Monday, August 31, 2020

Moses & Three Religions

Moses with the Burning Bush, c.1963 - Marc Chagall

Moses with the Burning Bush -- Marc Chagall 

As a worship leader and preacher in congregational ministry for nearly four decades I regretted that the lectionary (schedule of biblical readings) buried some of the powerful narrative arcs of the Hebrew scriptures in the Summer months. Of course they were only "buried" because United Church folk tend not to attend worship during those months. It's unfortunate because whatever our strengths may be, biblical literacy isn't one of them. 

The past couple of weeks have taken us to the story of Moses' birth and his numinous, mystical wilderness "burning bush" call to lead his people from bondage to freedom. It's little wonder that Moses is at the core of Judaism, regarded with reverence. Jesus, the Jew, and the apostle Paul, the Jew, both give honour to Moses and Jesus' own mountain-top experience which Christians call the Transfiguration includes a numinous, mystical experience which includes Moses. 

United Church Crest | The United Church of Canada

The continuity in our deliverance story is essential. Hey, our United Church of Canada crest includes the burning bush as a reminder of our Presbyterian heritage. 

I had been aware until this weekend that there is an annual Islamic festival which celebrates Moses. For Sunni Muslims Ashura marks the day that Moses and Miriam and the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh by God creating a path through the Sea of Reeds. 

I appreciate the coincidence of the lectionary and Ashura. We often speak of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We can also be aware that these same three are Mosaic faiths, with all the richness of symbolism which his story gives us. 

Crossing the Sea Fine Art Print by Yoram Raanan | Biblical art, Art,  Spiritual art

Crossing the Red Sea -- Yoram Raanan 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Our Watershed Moment

Creation Time Symbols 

 1 Crashing waters at creation, ordered by the Spirit's breath,

first to witness day's beginning from the brightness of night's death.

2 Parting water stood and trembled as the captives passed on through,

washing off the chains of bondage - channel to a life made new.

Voices United 449

We are on the cusp of September, the month when many United Church of  Canada congregations will return to gathering in a physical space for worship after six months of an involuntary COVID-19 sabbatical. 

September 1st also marks the beginning of Creation Time, the "season within a season"  which celebrates God the Creator, within the context of our biblical and Trinitarian faith. Augsburg Fortress press offer an explanation of what Creation Time or the Season of Creation is, and here is an excerpt: 

 ...the Season of Creation recognizes that our relationship with the rest of nature is a religious and spiritual matter that views life as “creation.” The Season of Creation challenges us to reorient our relationship with creation, with the Creator, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit. While this challenge may have been provoked, in part, by the current ecological crisis and a growing awareness of our place in the web of life, the origins of our reorientation lie deep in our Christian tradition, both in our biblical roots and in our theological heritage. 

During these nearly six months of radically reordering our lives many of us have become more aware of the natural world as a source of solace, even those who would not describe themselves as religious. Unfortunately many governments have taken this opportunity to weaken and dismantle environmental protections, with the United States being a notable example. Here in Canada its rumoured that the departure of Finance Minister from government was because of clashing views on economic recovery for the country, with Prime Minister Trudeau looking to a greener approach. whatever that means.

The pandemic has also meant that fossil fuel prices have collapsed, changing the economic prospects of nations and provinces such as Alberta. This may be a permanent shift as oil producing behemoths such as Exxon find themselves in dire straits. 

Later in September I will lead worship at Trenton United with the theme of the Watershed. We all live in watersheds which are a source of sustenance and pleasure. We also live in a watershed moment in human history.

This may be the best possible time to recognize Creation Time, even though we are anxious about what gathering again may mean, and we wonder about our survival as congregations. The Creator invites us to live with hope, to express our gratitude for Creation, and to be courageous rather than fearful as we enter into change.

3 Cleansing water once at Jordan closed around the one foretold,

opened to reveal the glory ever new and ever old.

