Doug Ford as leader of their party. I was disgusted with the people of Ontario when they elected the Conservatives in 2018, even though the scandal-plagued Liberals needed to go. 

I am encouraged to see that the gullible populace has shown its disfavour with the tactics of the government to cut costs even though this will affect the quality of education, healthcare, the environment, and programs for the poor and just about everyone else.  The blatant lie of cutting costs through "efficiencies" has been exposed for what it is and most Ontarians appear to have concluded that "for the people" means nothing, other than cronyism. 

I mentioned before that I attended a debate on poverty issues here in the Bay of Quinte riding during the election campaign. I was there as a Christian with a commitment to providing dignity for those who live on the margins and Conservative candidate, now MPP, Todd Smith, made the right noises. He and virtually every member of Ford's cabinet should be ashamed of what they said then and are doing now. 

Ford claims people are coming up to him and saying that he should "stay the course" on the draconian changes they've made to the fabric of this province. Well, those people are in the minority, according to every poll in the past few months. It's interesting that Ford has become so politically toxic that the federal Conservatives don't want to even mention his name.

 Just keep living the delusion Mr. Ford, and see how that turns out. Or perhaps your gang can become true populists and discover what it means to govern for everyone. 

Image result for doug ford cartoons

Sunday, August 18, 2019

What is a Sustaining Faith, Alex?

Image result for jeopardy

I hope that Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy has enjoyed a restorative summer. Alex was born and raised in Sudbury, where I served in ministry for eleven years. After his mother departed from the family he lived with his father in the Nickel Range Hotel, a Sudbury landmark for decades. When the building was demolished the Nickel Range Barber Shop moved into St. Andrew's Place. I figure it is my nerdy devotion to the trivia, aka wide-ranging knowledge show, that keeps me interested in the host, rather than the Sudbury connection, but it doesn't hurt.

We learned a few months ago that Trebek was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, one of the "oh no!" forms of the disease. He was candid and courageous in his public announcement and has remained so, admitting to losing his hair and dealing with bouts of depression that left him in tears. At the time he shared his challenging news he invited prayers on his behalf and thanked people for spiritual support along the way. I was a little disappointed that the CBC didn't mention this after he did an interview with Rosemary Barton. The national broadcaster seems to be "faith-talk averse" at times. 

Alex Trebek tells Rosemary Barton he spoke publicly about his cancer to let others living with the disease know that they're not alone. (Philip Ling/CBC News)

I'm intrigued by Alex's faith -- is it an important part of his day-to-day life? I was also fascinated to discover that when he was young he spent a summer in a Trappist monastery because he was pondering whether to seek a vocation as a priest. Back in 1974 He said in an interview for the New York Sunday News, "I took a vow not only of poverty but of silence. And I'm not one to keep my big mouth shut. I enjoy talking."  Where was the monastery? How old was he? 

Those of us who are people of faith can continue to pray for his health and well-being. Will he back for another season given his health and being 79-years-old? That is the question. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Still Welcoming the Stranger

Imad Janat gives a thumbs-up while walking through the Greater Sudbury Airport  with wife Roaa Hamdoun and daughter Lilia. The newcomers from Aleppo, Syria are being sponsored by the Islamic Association of Sudbury and St. Andrew's United Church. Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand,
 ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
 inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, 
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, 
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 
36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, 
I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Matthew 25:34-36

At the beginning of June Dr, Ian Sutherland, the seemingly tireless advocate for Syrian refugees, joined me at Trenton United to offer his perspective on the project which brought 23 members of one family to Belleville. I was involved in this remarkable effort, but Ian, his wife Carolyn, and scores of others from the Bridge St congregation and several more faith groups were exceptional in their devotion to the four nuclear families of five each, plus three grandparents. 

It was heart-warming to hear through Ian that a number of them have found work and one of the older daughters has been accepted for college. Two weeks ago we were at the Farmer's Market in Belleville where a couple, also Syrian immigrants, sell savoury food as part of their catering business. We know each other so I asked after their children. The mom told me proudly and with a huge smile that their high-school age daughter was given two awards at school. The pride of these parents radiated from their faces as we congratulated them.

Then last week I read an article about an encouraging study about the success of many of the Syrians across the country in finding work and integrating into Canadian society. Language is an issue, and this large cohort of migrants lags behind other immigrant groups in terms of income. Still, they are finding a way to become Canadians. 

The article was in the Sudbury Star, and Sudbury was a community in which we lived for eleven years. I was impressed to see that the congregation I served there, St Andrew's, has just brought another Syrian family to the city, as part of a coalition of sponsors. Both wife and husband are dentists, but it will be a long road to qualify in this profession here. 

A July poll found that more than half of Canadians feel we're bringing in too many refugees, which reflects trends around the world. I'm disappointed and I have to wonder if those who are opposed have spent any time with refugees. 

It is more important than ever to uphold the biblical mandate to care for the stranger and Jesus' teaching that when we do, we are receiving him into our midst. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hate and Hope are Four-letter Words

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
 the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Here is the truth, supported by the statistics and facts.Virtually all recent acts of domestic terrorism in the United States have been perpetrated by white males. White supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism in 2018. 100%. This is a troubling reality which should be public knowledge, yet the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General William Barr did not release this info and at the same time removed funding from federal programs to address white supremacist violence. 

Wait, there's more! There is a strong link between white supremacism and misogyny -- the hatred of women. According to statements from authorities and media reports from people who knew the alleged gunmen, the three recent mass shooters in Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; and Gilroy, California, either explicitly expressed hatred for women or embraced forms of extremism connected to a disdain for them.

Here is the truth. Hatred is a four-letter word, a powerful force in our world, a sinful, destructive force which can't be masked by calling it mental illness. Hate is not a video game, nor is the result of no longer offering the Lord's Prayer in schools. It is the insidious, demonic force which can easily take over the hearts and minds of those who choose to live in the dark worlds of suspicion and contempt. 


Hope is a four-letter word as well, although not the perversion of hope on the tee-shirt of the guy pictured above. All across Texas and in other "open carry states" white men are "shopping" in Walmarts and other public places to assert their hateful message. 

We must pray alongside American brothers and sisters that the evil of white supremacy is challenged by the hope for an inclusive and just world. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ and while the president cannot be trusted to be the spokesperson for hope, there are many others who uphold it.