Friday, July 31, 2020

Legacy of Propaganda


My undergraduate degree was in art history a subject that the wiser members of my Presbytery Students Committee realized was strongly connected with the history of Christianity. Art is often a prophetic voice which bravely offers a counter narrative to the spirit of the age. Works by Goya and Picasso come to mind. Contemporary Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei has been celebrated around the world yet persecuted and imprisoned in his homeland. 

China: Artists call for release of detained dissident Ai Weiwei ...

Ai Wei Wei 

Then there is art which is propaganda for the prevailing regime, often presenting a glorified vision of the dystopia created by tyrants. Enter Jon McNaughton, an American painter whose latest work is so hideous to be almost beyond belief. As you can see, the Emperor Trump is pictured sitting as the desk of the Oval Office with a "Rock and Roll Heaven" cast of figures standing around him in an attitude of prayer. One of them is the late President Ronald Reagan, whose foundation has instructed the Trump re-election campaign not to use his likeness -- hardly a ringing endorsement. 

Things do downhill from there. Three great Black figures in the history of emancipation, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and I think MLK are in prayer behind the president. It's just a rumour that the fiery Douglass, who regularly quoted the bible in his speeches ( no Two Corinthians for him) is about to use that hand to throttle the Racist in Chief.  Evangelist Billy Graham  is there as well, no doubt to apologize to the others for his son, Franklin Graham. I could go on about the slave owners who are depicted, but I'll stop here. 

This really is a maudlin and to my mind sickening distortion of the legacy of some of these leaders of the past, particularly those who were servants of Christ. Nonetheless this painting called Legacy of Hope is yours for a mere $27,000 dollars (US), or you can purchase reproductions for a few hundred. 

Art can be prophetic, and it can be profane. I think you know where I stand on this one. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could "speak tree?" 
Groundling blog 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Forage and the Legacy of Residential Schools


This past Sunday morning I listened to an interesting interview with an Anishnaabe chef and a filmmaker about the series now showing on CBC Gem called Forage. As the name implies, it is about searching out the plants and berries which are on offer in the fields and forests and backyards around us. There was encouragement to always do so ethically, which I was glad to hear. Over-harvesting is one of the problems with this recent trend for many.

Of course the chef, Shawn Adler, notes that foraging is traditional for Indigenous peoples, and he learned how to do so from his mother. While Adler doesn't make an issue of it, he mentions that she applied what she was taught while living at a Residential School as a girl. The children were often hungry and sought out the wild foods which would supplement their meagre school diet.

This was a passing but jolting reminder of the traumatic effects of the Residential Schools which took First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children away from their homes and traditional ways for the sake of a what was usually a substandard education and indoctrination. Our United Church of Canada was one of the denominations which participated in this cultural genocide, on behalf of the Canadian government. The physical, psychological, and spiritual damage was experienced over many decades and continues to affect Indigenous peoples today.  

Take a look at the Forage series. It's worth your while. 

Forage: How to source wild ginger and use it to make a magnificent ...

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Kanye, Jesus, & Mental Health

Kanye West - Jesus Walks (Live from The Joint) - YouTube

A few weeks ago we heard that Kanye West, award-winning musician and wealthy entrepeneur, married to famous-for-being-famous Kim Karadashian, was running for president of the United States. Okay, another billionaire who figures that his ability to accumulate wealth (these people don't "earn" money) qualifies him to lead a nation. Not all that long ago West considered himself a close pal of the Emperor Donald, saying they shared the same "dragon energy."

Last year Kanye declared that he had become a Christian and released an album called Jesus is King.He began his Jesus Walks revival meetings.  It wasn't difficult to see that rather than being a humble disciple of Christ he had a messiah complex, first claiming that he was the greatest artist God has ever created, then turning it up a notch by saying that he is a god. Go big or go home.

A few days ago the wheels came off when West spoke in public in a way that suggested that he was delusional, making wild accusations against Kardashian and family members. It turns out that he is bipolar, sometimes abandons his medications, and loses touch with reality.

I tell this sad story because it is a reminder that fame and wealth do not protect individuals from mental illness, nor does the support of family and friends. Through the years there were people in congregations I served whose faith was important to them and who were part of loving family circles. Yet they suffered from mental illness which was debilitating, sometimes alienating, and even fatal because of its affects.Most suffered without others knowing the extent of what they were going through, but one person did think she was the Second Coming of Christ during a particularly difficult period.  

