Saturday, November 30, 2019
Workers walk past the perimeter fence of what is officially known as
a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng
in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
For years I have expressed concerns about religious persecution in China. While my primary focus has been on Christians whose church buildings have been destroyed and pastors incarcerated, I've also written about Muslims who may be under even greater restrictions.
Last week secret government documents were leaked showing that the Chinese government has been involved in a systemic program to undermine the Uighur, or Uyghur minority, which is predominantly Muslim. Uighurs have been monitored for years but these documents and other reports indicate that the persecution has escalated and that now close to one million are internment or concentration camps. They undergo indoctrination and other forms of brain-washing.
Outside of China, including here in Canada, Uighurs are being watched and students are concerned that their actions will have implications for parents and family members back home.
It's also believed that the Chinese tech giant, Huawei, is being used to monitor Uighurs at home and abroad. Canada is currently considering contracting with Huawei to implement 5G service in this country, something both the United States and Great Britain is discouraging.
Some are describing what is happening with the Uighurs as sinister. Another word comes to mind --evil. Once again I encourage you to pray for sisters and brothers in Christ who live under threat in China. We can pray for the Uighurs as well, and all those who are persecuted for their faith.
Screen grab of footage of the demolition of Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen city
in northern Shanxi Province, Jan. 9, 2018.
Friday, November 29, 2019
Jean-Marc Champagne is the co-owner of Fromagerie Bothwell.
He came up with Opposite Black Friday (Submitted by Jean-Marc Champagne )
Ah yes, Black Friday, the orgy of buying, buying, buying which has taken on a religious significance around the world. This shopping day began in the United States following Thanksgiving Thursday and the concept it that retailers move into "the black" for the year as a result of sales. There is a great irony for me that the Christian solemn Good Friday is referred to as Black Friday in a number of countries, and that in the States Good Friday is not a holiday (holy day) but today is for millions. Now Canada worships at the altar of Black Friday and everyone wants a bargain on items they may not need or even want -- ya gotta buy if it seems like a great deal.
Not everyone is willing to buy in, literally or figuratively, to the frenzy. There is a movement called Buy Nothing Day as an antidote of sorts to Black Friday and over consumption. It was founded in Vancouver by artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by Adbusters, based in Canada.
Others have made their own choices about what to do on this day, including the owner of a fromagerie or cheese shop in Winnipeg who has come up with Opposite Black Friday. The CBC reports:
Jean-Marc Champagne, the co-owner of the shop, told CBC News on Tuesday he'd heard a number of customers asking about Black Friday deals. That got him thinking. "You see these videos of people getting elbowed in the face for the third TV they don't need. I thought, you know, let's do the opposite of Black Friday," he said.
"Let's sell some products for a good cause. Instead of ... consumerism and sales, let's do something for community and for other people." Fromagerie Bothwell is donating 20 per cent of each purchase on Friday to Morberg House, a transitional residence in St. Boniface that helps people overcome homelessness, addictions and mental health challenges...
This is really impressive and should give "cause for pause" about our consumerism. Blessed are the cheese-makers!
Decades ago celebrated author and Christian, the late Madeleine L'Engle, challenged the notion of Homo Consumeris, feeling that the term "consumer" which we have blindly accepted speaks of destruction, akin to a devastating fire. L'Engle offered this thought long before the climate emergency contributed to conditions in which wildfires literally consume communities and landscape.
The old adage of "reduce, reuse, and recycle" invites us to "reconsider" what is enough as we crucify the body of God, which is the planet on which we live and move and have our being.
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Two days ago we drove to London, Ontario, and back to attend the funeral for Terry Head, Director of Music at First-St.Andrew's United Church. Terry had been the Minister of Music at Bridge St. United Church here in Belleville and a colleague. He died suddenly at age 49 and we mourn his loss.
The word is that there will be also be a memorial service for Terry in the new year as well, but we knew the music for Tuesday's funeral would be unsurpassed. It was all marvelous and honoured his commitment to excellence in every way, including the congregational singing. There were at last two hundred congregants so with that many voices the hymns were powerful affirmations of life in the midst of death.