4 Living water, never ending, quench the thirst and flood the soul.

Wellspring, Source of life eternal, drench our dryness, make us whole.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Welcome, Rev. Michael Blair

 Portrait of Michael Blair

The United Church of Canada has undergone significant structural changes in recent years but we still have a General Secretary,. The current GS, Nora Sanders is retiring after many years of service through uncertain times for the denomination. Yesterday Rev. Michael Blair, was announced as the new General Secretary. While I don't know Michael, our son Isaac, a United Church minister, has met him and respects him

 It might seem odd to state the obvious, but Michael is Black. While there have been several Moderators in the UCC who were people of colour I can't recall any other GS who was. Michael will bring his gifts for leadership which include a perspective as an ordained minister. He will also help the church understand changing realities in our culture. While the United Church has upheld racial equality and diversity, we have been predominantly While in the pews for the 95 years of our existence. His appointment is timely and we can hope, providential. Here is the United Church news release: 

Published on: 
August 28, 2020

 The United Church of Canada is pleased to announce the appointment of the Rev. Michael Blair as its new General Secretary beginning November 1, 2020. The role of General Secretary, General Council is a permanent position, providing leadership in the direction, management, and coordination of the affairs of the church working in close collaboration with the Moderator, who is elected every three years as the church’s spiritual leader and spokesperson.

The Rev. Blair is currently serving in the General Council Office, Toronto, as the Executive Minister, Church in Mission Unit, which maintains the relationships with overseas partners, develops faith formation resources for the church and initiates advocacy campaigns for the denomination. He has been in that role for eight years. Born in Jamaica, his faith journey began in the Anglican Church. He came to Canada as a young adult with his family, was ordained in the Convention Baptist Church, and in 2010 was admitted to the United Church’s order of ministry. 

The Rev. Blair replaces Nora Sanders, who is retiring after almost 14 years as General Secretary. The Rev. Blair was appointed by the church’s General Council Executive during their online meeting August 27 after a search process that lasted 10 months. Sanders says, “I have worked with Michael for 12 years. I know his deep faith and sense of call to continue the life and work of the United Church in this time, with all its complexities. He is also well known in ecumenical circles and to many of our international partners, so he brings a broad horizon of expertise to the role.”

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Bizarre Case of the Invalid Baptism

Father Matthew Hood is seen at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit Aug. 17, 2020.

 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.  A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. 

The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:11-15

I read a weird story the other day which seems to epitomize the worst in religion and would likely cause some to say "that's why I don't darken the door of a church." I may have wavered on becoming an atheist for a minute or two myself. It was about a Roman Catholic priest, Father Matthew Hood,  who discovered that his baptism as an infant, thirty years earlier, was considered invalid.Why? Because the formula or phrase used was incorrect. Instead of the church's ancient formula  "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," the words "We baptize you..." were used. 

Wait, there's more! Because this priest was invalidly baptized, and therefore not actually confirmed, he is not validly a priest either. Therefore, everyone who had sacraments from him, including marriage, must be contacted because they are not kosher. Strangely, the baptisms he performed are valid because he used the correct formula and baptism does not require an ordained priest.

When we read about baptisms in the New Testament they are baptized into Christ, often in informal settings with no footnotes to indicate that on each occasion a certain formula was used. Obviously the intention of the priest's baptism was honest, as was the priest himself. I find this appalling and more of an indication of hierarchical church control that doctrinal purity.

The United Church of Canada has affirmed the traditional doctrinal formula so that we can be part of ecumenical bodies around the world but we permit other wording which may be more inclusive. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we simply focused on our inclusion in Christ through the sacrament rather than singular or plural pronouns? 


Thursday, August 27, 2020

God, Guide us in the Straight Path


In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

 All Praises be to God, Lord of all the worlds

 The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

 Master of the day of judgment

 You alone we worship and from you alone,  we seek help

 Guide us to the straight path

 The path of those who have earned your favor, not those who have earned your wrath, nor those who have gone astray.