It isn't hard to mock or stigmatize those with mental health issues, or to simply dismiss them. Honestly, Kanye has just seemed nutty and self-important for a while now. But we get used to that with celebrities, don't we? And the bromance with Trump?...


Staying the course with those who experience mental illnesses, which manifests in various forms,  can be a challenge which stretches us to the limit, no matter how compassionate we might think we are or want to be. We can choose to do so, as the followers of Jesus, the Healer. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Discovering the Resistance Saints

Italy’s ‘resistance saints’ may offer hope for healing

I only recently heard of Italy's Resistance Saints, those who opposed the country's Fascist Party led by Mussolini and also resisted the Nazis who occupied parts of Italy during WW2. Next month marks the 76th anniversary of the massacre of 159 civilians by the German SS in two small villages. Sixteen German soldiers were killed by partisans in the area and the SS policy was to kill ten Italians for every one of their troops.

The first person to be killed was a Roman Catholic priest, Father Michele Rabino. While he was accused of leading the partisans, although research shows he did no more than give food, medicine, and spiritual support to those who needed it.

Traditions says that Father Rabino's last act before his execution was hiding a 7-year-old girl who had been separated from her parents. His final words were Sia Iodato Gesu Cristo -- "may Jesus Christ be praised."

When I hear stories such as these I wonder about my own convictions and courage as a Christian. Would I assist those in peril if it meant risking my safety? Would I "stand up, stand up for Jesus!" as the chorus from my childhood proclaimed? And would I praise Christ with my dying breath? I hope I never have to find out, and I hope that others won't either. 


Monday, July 27, 2020

Seeing the Light on Sports Team Names

The use of Eskimo — an oudated, and some say racist, term for Inuit — was once common for sports teams in central Alberta, and, according to a recent survey sent out by the club, it was chosen to acknowledge the “hardiness” of Inuit culture.

So Ananias went and entered the house. 
He laid his hands on Sauland said,
 “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, 
has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 
 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, 
and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized...

Two professional football teams, one in the United States and the other in Canada. Both have names which are offensive to First Nations and Inuit peoples Now both the Washington _______ and the Edmonton ______ have agreed to change those nicknames. Both teams have been asked to do for for years, but insisted that they weren't meant to be derogatory and, besides, they are traditional. 

The pressure has mounted as protests around the world have called out racism in its many forms. Other teams have been challenged as well, including the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of which have fans performing the "tomahawk chop". Why did we think it was okay to use theses derogatory names and gestures in the first place? It's as if the dominant culture figured that Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis peoples are caricatures not worthy of our respect, so therefore anything is permissible. 

Why the change now for Washington and Edmonton? Have they seen the moral light? After insisting that they wouldn't bow to pressure the search is on for new names and the reason Major sponsors have told the teams that they would end their lucrative agreements unless the changes happened. Voila. Money does more than talk. It shouts. 

I do feel that there is a strong moral component to all this, and its important to have the scales drop from our eyes, to use a common expression. This is from the story of the conversion of Saul, who becomes after persecuting the first Christians becomes Paul, a devout disciple of the Risen Christ. We've all seen the prayerful gestures of athletes through the years, expressing their allegiance to God.

Perhaps another gesture, the knee taken by spurned quarterback Colin Kaepernick, can become a broader symbol of doing the right thing for the right reason, not just for economic gain. 

Should we be praying for rain as enlightened souls in the 21st century? Some thoughts in today's
Groundling blog

Kaepernick-style protests grow but unlikely to affect NFL's bottom ...

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Holy Wisdom and Hagia Sophia

Erdogan misrepresents history of Hagia Sophia - Asia Times

I've never been impressed by the notion of a "bucket list" the experiences one wants to have before "kicking the bucket", or dying. We live in a world of consumerism and it feels too much like acquiring more stuff, even if material things aren't involved. Why not just live our lives to the fullest and enjoy the opportunities afforded to us, including travel?

 I will admit that if I had a bucket list the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, would be on it. The Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom is a 6th century marvel of architecture which is almost beyond comprehension as a feat of engineering and symmetrical beauty by the standards of any age. It was built as a church and functioned in that capacity for nearly a 1000 years, then became a mosque for most of  another 500. In the 1930's it became a museum which honoured its Christian and Islamic past, an excellent a country which is predominantly Muslim in religious practice but is a secular state in many respects.