Since then I've thought of a recent article about a Swedish study which monitored the hear rates of singers as they performed a variety of choral works.
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
One guy was involved in an evangelical church for years, married with children. Eventually he accepted his homosexuality which brought his marriage to an end and set him adrift in terms of a family of faith. He made an appointment with me when I was still at Bridge St UC to talk through what it means to be a Christian with so much ambivalence about his exile from his former worshiping community.
Today another fellow came up to me when I was alone in the rank of climber elliptical machines. He too knew that I was a minister and he identified himself as a Roman Catholic struggling with the deep injustice of clergy abuse in his church. He still attends worship but feels that what has happened is morally reprehensible and wonders where to turn to address it all.
May I say that trying to have a meaningful conversation while puffing up a hill - and of course he wasn't- was a challenge. I spoke about our denomination's complicity in the shame of Residential Schools as a reminder that we are far from blameless, and I commented on my respect for many RC laypersons, clergy, and theologians. I noted that an increasing number of dioceses are revealing the names of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse but protected by the church in the past. I also encouraged him to go to his parish priest to have a conversation about his dis-ease.
I should add here that I also chat regularly with a fine Roman Catholic who scoots out nearly every morning to make eight o'clock mass, but not before making thoughtful observations about the life in faith.
All this reminds me that spiritual hunger is real and conversations, even the challenging ones, are not confined within the four walls of church buildings. And while I may be a retired minister but I'm not a retired Christian. I assure you that I'm not going to issue a bench press altar call anytime soon but I do work out at the YMCA, which was originally the Young Men's Christian Association.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Pope Francis has been visiting Asia keeping what must be a demanding schedule for a man who will soon turn 83. His most recent stop was Japan, where he decried nuclear weapons and visited Nagasaki, one of two cities which were virtually destroyed by American atomic bombs at the end of WWII and the birthplace of Christianity in Japan.
Francis celebrated mass in the reconstructed Cathedral of Urikami with a haunting sculptural image on the altar. It is sometimes called the Virgin of Nagasaki because it somehow survived the destruction of the original cathedral. Christians had gathered that morning in August of 1945 for mass and everyone in the cathedral died, incinerated by temperatures exceeding 7,000 degrees.
In wars we dehumanize and even demonize the enemy because it helps us to do the unthinkable in terms of destruction of human life. Did it occur to President Truman or those who flew the mission of mass destruction that others who followed Christ and were gathered for worship would die? Japan was not a Christian nation then or now with only about 1% of the population identifying as Christian today. Still, the loss of life was tragic, regardless of professed faith.
Francis met with survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of whom are very old now. In a statement about the immorality of nuclear weapons he offered "In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven."
Monday, November 25, 2019
During the recent federal election campaign there was a lot of chatter about the beleaguered Canadian middle class. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer campaigned on affordability for this segment of our society, and tried to portray himself as an average guy just getting ahead, even though he's made plenty of taxpayer dollars since get elected as an MP at age 25. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals also promised to help the hard-working middle class, promising tax cuts and lower phone bills -- don't hold your breath waiting for the latter. Neither of them actually defined what middle class means in this country.
Being middle class in Canada may require some budgeting, but it isn't the same as being poor. And those living in poverty who are looking up at the middle class with justifiable envy didn't get much attention during the election. There are lots of poor people who live lives of quiet desperation, probably shaking their heads in disbelief at a PM who hopped in a canoe for a photo shoot and offered a couple of thousand dollars per household as a "camping credit" to get kids outdoors. When you can't afford a bus pass it's hard to imagine being thrilled about camping cash, even though I always like the idea of people getting outside.
There were plenty of Canadians, myself included, who wondered if the announcement of a new cabinet last week prompted the creation of a satirical portfolio by The Beaverton. The Libs offered up the first Minister of Middle Class Prosperity whose appointee, Mona Fortier, has stick-handled around what she is supposed to do in the job, and what this prosperity looks like. On the CBC radio program The Current she intoned “They have a quality of life, and they can have, you know, send their kids to play hockey or even have different activities. It’s having the cost of living where you can do what you want with your families.” Ahhhh!