Protests, both peaceful and violent have occurred during the past few days after the shooting by police of an unarmed man in an Illinois town. One of the peaceful protests was by NBA players, including the Milwaukee Bucks, who decided not to take part in a playoff game. Other players and teams may follow suit. 

Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back as he was entering his vehicle where three of his children were sitting. He was involved in a domestic altercation and walked away from police, unarmed, as they attempted to arrest him. While we don't know all the circumstances, the violence of the response appears unwarranted and has left Blake paralysed. 

Jacob Blake Sr. 

Blake's father, Jacob Sr., participated in a news conference where he began by reciting an essential prayer of Islam in Arabic. The translation is above and the phrase "guide us to the straight path" in universal in this time of racial unrest in America where violence against people of colour is so common. We hear similar concerns about excessive force used in this country as well, along with racial profiling.

Sureely all of can pray that God guide us in the straight path toward mutual understanding, compassion, and peace. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Homeless in a Pandemic

Standoff between homeless, city officials at downtown Toronto ...

Homeless Encampment in Toronto

On our morning cycles along the Belleville waterfront we pass through a wooded area with a rough trail rather than taking the paved road. There is a lovely lookout spot where we sometimes stop to view the Bay of Quinte. Over the past few months this opening has been taken over by a person or persons living in a tent, and often the area is chaotic. Someone has built a small sailing raft pulled up on shore. 

The other day I encountered one of the tenters and he proved to be an open and cheerful guy who has been homeless for several months. He's originally from Nova Scotia and says he built the raft in honour of a ten-year-old son who died. We exchanged "have a good day" farewells and off I went to my comfortable life. 

During the pandemic we've heard some news about homeless people who often live in encampments and are vulnerable to the coranavirus. As a society we generally agree that homelessness is a sad condition and that "something ought to be done." That "something" tends to have a NIMBY subtext with concerns about where the homeless will be housed (they have to live somewhere, but not near me!) Here in Belleville the opening of a shelter by a faith group has been met with concern that it is attracting undesirables from other communities. The police say that this is not the case, but the chatter continues.

In Toronto people have protested the use of hotels to house the homeless in their neighbourhoods. They say that parks are no longer safe and that drug paraphernalia is left on the streets. This may well be true, and their concerns may be legitimate, but where are these folk supposed to go if they aren't allowed to "sleep rough" and there is little in the way of affordable housing? There is an irony during the pandemic that camping has become very popular but God help those who are actually forced to live this way. 

There are no easy answers to homelessness, although some communities have essentially ended it by concerted government affordable housing initiatives. Support for mental health and addiction programs and reasonable social assistance all make a difference as well.

Jesus was a homeless person for a period of his life and "slept rough" in the Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested the night before his crucifixion. Christians tend not to say "there goes the neighbourhood because, well, this was Jesus. But if he showed up near us, would we want someone to move him and his band of suspicious followers down the road? 

Garden of Gethsemane | Teach Them

Jesus' Disciples in Gethsemane 

Monday, August 24, 2020

More on Medical Assistance in Dying

 Medical Assistance in Dying - Share Your Views Online

At the beginning of the year the Canadian government was in a hurry to change legislation which would potentially broaden access to Medical Assistance in Dying in this country. Citizens were invited to comment in writing and online, which resulted in the greatest response to any issue where the public was encouraged to be involved. 

I was disappointed that the General Council of the United Church provided no leadership for congregations and members for what is a deeply moral, ethical and spiritual discussion, one which won't go away. I met with 15 or so people from the congregation which we attend and it was obvious that this group of Christians had both questions and concerns. I am not opposed to MAID, although I feel that the judicial system should not be driving this discussion and that ethicists should be as important as judges in the direction we go as a a nation.

Well, then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and this initiative was delayed for months, perhaps longer. Meanwhile, individuals are still choosing assisted dying and the discussions continue.

Recently a Nova Scotia woman sought a court injunction to stop the MAID death of her husband, which has actually been approved. The couple in their 80's have been married for nearly 50 years. He wants to die because of COPD while she argues that he is delusional and suffering from anxiety. A number of experts were consulted prior to approval but they weren't all in agreement about his condition. It appears that a final decision regarding the injunction may be pushed into 2021 and meanwhile, the husband is no longer talking to his wife. 