Recently the current strongman leader of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, jolted the world by announcing that Hagia Sophia would again be a mosque, summarily wiping out the nearly century old spirit of cooperation between religions. This past Friday thousands of Muslims, including Erdogan, gathered for prayer, with the crowd of worshipers spilling outside. 

While this may have seemed like a triumph for some it has created international tensions. Leaders in the Greek Orthodox church and Greek government have condemned this move. Pope Francis has expressed his concern as well, along with other religious leaders who see this as a step backward in terms of interfaith cooperation. Hagia Sophia is also a Unesco World Heritage Site and the UN agency has expressed its deep concern over this decision, made without consultation.

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul revels in 'reconquest' during first Friday ...

Why does it seem that religious tolerance is such a fragile and endangered concept and practice? People around the world co-opt the good of religion in its varying expressions for their tribal purposes. Even though we repeatedly witness the dire consequences of doing so, we backslide into this sinful behaviour, again and again. Our prayers can be for a "holy wisdom" which fosters conversation and mutual respect for the health and wholeness for all living creatures and the planet itself. 

A symbol of civilizations: Hagia Sophia

Why might you keep a nature journal? Today's Groundling blog

Friday, July 24, 2020

Becoming Junia

Baptist Pastor Is Fired After Coming Out as Transgender - The New ...

Pastor Junia Joplin 

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives
who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, 
and they were in Christ before I was. Romans 16:7 NRSV

In the apostle Paul's letter to the congregation he established in Rome he sends warm wishes to a man and a woman who are in leadership and who he regards as kin in Christ. This is an important verse for the way it was interpreted over time. As the church became increasingly patriarchal it was problematic that a woman was in a position of authority in scripture so her name was changed to Junius, which is male. Actually the 400-year-old King James Version does use Junia but others erroneously altered the name and therefore the gender of this person who was a Christian before Paul's conversion,

You may have heard that a Baptist pastor in Toronto who has been pastoring as a man recently announced during an online service hat he identifies as a she and is changing her name to Junia, or June. This is a significant and courageous decision at any time but particularly now when most congregations are choosing not to gather in person for worship or decision-making. After deliberation and a congregational vote Junia was dismissed from her position by a narrow margin -- 52% to 48%. Some members have already said that they will be looking elsewhere for a church home after this outcome, feeling that their pastor was a fine Christian leader. 

I wonder what might have happened if congregants had been allowed to gather for conversation and deliberation before making their decision?  Would the Holy Spirit have led the congregation in a different direction? We live in a time when many of us who were raised with strong messages and prohibitions regarding LGBTQ2 persons have experienced a change of heart and repented of discrimination and prejudice, myself included. While I didn't have co-workers who were transgender during my years of ministry there were several who were gay and lesbian. They had a deep Christian faith and dedication to ministry in its different forms which I greatly appreciated.

Junia will now be seeking employment in what is an uncertain time. Obviously she realized what the consequences might be but felt that she could no longer be inauthentic to her sense of self and call to ministry. 

God be with her and all those who desire to be true to the person they feel Christ means them to be. And God give wisdom and guidance to the congregations they serve or may serve. 

Junia in Romans 16:7 Sarah Beth Baca

Watercolour and ink portrait of Junia by Sarah Beth Baca.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Jesus was a Socialist. Amen.

Jesus Was A Socialist T-Shirts | LookHUMAN
When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:1-11

Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultra-nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and of the economy 

I literally laugh at times when I hear some Americans dismiss or decry Canada as a socialist state.We are a suspect country, along with those Scandinavian states which consistently have the  highest standards of living in the world. Canada consistently ranks near the top for quality of living as well, but no matter, we're "socialist" because we have governmental programs in place -- admittedly often incomplete -- to care for the vulnerable in our society. 

I can say that I support our form of socialism and am convinced that the gospel Jesus taught and lived was socialist was far more radical than anything we have chosen. I do believe strongly in the separation of church and state yet realize that governments fulfill an important role in creating an equitable society. 

 I'm also convinced that the United States is moving steadily toward fascism, an authoritarianism which places power in the hands of a few, usually reinforced by police and military, demonizing particular minorities. 

There are now squads of militarized officers moving into American communities where protest, mostly peaceful, is taking place. These shadowy figures are not identified, take people into custody without the support of elected community officials, and have no accountability within the legal system. This is fascism directed by a federal administration which simply does not care about the rule of law in its lust for power.  