Both Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trudeau claim to be Roman Catholics, so they shouldn't need to have their memories jogged about Jesus, the peasant who proclaimed Good News to the poor and oppressed. There are millions in this country of relative prosperity who are doing all they can to pay the bills and eat every day and stay healthy. They sure aren't playing hockey or going on family vacations.
I have been blessed to be middle class for most of my life, even though we were frugal coupon clippers when our children were growing up. Even then I knew that there was disparity between rich, including the middle class, and the poor and that both my taxes and responsible were necessary to level that playing field.
Do we need a Minister of Middle Class Disparity instead, to address the gap and offer a reality check about what is fair for all Canadians? Or should we request a Minister of Silly
Sunday, November 24, 2019
I have noted along the way that the liturgical season of Advent, which begins a week from today, was originally longer and Lent-like, a time of contemplative preparation for Christmas. I hadn't considered that because of those origins there might be an equivalent to Shrove or Fat Tuesday. That's Mardi Gras, the time to get your ya-yas out in partying, make your confession while you're at it, and use up the fat for cooking before the austere Lenten days.
It turns out that in some parts of the world, including pockets of Newfoundland, there is Stir-up Sunday, a traditional which is virtually gone in England and Wales and apparently Newfoundland, although we never heard of it when we lived there. According to Andie Bulman for CBC Newfoundland:
In the last few centuries, the final Sunday before Advent (usually the last of November) has been celebrated by home cooks who "stir up" their Christmas cakes and puddings. The name has often been traced to the prayer said on that day in the Anglican church, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people...It enjoyed its heyday during Queen Victoria's reign, but those roots are deep and go back through the centuries.
In many homes, Stir-up Sunday has been a family tradition: each member takes the spoon, gives it a stir, and makes a wish. Whether those wishes come true or not, cooking together is always a good idea. Traditionally, Stir-up Sunday puddings involved 13 ingredients, one for Jesus and each disciple.
Not only is this a pre-Advent tradition, the Germans acknowledge this Sunday as Totensonntag or Sunday of the Dead, an official holiday which is not unlike All Saints/Souls when the dead are remembered and honoured. It is to observed as a "silent day" on which music is restricted and dancing is forbidden. Christmas lights aren't turned on until after this Sunday.
If you asked most Canadians what Advent is you would probably be met with a blank stare - and that's from churchgoers! Then again, they wouldn't necessarily be aware that this is Reign of Christ Sunday either.
I like the "stir-up" tradition, and the practice of a "silent day." They don't seem to be mutually exclusive, although family bakers using sign language is hard to imagine. As North American Christian traditions become more like the fading Cheshire Cat we could do well to revive a tradition or two.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
First is was the excellent and acclaimed documentary called Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now it is the film drama, It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. It is fitting that neither movie mentions Fred Rogers in the title because while he was the star of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood he was an modest man whose focus was on the children to which the show was directed.
Misterogers actually began in Canada, on the CBC, but Fred Rogers returned to the States and established the PBS show which encouraged kindness and acceptance for the better part of 40 years. While at times it seemed that the program was too low-key for a changing world --think of Sesame Street at 50-- there has been a growing appreciation of the gentler tenor, even as Rogers found ways to venture into subjects which pushed norms, including race and racism.
Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and while he never talked religion on the show he lived his faith both privately and on air. There was an episode in which Rogers and Officer Clemmons dabble their feet in a kid's pool. While it seems simple, this happened in 1969 when there was still segregation of swimming pools in some states. For me there is a sense of the story in John's gospel where Jesus scandalizes his disciples by washing their feet.
Maryann Plunkett, left, plays Joanne Rogers, right,
on the set of TriStar Pictures’ “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.”
(Photo: Lacey Terrell, ©2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.)