I find this quite sad, and this story is a reminder that there will be disagreements within families when it comes to such momentous decisions. Months ago I talked to a former parishioner whose brother chose MAID. His wife had misgivings, but supported him, and this sister did her best not to interfere but was unsettled by his decision. 

We don't live in a vacuum when it comes to choices about the end of life, whether it is MAID, or Do Not Resuscitate directives or decisions about courses of medical treatment. It is important to be open within our families about how we feel, to be honest about both living and dying, and to be prayerful as we do so. God gives us life and it should be cherished. All of us will die, so honestly and clarity are important.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sister Monica & her Ministry of Care, Compassion, and Creativity.

Sister Monica 

 Pope Francis has now been the pontiff for seven and a half years and at 83 he appears to be holding up well, especially when we know that he comes under relentless attack from the theological right in the Roman Catholic church and impatience from the left. Does this mean he's doing his job well? I certainly admire him far more than his predecessor Benedict, who was arrogant.

Francis has attempted to address the environmental crisis (well) clergy sexual abuse (denial, then greater determination) Indigenous rights (with respect) financial corruption in the church (slowly but surely) and LGBTQ2 acceptance (mixed messages,) Just when he seems to be taking a courageous stand he shies away from controversy. 

Still, the other day he wrote a letter to a Carmelite nun in Argentina,  Sister Monica Astorga Cremona,   who is ministering to transgender women living in poverty and has opened a home for them. In the letter Francis describes the Christian approach to transgender people as involving care, compassion, and creativity. 

Really the focus should be on Sister Monica, who embodies these spiritual gifts. And they are a reminder for all of us in a world where transgender persons are too often regarded as social lepers. 


Sister Monica at the new home for transgender woman 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Confessions of an Overshooter


'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.

Voices United 353

One of the central messages of Jesus and the gospels is that we are to live simply, with respect for the needs of other human beings and all living creatures. The bible tells us that the Earth is a planet of abundance, with enough and more for our needs, but not our wants. I know this in my head but too often I don't live it. I'm captive to the spirit of our time, which is consumerism, the desire for the next thing, the supposedly improved, better version of whatever it is I already have. This pernicious consumerism extends to experiences, such as travel, which can be extremely costly in terms of planetary health. I figure that as a Baby Boomer in North America I may be part of the wealthiest cohort to ever live on this planet, yet what we have never seems to be enough. 

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, and as the graphic above suggests it is day calculated as when humanity moves "into the red" in terms of renewing what we have taken out of the environment. This is an initiative of the Global Footprint Network, an environmental research organization which has been calculating the date since 2006. While some scientists contest some of the methodology few deny that we have moved beyond sustainability when it comes to our used of the world's resources. If the calculations are applied to the United States the date is much earlier in the year and I imagine Canada would be very similar.

I don't want to be an "overshooter", but I can't pretend I'm not one. I do want to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. Surely this is a day to be mindful and prayerful about our patterns of consumption and to renew our commitment to experience abundance in other ways. Should we modify the Lord's Prayer to say "deliver us from Amazon delivery"? 

Earth Overshoot Day and the promise of 'One-Planet Compatibility ...

Friday, August 21, 2020

Masai Ujiri and the Caste System

Undeniable' body cam and security video shows Alameda County cop ...

When the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship a year ago it was the crowning achievement for the excellent president of the team, Masai Ujiri. There is no question that he is one of the best, perhaps the best, in the sport and he's coveted by other organizations. He was there when the Raptors won game six to clinch the title and made his way to the court to celebrate with the squad of players he had crafted. Ujiri was impeccably dressed in a suit and had his credentials, yet he was pushed back -- essentially assaulted by a policeman who was on security. After another rough shove Ujiri gave his own push, and while he got on the court he was told that he might face criminal charges. When this possibility was dismissed the cop filed a civil suit.