Trump's Use of Federal Forces in Portland Draws Comparisons to ...

Unidentified Storm Troopers on the Streets of Portland, Oregon

Too often in history fascism has received tacit or direct support from Christian religious institutions which decide that compliance is preferable to opposition, even when the values of the regime are antithetical to the gospel. This happened in Italy and Germany during WW2 and the years leading up to the global conflict. In recent years much attention has been focussed on Pope Pius XI whose Roman Catholic church supported Benito Mussolini in his rise to power in Italy. Mussolini became a model for Adolf Hitler.

We see something similar today in the cult-like support of millions  and the virtual adoration of President Trump of right-wing Christians in the US and by certain Evangelical leaders who have incomprehensibly aligned with this racist who cares nothing for the poor and disadvantaged. 

Why the Early Church Wasn't Interested in Political Power

I feel that we must do more than look on with a sense of relief that we're not Americans, or even regard the mess south of the border with disdain. We can pray for the safety of those who are victims of what is transpiring, including those involved in peaceful opposition. We can pray that the election which now looms large will be conducted without voter suppression, a growing concern. And we can pray that those who claim allegiance to Christ will read their bibles and discover the "socialist" Jesus as their model and Saviour. Surely to God those committed to democracy in the United States will prevail. 

The Pope and Mussolini - Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Gratitude for Mary Magdalene

I know that some of you may wonder about my affinity with the Roman Catholic church and enthusiasm for certain aspects of what is the largest denomination in Christianity. It really is a strange relationship because there are aspects of Catholicism I deeply admire and others that I abhor. I am encouraged by the leadership of Pope Francis, although at times he confounds me. I celebrated the retirement of Pope Benedict who was astonishingly arrogant and set ecumenism back years.

I have never understood the strange devotion to relics, bits of wood and bone which are venerated because they are alleged to be part of the true cross or skeletal remains of a saint. This baffles me. If we have absolutely nothing related to Jesus the human, or the Risen Christ, why would Christians need this other stuff? 

Today is the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene and -- guess what? -- a church claims to have her skull. I promise you that a bunch of guys came up with this and would have put a flashing neon sign on the church if they'd existed at the time. It really was about getting "on the map" literally and figuratively.

I appreciate Miriam of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene (who was not a prostitute) for being the first witness to the Risen Christ. Her grief over Jesus' unjust assassination was deep, yet in his presence on Easter morning she was awakened to the unthinkable and was able to both express joy and share the Good News. A relic in a building means nothing to me. 

Who she was in Jesus' circle, the intimacy of Easter morning, and her ongoing example of faithfulness are truly what matters to me. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Cat (Yusuf) Comes Back

Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, invites fans aboard the Peace ...

Now I've been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
Oh, I've been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it's going to come

'Cause I'm on the edge of darkness
There ride the Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Peace Train -- Cat Stevens

Do you remember Yusuf Islam? It's not likely that this name rings any sort of bell. How about Cat Stevens? You would certainly know who he is, if you're a Baby Boomer who enjoyed folk rock in the 1960's and 1970's. Stevens was a huge star around the world with his original songs and a cover of a Christian hymn, Morning Has Broken. Through the years people relatively new to the church were surprised to discover that one of their favourite pop songs was a venerable piece of church music.

Cat Stevens - The Epitome Of The Singer-Songwriter | uDiscover Music

Then Cat Stevens disappeared without a ripple. We discovered years later that he had converted to Islam and a fundamentalist form of the religion which convinced him that music was a frivolous and even profane expression, so he gave it up. He even changed his name as part of his conversion. Steven Demetre Georgiou,  stage-named Cat Stevens, became Yusuf Islam, or just Yusuf. For twenty years or more he did not write secular music or perform or allow his songs to be used in films.While this conversion seemed sudden and mystifying to most of us he says that his exploration of spirituality was slow and steady, His interpretation of Muslim faith became so radical that he ended up on a watch list which prohibited him from entering the United States.

A few years ago Yusuf had another conversion of sorts, a realization that secular music, including his own, is a valid and  meaningful form of expression. He reemerged although the name change and his Muslim faith are still with him.  

We've been hearing about a re-release of one of his most successful albums called Tea for the Tillerman on its-gulp - 50th anniversary. He was supposed to go on tour to promote it but the pandemic put paid to that plan. He actually re-recorded and re-imagined all the songs. I'm intrigued to find out that he duets with himself  on  the song Father And Son, playing both parts, via a recording of a landmark 1970 show from L.A.'s Troubadour.