There is an Religion New Service interview with Joanne Rogers, Fred's widow, in a recent issue of Broadview (formerly the United Church Observer.) It's all worthwhile, but I like the question she's asked about Fred and the notion of "holy ground", an allusion to Moses and the burning bush -- come to think of it, the shoes comes off there as well!
Adelle M. Banks: You have said that your husband used to say the space between the television and the person watching it was “holy ground” Did you see his show as a form of ministry?
Absolutely. That’s a yes. It was what he was ordained to do. That was the command from the ordination, to be ordained as an evangelist and continue his work in television and the media with families and children.
Later in the interview they discuss Fred's routines for both prayer and reading scripture which occurred early in the morning. And then:
AMB: The movie depicts your husband as someone who asked for prayer for himself. Did he ask you to pray for him?
Friday, November 22, 2019
Just another day at the impeachment hearings
4 Just as I am, thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Voices United 508
I'm sick of the term quid pro quo. I took Latin in high school but I was too lazy to do well. I figure, though, that the "something for something" definition of the term is good enough. Quid pro quo has been discussed ad nauseam (more Latin!) in recent weeks because the president of the United States has been naughty and held the Ukraine up for aid ransom to get dirt on a political opponent -- allegedly, of course. Enough already.
Then I saw a tweet by Diana Butler Bass with this reminder:
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Through the years I've worked with a host of church musicians and even though I'm now retired I've also appreciated the opportunity to work with the music director of the congregation which is our current church home. She is dedicated and amiable, which is not always the case. Some along the way have been of the "make do with who we have" ilk, decent folk who in the early years of tiny congregations would let me know that some of my hymn choices would have to be changed because they couldn't play the tunes. Others have been very talented but...eccentric, I'll stick with eccentric. A couple have been lazy or theologically clueless.
It is always a gift to work with someone who is talented, creative, kind to the occasional stray or oddball, a team-player, and has a big picture of worship as ministry. For three years at Bridge St. church I had the pleasure of co-ministering with Terry Head, a fine musician who had the skills to play the impressive Casavant organ as it deserved to be played -- he even had an organ stop key chain!
Terry also had a Masters in Sacred Music and it was always worthwhile to talk with him about the role of music in liturgy and to make decisions along with our Worship Team about what we hoped to create in various services to the glory of God. Often for the postlude Terry played a "wowza" piece for which most of the congregation would remain, and it was so spectacular that folk would applaud. This heart-felt response exasperated him because he didn't see what he offered as performance, but he was always gracious. Nonetheless, I would hear him practice for hours, and my study was situated beneath the sanctuary where I listened to demanding passages being played over, and over, and over again. I teased him about the "ear worms" he thrust upon me.
It was my pleasure to press the cause to have Terry recognized as a Minister of Music by what was then Kente Presbytery. While this term is used widely, it is actually an official designation held by only a few musicians in the United Church and it was entirely appropriate given both his training and perception of sacred music as ministry.
I have been using the past tense as I write because we were shocked to hear that Terry died quite suddenly in London, Ontario over the weekend. After worship on Sunday morning he felt ill enough to go the hospital where he was given antibiotics.He was found later near his vehicle outside the church, which may speak to his workaholic tendencies. He was a perfectionist and seemed to have unlimited energy for his musical endeavours.
Terry died of meningitis which is hard to comprehend. A service will be held on Tuesday, November 26th at First-St. Andrew's. This gathering will be a time to mourn as well as give thanks for his remarkable life in a worship experience which I can only imagine will be filled with music.
We can pray for his family and all those who will feel this loss deeply, including the First-St. Andrew's congregation where Terry has been for the past three years. Honestly, we are all stunned.
Terry was a Christian who was a musician, as well as a musician who worked in a church setting. We commend him to the loving embrace of a God of resurrection hope. Thank you, Terry, for all your gifts.