Recently film footage surfaced which shows that the policeman was clearly the aggressor, so why was there uncertainly in the first place, and why was the officer backed by his department? There isn't much doubt that it was because Ujiri is Black. He has issued a statement in response to the new film evidence and here is a portion: 

What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success ... So many of my brothers and sisters haven't had, don't have, and won't have the same access to resources that assured my justice.And that's why Black Lives Matter.

I am reading the thought-provoking book called Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents  by Isabel Wilkerson, and I highly recommend it, along with her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns.  As  the name suggests, the 400-year history of the caste system in the United States is rooted in slavery, continued for a century with laws assuming that the lowest white person was superior to even the most accomplished person of colour, and is still strongly evident today. While Canada may be somewhat different there is no doubt that we are plagued with systemic racism and our own hierarchies. 

As people of Christian faith we must be aware that religion has too often supported the dominant caste in different societies, yet both Jesus and the apostle Paul invited us into a new way of seeing our world and humanity. As an election looms in the United States we are witnessing the determination of some Christians to maintain what they consider the dominant caste.

As disheartening as this may be, wherever it is found, we can repent of our arrogance and unfaithfulness to the gospel. We can name inequality when we see it, and actively work for change. Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our ...

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Climate Solutions, Farmers, and Us

Lessons in mercy: The parable of the sower

The Sower -- Vincent Van Gogh

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,

but it is fed and watered  by your almighty hand;

you send the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,

the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;

we thank you, God, O holy God, for all your love.

                                              Voices United 520

I have to admit that I sometimes wonder what to do about maintaining two blogs, Lion Lamb and Groundling. I started Groundling after several years of writing Lion Lamb because I was aware of the many aspects of "living with respect in Creation" which we Groundlings, people formed of the clay (metaphorically speaking) are called to address. I have now written hundreds of Groundling blog entries which express awe and wonder, identify those challenges, and invite practical response. It can be discouraging though, because three to four times as many people read my Lion Lamb blog as Groundling. 

You may notice that sometimes I just address those environmemtal and Creation-care topics in my Lion Lamb blog to get the audience. Like today!

Yesterday I heard an interview with Brent Preston of Farmers For Climate Solutions, an organization which is looking at biodiversity, ecosystems, and healthy soil as essential aspects of sustainable farming. The ways in which we have been farming in North America are not sustainable and contribute to the climate crisis. Unfortunately governments have been slow to recognize this and to support adaptation. 

Introducing “Farmers for Climate Solutions” | National Farmers Union

Brent was articulate and his perspectives were encouraging, especially knowing that farmers in this province are aging and that most don't have a succession plan for their farms. Last time I checked we still all eat food to stay alive, and in this season we are aware of how enjoyable locally grown fruits and vegetables are. Our dependence on foods from a distance should concern us for a lot of reasons.

The bible is remarkable in its references to agriculture both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The abundance of the land is often a metaphor for God's favour and blessing. Jesus repeatedly used agricultural images in his parables, including the sower. We don't have to be farmers ourselves to pay attention to the importance of agriculture and perhaps say a few prayers for the people who feed us, not just at Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Kinder, Gentler Emergency Room?

 The Things that stop me returning back to the UK - Pattaya Channel TV

Many years ago while we were living in Sudbury Ontario I got a call from a young parent in the congregation who was distressed because early that morning her husband had returned home, soaking wet and shaking with the cold.. He had walked into a nearby lake, recently still frozen, with the intention of taking his own life. He relented, but she was frantic to get him to the hospital for help.

It was Good Friday morning and I was to be involved in the service which was shared by the seven United Church congregations, but I took him to the hospital emergency room where we explained the circumstances. To my dismay nothing happened for the next 90 minutes and he was determined to leave. We watched others show up after him and receive attention because of their physical injuries while he paced. Finally, we left on his promise that he would return later. Both of us attended the Good Friday service, then returned to the hospital where he was eventually seen and admitted. Sad to say, that experience was so upsetting for him that he never forgave me for being part of it. Ministry can be like that sometimes. 