I think it's wonderful that he's doing this in his early 70's. It's an affirmation of music as a gift from God, not something which is to be treated with suspicion. It's also reminds me, once again, that religious fundamentalism in any faith too often robs life of its joy and creativity. Rather than being faithful it robs us of faith in a living God.

Watch the Where Do the Children Play stop action video

Tea For The Tillerman 2: Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Yusuf / Cat Stevens ...

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Life is a Holy Beach

                                        Sunday Morning Beach Ramble --  Photo: Ruth Mundy

I don't need to tell those of you who live in Southern Ontario that these 30+C days are oppressive, making regular activity uncomfortable. We're finding that this has been the real COVID-19 test because we are more restricted in our movement because of the heat than we were at the beginning of the pandemic.

We are early risers so we tend to head off at what is an ungodly hour for many to paddle or cycle or walk. This morning our Sabbath time was spent on a two-kilometer stretch of beach in Prince Edward County, to the south of us. The temperature was in the mid-twenties and the beach was virtually deserted, at least by humans. After walking for a while we went for a swim, followed by a sit under a tree. We saw a monarch and a couple of yellow tiger swallowtail butterflies, terns and an osprey.

As the waves languidly rolled in it was blissful to be in the water, then by its edge to simply contemplate a Summer morning.

It was also reverent, with a sense of the holiness of our planet, a gift from the Creator. I don't consider these experiences as alternatives to attending worship in a building at a specific time on Sundays. Of course we can't do that these days anyway, because of restrictions. Our gentle and solitary time on the beach is a complementary form of worship, a celebration of the One who brought all this into being, and the non-human beings themselves.

We do not take these moments for granted, thanks be to God.

                        Ruth Swimming in Prince Edward County

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Good Trouble & the Excellent Life of John Lewis

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Nashville Police Department

We've been very aware of the failing health of US Congressman John Lewis, one the few remaining public figures who were vitally involved in the Civil Rights Movement, literally marching and speaking alongside Martin Luther King Jr.. Back in January of 2017 I wrote about March, the series of three graphic novels about Lewis' activism. The books illustrate how Lewis was grounded in his Christian faith in the quest for justice and equality for Black people in America. As a child he aspired to be a preacher and was eventually ordained as a Baptist minister.

We've been saying we'll watch the recently released documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble to remind ourselves of his convictions and legacy. Now we must.

Lewis died of cancer yesterday, at the age of 80, having lived a life of Christian conviction and public service. The tributes have been pouring in, including gracious words from former president, Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, the mean-spirited man currently on a golf course rather than in the Oval Office has said nothing. DT and Lewis sparred verbally more than once and he made no secret of the fact that he despised this exceptional man.

Congressman John Lewis Dancing to Pharrell Williams' "Happy ...

John Lewis dancing to Happy

It may be as important now than as ever to revisit the courageous contributions of heroes such as John Lewis who walked the peaceable but unflinching pathways to justice. They opened the way for what is unfolding now, not only in American society but in countries around the world.

Here are some links to articles and testimonies:

Civil Rights Legend John Lewis Won a Prestigious Comic Book Award ...

Friday, July 17, 2020

The A-Bomb and the Trinity

Trinity (nuclear test) - Wikipedia

Trinity Nuclear Test 1945

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of one of the most diabolical inventions by human beings, the atom bomb. The first detonation of an atomic bomb took place on the morning of July 16, 1945, in the desert of New Mexico. It seems like madness that no one was sure of what the outcome might be, including the beginning of a reaction which would cause untold devastation. Eventually two atomic bombs were used by the Americans to wipe out the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. In the decades since the end of World War 2 there has been a nuclear arms race which has developed enough weapons to wipe out all the major cities on Earth several times over.

The so-called Cold War of nuclear proliferation seemed to dominate diplomacy in the 1950's and 60's. In 1987 a treaty called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.But last August  the US and Nato accused Russia of violating the pact by deploying a new type of cruise missile, which Moscow has denied, and the States pulled out.

Cartoon mocking the Cold War relationship between Russia and the ...