Bridge St. UC Sanctuary
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
What an excellent title for a book about an important subject which should be front of mind for every Christian. The author of Boot Straps Need Boots, Hugh Segal, is a rarity these days, an actual progressive conservative. For years he has advocated for a guaranteed annual income for Canadians in poverty and helped design the pilot project in Ontario which the current regressive conservative government summarily cut, as well as quashing a scheduled increase to the minimum wage. Here is how Segal describes a guaranteed income in a recent interview in The Tyee
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
CBC Atwood at 80
Good riddance Don Cherry and do better Ron McLean. Now it's Margaret Atwood's moment in the meagre sun of November as she turns 80 this week.
Actually Ms Atwood is literary royalty in Canada so she has been deservedly basking in a stronger light for a long time now. We've been reminded that the accolades began while she was a poet still in her twenties and include two Booker Prizes and both the Governor General and Giller awards. She took an interesting approach to debt in her Massey Lectures in which the second part, Debt and Sin, explores the theological side, including moral or ethical characteristics attributed to debtors and creditors by society and religion.
A CBC Q interview a reminded me that as a girl she began attending Sunday School on her own, since her parents weren't particularly religious. She won a scripture memorization prize in a United Church (I think) but in that Massey lecture she went Presbyterian with the "forgive us our debts" phrase. She has pointed out along the way that despite her novel The Handmaid's Tale with its sinister pseudo-theocracy of Gilead she is not anti-religion or anti-Christianity. She is highly skeptical of those who co-opt faith for their own oppressive purposes.
Here is a link to a worthwhile interview in Sojourners magazine from nearly three years ago in which she touches on the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. Links to a CBC interactive and a Walrus piece as well
Monday, November 18, 2019
Even though I came into this world in the 1950's I grew up in a denomination and local church (my father as minister) which didn't go in for the "thee, thou and thy" language of an earlier era. In the United Church we didn't have an equivalent of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Dad prayed without that formality (or so I recall) and we heard from the Revised Standard Version rather than the King James Version. We were a progressive church which didn't adhere to that sort of formality.
Perhaps that's why a New York Times article entitled What Quakers Can Teach Us About the Politics of Pronouns was an eye-catcher. Pronouns are all the rage these days, to the bewilderment of many. A friend was at an event in the summer where are the participants were asked to introduce themselves by name and pronoun, and because she was asked to go first she needed an explanation. She was a bit surprised that I knew what she was talking about, but as a minister I was aware of the emerging concern about gender inclusive pronouns.
The Times article notes that as early as the 1650's Quakers in England were taking a stand on pronouns as a statement of equality
What set the Quakers apart from other evangelical sects was their rejection of conventional modes of address — above all, their peculiar use of pronouns.In early modern England, the rules of civility dictated that an individual of higher authority or social rank was entitled to refer to himself — and to be referred to by others — with plural, not singular, pronouns. (A trace of this practice survives today in the “royal ‘we.’”) The ubiquitous “you” that English speakers now use as the second-person singular pronoun was back then the plural, while “thee” and “thou” were the second-person singulars.
When Quakerism emerged, proper behavior still required this status-based differentiation. As one early Quaker explained, if a man of lower status came to speak to a wealthy man, “he must the rich man, but the rich man will him.”Quakers refused to follow this practice. They also refused to doff their hats to those of higher social standing. The Quakers’ founder, George Fox, explained that when God sent him forth, “he forbade me to put off my hat to any, high or low; and I was required to and all men and women, without any respect to rich or poor, great or small.”
I have read Quaker novels in which those archaic (to me) pronouns are used and didn't give a thought to why they are being used. The Times article is much more complex than the excerpt I'm sharing and is worth reading. What it does is nudge us away from reactionary stealth eye-rolling (I've done some) when we're invited to use "they" rather than "he" or "she." Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto prof, has become an international darling of the right for refusing to use anything but conventional pronouns.
We all need to remember that our conventions aren't universal nor as timeless as we might think. It's also good to be aware that Christians have wrestled with the use of pronouns as a statement of equality and justice for centuries. I may feel too old to engage in a shift, but I just need to wake up to the reality...or is that "woke"?
What do thee think, dear readers?