This brought home to me the bizarre priorities of our health care system where those dealing with mental illness are too often ignored or marginalized even though their situations are imminently life-threatening. 

I was heartened to read an article by Erin Anderssen in the Globe and Mail with the headline: One mental health solution: a kinder, gentler emergency department for people considering suicide. Here are a few paragraphs from the piece:

Emergency departments are struggling to find new ways to treat mental-health patients, with a growing recognition that crowded waiting rooms are not the best place for a person struggling with suicidal thoughts or psychosis.But what would a kinder, gentler – and safer – emergency department look like?

A new approach expanding across the United States – and currently proposed by an Ontario hospital hoping to become Canada’s first site – gives the emergency department for mental-health patients a complete open-concept makeover. It has comfortable reclining chairs and soft lighting, even board-game tables, and no locked rooms. More importantly, staff in the unit aim to begin treatment shortly after a person arrives, move patients more quickly out of emergency care and, when discharging, send them home with a planned next appointment. 

That’s a big shift from what typically happens now. People coming to the emergency department with mental-health issues wait roughly twice as long as all visitors to the ED, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Families describe sitting in open waiting rooms, their loved ones in obvious distress, sometimes even with injuries from self-harm for everyone to see. Across Canada, police are also responding to more mental-health calls, escorting more people to hospital and waiting longer with them – a presence that can be shaming for patients.

I hope this is one more step amongst many others to change the way we respond to those whose mental distress is real. Not only is this a psychological challenge, it is spiritual as well, and faith communities have often struggled with how to respond with practical compassion.

 I can't recall any discussion or training regarding mental health issues at seminary, yet it was evident almost immediately on arriving at my first pastoral charge in outport Newfoundland that I would be addressing them regularly. Within days of my arrival as a newly ordained pastor a teenager took his own life and I was on scene before ambulance and police because I lived nearby in the community. 

With so many Good Fridays in the lives of those who suffer we can pray for resurrection hope and the necessary changes in community response. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Liability of a Younger Pastor? Say it Isn't So!

face masks Archives - Pulpit & Pen News

The Masked Pastor Rides Again? 

Congregations of the United Church of Canada are generally grateful for their clergy, regardless of age, and there are lots of ministers who are doing meaningful work well into their sixties and even their seventies. The truth is though, so many communities of faith either covet virtually non-existent younger pastors or have expectations for their clergy which makes no concession for aging. 

We are currently worshiping with a congregation which has a 30-something minister who has a gentle pastoral approach with the elderly yet brings a playfulness and imagination which is fresh and needed. He is a devout Christian and he and his wife are raising their two young boys in the faith. What a catch! I hope he stays around for a long time. Okay, I may be somewhat biased because he is our son, Isaac. Remarkably, their are two young-ish ministers in our family, the other being our nephew, Michael, whose two congregations have flourished under his leadership. I don't know how these younger men and women in ministry have managed to do ministry from a distance in the midst of such uncertainty,  as well as educating their kids 

Just the same, they and others who are younger and parents may be a liability in the near future. Their children will likely be going back to school in a few weeks, just as many congregations will take the tentative steps, literally and figuratively, back into their worship spaces for "live" Sunday mornings. But what will happen if their is a COVID-19 outbreak at a school or in a particular classroom. It seems that young children do quite well when they contract the coronavirus, which is a blessing. But will they be required to isolate for two weeks if a case or two is detected at a school, and will their parents be expected to do the same? If this is the reality, then congregations will be scrambling to find pulpit supply, perhaps at the last minute.

We are planning to physically step back from our grandsons when they return to school after a couple of blissful months reconnecting with them in our "bubble." We've enjoyed sleepovers and paddling and a fifth birthday party. Still, we'll be wise to love them from a distance after they return to school, at least for a time, to make sure that we stay safe. 