What I find chilling is that the first test had the code name Trinity. No one know why for certain, but it is often attributed to testing director Robert Oppenheimer as a reference to the poetry of John Donne, which in turn references the Christian notion of the Trinity (three-fold nature of God). Someone wrote wrote to Oppenheimer years later about the origin of the name, asking if he had chosen it because it was a name common to rivers and peaks in the West and would not attract attention, and elicited this reply:

I did suggest it, but not on that ground ... Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation:
As West and East
In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.
That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, Batter my heart, three person'd God

It all seems perverse, doesn't it? How is the Prince of Peace invoked as the secret name for a weapon of mass destruction? Ah well, we humans do manage to destroy what we love most, over and over again. At this anniversary we can pray to God-in-three-Persons for the peace of Christ in our world and for our planet.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Christians in the Middle East

Iraqi Christians targeted for deportation face 'death sentence' in ...

Iraqi Christian during a demonstration several years ago

Through the years I've used this blog to condemn religious persecution and marginalization wherever it may be found. I've written about the disturbing mass incarceration of Muslims in China, as well anti-Jewish activities Canada, to give a couple of examples.

I've also drawn attention to violence and discrimination toward Christians in many countries and I've expressed sadness that in Israel, the land of Jesus' birth, the Christian population has been declining for decades. I'm also puzzled and disappointed that the United Church has never shown much interest in the persecution of sisters and brothers in Christ, and I've not been sure why. Granted, it seems that evangelical churches have a deeper interest in drawing attention to Christian persecution and displacement world-wide, but does that mean the issues aren't real and worth our attention.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary issued a report earlier this year on the decline of Christian populations in a number of Middle Eastern countries and I think its worth considering. I'm not suggesting that we condemn other religions as a result, just that we're aware. I'll note as well that these declines are not necessarily because of persecution, but too often it is a reality in places where tolerance and mutual respect were once upheld. It is terrible irony that the invasion of Iraq by the United States led coalition resulted in an exodus of Christians who were no longer protected by the regime of Saddam Hussein. There has been a mass exodus of Christians from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Within the Gordon-Conwell report we find:

Christians were 12.7% of the region’s population in 1900 but only 4.2% in 2020, and it is likely that they will only represent 3.7% of the population by 2050. Muslims have grown from 86% in 1900 to 92.4% in 2020, projected to reach 92.7% by 2050. Projections to 2050 are based on current Christian emigration trends and are particularly apparent in Iraq, Egypt and, most currently, Syria. If the political, economic and/or social conditions worsen in any of these countries, the numbers of Christians remaining in 2050 could be much lower.

Nine Middle Eastern countries experienced significant declines in their Christian percentages of their populations between 1900 and 2020: Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. Of these, the most dramatic changes occurred in Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Palestine, each of which dropped over 10 percentage points over the century. Lebanon dropped an astounding 42 percentage points.

As always, I encourage you to pray for Christian everywhere who are under threat or cannot survive on the margins of their societies.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

United Church COVID-19 Response

Two women wearing masks hold a sign showing proper hand hygiene during COVID-19 while a seated man wearing a mask demonstrates handwashing.

As promised, PM Justin and the feds slipped $300 x 2 into our bank account earlier this week to help us weather the storm of COVID-19. I suppose I should be grateful, but I find this a bit frustrating in that it was a one-size-fits-all contribution to seniors and we just didn't need it. I would rather it go to others who are in dire straits because of the pandemic, young and old.

Yesterday Ruth sat down to share this money with worthy causes, including a couple of meal ministries and a couple that benefit critters. We're also making two contributions to medical and food organizations in Africa and Asia where the coronavirus is picking up steam in countries without strong healthcare systems.

The United Church recently made an appeal and it is one of the ways we will distribute our unexpected windfall. Here is the email letter and the link to contribute:

Most of us find short-term fasting for medical tests hard—imagine going hungry all the time.

Most of us can’t. But for three quarters of people around the world, hunger is a painful, daily reality. And it’s about to get worse.

The latest figures from the United Nations predict that more than 250,000,000 people will suffer from severe hunger by the end of the year because of COVID-19.

That’s more than double the number of people who are suffering now.

You can help. Make a gift to the
United Church’s COVID-19 Global Response appeal and help save lives.

Every gift will make a difference to those suffering most.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Time for a Squitch Session?