I have volunteered to be a worship leader, should I be needed, and I've already been asked to do a September Sunday because of the planned regional conference. I'll also be prepared so that I can that I can helicopter into the pulpit rather than require runway time. I should note that I don't have Ike's courage and ability to sing solo, which will be necessary under the regulations about congregational singing. 

 It's a strange world we're living in, but we'll figure it out, God being our helper.

Has your congregation resumed in-person worship, or will it soon? Do you have a Plan B, or C, depending on what unfolds? 

Catholic Priests: Holy Water and Super Soakers Don't Mix

Squirt Gun Baptisms are not a great idea 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Remembering Brother Roger

St Roger of Taize? | Sentire Cum Ecclesia

Stay with me, remain here with me,

watch and pray, watch and pray

    Voice United 950 -- Jacques Berthier

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the murder of Brother Roger, the remarkable founder of the Taize Christian community in France. Many United Church people know of the community through the contemplative choruses in our Voices United worship resource or the Taize-style services held in some congregations.

Our son, Isaac, lived at Taize for eight months in his early twenties and knew Brother Roger, who was nearly 90 at the time. I visited Taize for two weeks while Isaac was there and would see Brother Roger during daily worship.  

Here is a portion of the obituary written by Marlise Simons in the New York Times two days after his murder by a mentally ill woman in the church where hundreds of thousands had come to worship through the decades, so many of them young and searching

Brother Roger was born Roger Schutz on May 12, 1915, in Provence, a small town in Switzerland, the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor and a French Protestant mother. After studying theology at the University of Lausanne, he and a group of friends concluded that it might be possible to avert war in Europe if Christians could unite. He left in 1940 for the Burgundy region, where he bought a house in the village of Taizé, not far from the Roman Catholic Abbey of Cluny. He and a small group of theologians and friends gathered there and, among themselves, took monastic vows.

During World War II, even before the group became known as a community, the monks hid refugees, including Jews and resistance fighters. Although they were forced to leave by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, the community moved to Geneva and quietly grew. There Brother Roger and other theologians first set out their principles: "to pursue joy, simplicity and compassion." 

They were able to return to Taizé in 1944. Although Brother Roger once said they only wanted to be a community of 15, the Taizé group now includes close to 100 monks from more than 20 countries. Its following grew rapidly during the 1980's and 90's, above all because of his special appeal to young people. 

As his health became more frail and he began using a wheelchair, he named Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, to succeed him. The Taizé community said on its Web site yesterday that Brother Alois had taken charge.Brother Roger shunned doctrine, and he and his fellow monks developed chants that merged the meditative prayers of Christian religions.

Part of his appeal may have been his dislike of formal preaching, while encouraging a spiritual quest as a common endeavor. During a Taizé gathering in Paris in 1995, he spoke to more than 100,000 young people who were sitting or lying on the floor of an exhibition hall, amid backpacks and a sea of candles. "We have come here to search," he said, "or to go on searching through silence and prayer, to get in touch with our inner life. Christ always said, Do not worry, give yourself."

Taizé - Home | Facebook

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Can You Say...Forgiveness?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Wikipedia

The other day Ruth had a frustrating time in online chats with Bell Mobile employees in which they kept passing the buck -- our bucks -- to others with no resolution. This may come as a shock to you, but phone companies suck. The same day we had a perplexing and upsetting conversation with someone who is near and dear to us , although currently not near, and making the dear part challenging.

As we sat together attempting to keep our heads above the emotional surface I suggested, rather out of the blue, that we watch the first few minutes of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. You probably know that it is about the children's entertainer, Fred Rogers, except that it is really a meditation about forgiveness. In 1998 an investigative reporter named Tom Junod wrote an article about Rogers for Esquire magazine called Can you Say...Hero? 

In the film Junod becomes the fictional Lloyd Vogler, and the article is a piece he doesn't want to write. Despite his skepticism he is won over by Fred Rogers who becomes a sort of spiritual guide into compassion and forgiveness. Vogler discovers that Fred prays for others by name, every day, and often asks people to pray for him. Fred Rogers, the ordained Presbyterian minister, is the real deal.

The story is touching and instead of watching for a few minutes we watched the entire film. It lifted our spirits and made us feel more hopeful. Heroes can do that, and so can forgiveness. 

Mr. Rogers

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Just What is a Beyonce Mass?

Rev. Yolanda Norton, March 8 2020

I can't say that I have much knowledge of Beyonce's music, although I'm ancient enough to remember when she was a member of the highly successful trio, Destiny's Child. Beyonce is one of the most popular musical artists in the world and along with her husband Jay-Z they are powerhouse gajillionaires. 

Apparently listening to Beyonce is also a religious experience.. Back in March a theological school professor offered a worship experience in New York City called the Beyonce Mass which featured a chorus of Black women singing her music rather than hymns before an audience/congregation of 500.  This was not the first time presider the Rev. Yolanda Norton had held a service with this theme. 

According to a Religion News Service article,Norton created the womanist worship service after she gave her Hebrew Bible students at San Francisco Theological Seminary an assignment to tell black women’s stories using Beyoncé’s music in a worship setting. She then developed a full liturgy that was presented at her seminary’s chapel, and later at an event that drew about 1,000 people to San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 2018. The service in March was the tenth and one of the songs Flaws and All, has been a staple of Beyonce Mass wherever it has been held. Norton said, the singer’s music can be sung as a prayer by women facing a range of emotions as they encounter God.

You won't be surprised to learn that there have been critics, but Norton insists that they are not worshiping Beyonce and that the worship experiences are Christian. Beyoncé does identify as a Christian and says that St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston is her faith home. She sang “Ave Maria” on her 2008 I Am...Sasha Fierce album and there are other religious allusions in her music. In her new visual album, Black is King she certainly looks like the high priestess of something -- fashion? 

Dezeen interviews Beyoncé's stylist Zerina Akers on creating the looks for Black is King

Let's be honest, in the pre-Covid days there probably hadn't been 1,000 people at a United Church service anywhere in the country for a decade or two.Most congregations feel blessed if there are 100 in attendance at the best of times.  Numbers aren't everything, but what is happening taps into a spiritual need, particularly for Black women. If worship is about opening doors and hearts, maybe this is both creative and worthwhile.I'm grateful that no one asked that Beyonce's All the Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) be played at a wedding where I presided. 


If you like then you shoulda put a ring on it...... - Wedding ...

Friday, August 14, 2020

I'm Sinister, & I Can Live With That!

 Left Handers Day, August 13th - Official Site #lefthandersday

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, 

there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:27-28

I am sinister, and I'm proud of it. Sinister actually means "left", as in left-handed, and because there are fewer lefties than righties they were once regarded with suspicion, as minorities often are. Although only 10 percent of the population is left-handed, many famous and accomplished people have been lefties, including US presidents Obama, Bush II, and Clinton. Evidence suggests that the current president is neither left nor righ-handed.  

While I bat left, throw a ball and frisbee left, and shoot left with a hockey stick, I write with my right hand. Why? My old-school grade four teacher, who was actually very supportive in many ways, made me stay after school to "cure" my sinister penmanship through repetition. By the time my parents realized what was happening I had been converted. 

Image for post

This day is always a reminder that cultures tend to stigmatize and "other" those who are in the minority or different. We do so in many different spheres, including sexual orientation. We make up rigid rules and often make strong biblical claims, even when the evidence is scanty. 

As an example, Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, let alone condemned it. I remember the first time I heard a seminary professor make a comparison between what we then termed gay and lesbian orientation and left-handedness. I was offended as a sinister person that he would do so. Even though I didn't express my response verbally, this is not one of my prouder moments. 

Isn't it sinister to create barriers and bolster our sense of self by condemning and excluding others? Left Handed Day is as good an occasion as any to examine our biases and ask how they reflect the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope that as a disciple of Jesus I'll be learning these lessons for a lifetime. 

International Left-Handers Day 2020: History, Date, Famous Lefties ...