The Slough of Despond | Drick Boyd

At breakfast today I commented to Ruth, my long-suffering wife, that I was in the Slough of Despond. Being the impressive person she is she was aware that this was a reference to the swamp of despair, the metaphorical bog that the protagonist of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress finds himself in. I wasn't using it accurately because for Christian it was the weight of sin and guilt which was dragging him down. I am definitely a sinner but  I was referring to the heaviness of spirit, the despondency I feel  in what is now week 17 of the disruption to "normal" life because of the coronavirus.

We have actually felt blessed in many ways during this strange, unpredictable, ominous time. We managed to be very active in those early weeks because we live in an area where we could paddle and cycle and walk with little sign of other humans. Through stringent quarantining we were able to support our daughter when she gave birth to our fourth grandchild and we've been able to "bubble" with other immediate family members. Everyone in our family who needs to work is working and all are healthy. Our region of Ontario hasn't had a reported case of COVID-19 in nearly two months. What have we got to complain about?

Still, the oppressive heat of the past couple of weeks has meant that we weren't as active as before and we've felt "holed up" in a way that those first months didn't impose upon us. At times we wonder about what our purpose is, and what we can expect of the future. We don't really care, personally about Phase 2 or Phase 3, other than being with family. We're going to be very cautious about re-entering society, but that has it's own set of challenges in terms of mental wellbeing. And when will we worship with others again?

Some scholars have concluded that Bunyan's Slough of Despond  may have been inspired by Squitch Fen, a wet and marshy area near his cottage in  Bedfordshire, which Bunyan had to cross on his way to church in Elstow. Surely Bunyan's imagery inspired the Fire Swamp in the Princess Bride?

The relative cool of the past two days has helped. Sitting on the deck for breakfast, watching the birds at the feeders, has lifted my spirits. It was important to admit that I was feeling a tad bogged down or "squitchy" these days. This is important for all of us, even while we are keeping our eyes on the far side of the slough with a sense of Christ's hope. 
I figure we should include the word "squitch" in our COVID vocabulary, as much as we want to remain resolute and grateful for all God's blessings. Anyone up for a "squitch session?"

Can You Survive The Three Terrors Of The Fire Swamp?

The Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hymns for Solitude and Silence

Moira River paddle this morning -- photo: Ruth Mundy

This was my second consecutive Sunday to "lead worship" for Trenton United Church while son Isaac, the pastor, was on vacation. Of course I wasn't in the building to provide leadership this morning. Instead we were out on the river. Earlier in the week I worked with congregational musician and techie, Dianne, to provide three videos with message, music and prayer, along with the print version of the message. I was outside when Ruth, my wife, recorded my reflection and prayer, and Dianne did a lovely job of recording a hymn I quoted with photos and printed words accompanying the music.

Actually, I incorporated the words of two hymns as I spoke and prayed about silence and solitude, both of which I find deeply meaningful. In the Quiet Curve of Evening and Come and Find the Quiet Centre, both in Voices United, our UCC music and worship resource.

1 In the quiet curve of evening,
 in the sinking of the days,
 in the silky void of darkness, you are there.
  In the lapses of my breathing,
  in the space between my ways,
  in the crater carved by sadness, you are there.
 You are there, you are there, you are there.

2 In the rests between the phrases,
 in the cracks between the stars,
 in the gaps between the meaning, you are there.
  In the melting down of endings,
  in the cooling of the sun,
  in the solstice of the winter, you are there.
 You are there, you are there, you are there.

3 In the mystery of my hungers,
 in the silence of my rooms,
 in the cloud of my unknowing, you are there.
  In the empty cave of grieving,
  in the desert of my dreams,
  in the tunnel of my sorrow, you are there.
 You are there, you are there, you are there.


1 Come and find the quiet centre
  in the crowded life we lead,
 find the room for hope to enter,
  find the frame where we are freed:
 clear the chaos and the clutter,
  clear our eyes, that we can see
 all the things that really matter,
  be at peace, and simply be.

2 Silence is a friend who claims us,
  cools the heat and slows the pace,
 God it is who speaks and names us,
  knows our being, face to face,
 making space within our thinking,
  lifting shades to show the sun,
 raising courage when we're shrinking,
  finding scope for faith begun.

3 In the Spirit let us travel,
  open to each other's pain,
 let our loves and fears unravel,
  celebrate the space we gain:
 there's a place for deepest dreaming,
  there's a time for heart to care,
 in the Spirit's lively scheming
  there is always room to spare!

These two hymns are sermons in themselves, but you can check out what we're doing this week here: