Sunday, January 31, 2021

Christ Born of Mary, Then and Now

Nativity by Elizabeth DiGregorio 

Israel is an unending treasure trove of antiquities from across the ages. Excavation begins or a new building foundation or roadway and, Bob's your Roman uncle, there's a bunch of coins or the foundation of another structure from a thousand years ago, or two. 

Recently an archeological dig in the Jezreel Valley revealed the inscription from the frame of an entrance door to a Byzantine church from the 5th century. It is written in Greek and begins  Christ, born of Mary. Apparently this formula, ‘Christ, born of Mary’,  was intended to protect its readers from the evil eye, and it was commonly used at the beginning of inscriptions and documents of the time. 

Have you stifled a yawn yet? I find this discovery intriguing because it reminds us that the Christian church had established early on that while Jesus was the Risen Christ, his human birth was essential to the faith. 

In our United Church worship resource, Voices United there are a number of creeds and faith statements, including the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed (918 and 920). Chances are most of you haven't heard or repeated either of them in decades, although I think son Isaac included a portion of one in a service in recent memory. 

The phrase "born of the Virgin Mary" is in the Apostles Creed. In the Nicene Creed we find:

                   For us and our salvation he came down from heaven

                  was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary

                   and became truly human. 

Perhaps the "coming down" theology is a bit problematic, but the specificity of God becoming truly human is both the mystery and the glory of Christianity. It may not protect us from the evil eye, but it is the invitation to a way of experiencing God's present, incarnational, life-changing love. I find that after all these years as a Christian this is as important to me as it ever was.

                                           1,500-year-old inscription that reads ‘Christ, born of Mary

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Anglicans & Speaking in Tongues?


                                                      Archbishop Justin Welby

O for a thousand tongues to sing

my great Redeemer's praise,

the glories of my God and King,

the triumphs of God's grace.

How do you pray? I was going to ask if you pray, but I sense that all of us pray, in some form. Those who aren't theists, or perhaps feel that they are "spiritual rather than religious" will generally concede their sense of wonder or a feeling that they are a part of something greater than themselves in certain settings. It might be in the beauty of the natural world, or a great church or mosque.

Prayer can be "wordy," extemporaneous or crafted on the page. It can be "wordless," meditative or contemplative, a gentle sitting or walking in the silence. 

There is also the ecstatic prayer which we read about in the New Testament a number of times, including on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. We do read that passage from Acts 2 yearly in liturgical churches, but we tend to be suspicious of  the phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" in mainline churches. We may associate "tongues"with charismatic and pentecostal Christians in the present day and consider it to be both aberrant and uncontrolled. Mainliners/old-liners love to point out that the apostle Paul cautioned the church members in Corinth to be circumspect about how speaking in tongues was included in their worship, but he does also say: " I thank God that I speak in tongues, more than all of you..." I Corinthians 14:18. 

I was mildly surprised to read the other day that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the world-wide Anglican communion, speaks in tongues on a daily basis as part of his prayer life. There is the old joke that Anglicans are "God's frozen people," deeply committed to order in worship. The venerable Book of Common Prayer includes a written, formal prayer for just about every circumstance, which I deeply admire. Welby spoke about this regular experience of his prayer life in a BBC interview, and the accompanying article offers this: 

Tongues, understood by believers to be a divine language, involves sounds with no easily understood meaning. The Most Rev Justin Welby, who is the leader of the Anglican Church, also says he expects to hear messages and prophecies from God through others.The Archbishop said it wasn't something to make a "song and dance about", saying using tongues was seldom an "ecstatic" experience for him.

The "no song and dance please, I'm Anglican" comment seems true to form, but I appreciate Welby's willingness to share this prayer experience, knowing that it might be misinterpreted. The wonderful mystery of prayer is diverse, and shouldn't be confined to one way of expression. I've heard "prayers" in United Churches which never mention God, or Jesus, and seem to be earnest memos from the clergyperson on his or her latest cause rather than invitations to commune with the divine. Why would I consider this superior to speaking in tongues? 

In my seminary days we lived with a couple, dear friends, who were tongue-speaking pray-ers, yet this was never our experience. We simply respected this aspect of their devotional life, and surely mutual respect and openness is vital to understanding in the pluralistic world in which we live. 

Here's the question: did the apostle Paul actually begin 1 Corinthians with "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of Anglicans..."?

                                                                The Day of Pentecost 

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Day of Remembrance for Worshipers Who Died


In several of the congregations I served through the years we developed evacuation plans in case of fire on a Sunday morning. Because we had Sunday Schools and nurseries those plans extended beyond the sanctuary and included where everyone would assemble and ensuring that children were accounted for. We even ran fire drills in a couple of those congregations so that ushers, teachers and congregants knew what to do in case of an emergency.

We never discussed a plan of action in the event we were attacked by an angry or deranged person, perhaps someone who held a grudge against Christians, or was motivated by a toxic mix of conspiracy theories and hatred to perpetrate violence against us. We assumed that our sanctuary was, in fact, a sanctuary, a safe place.

Sadly, this is not the reality for places of worship for other religions in this country. Jewish synagogues have been defaced and threatened. In recent years the growing number of Islamic mosques and worship centres cross the country has meant they too have often become targets of graffiti and confrontation.

Yesterday the federal government announced that today, January 29th, will be a national day of remembrance on the anniversary of the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack during which six worshipers were murdered. It was an unprovoked attack by a young man who was convinced that Muslims were a threat. I recall that in the immediate, confusing aftermath of the attack there was speculation that it was carried out by other Muslims, as though it wasn't possible that this sort of violence could be carried out by anyone else in peace-loving Canada. It was a reminder that prejudices against Muslims runs deep in this country, which is why the declaration about this day says that the goal is also to promote action against Islamophobia. 

I was aware of anti-Muslim sentiment in one community where some members of the ministerial in which I was involved were reluctant to send a letter of welcome and support to the Islamic worship centre which had recently opened. We did send the letter because some of us were persistent but it was a spirited conversation. 

I'm happy to say that several Christian congregations here in Belleville developed a warm relationship with the local mosque when we worked today to sponsor nearly two dozen Syrian refugees a few years ago. The people we met were warm, welcoming, and incredibly dependable and helpful -- I often described them as an Allah-send. 

Whatever shape this day takes in the future, it is important to honour those who died in 2017, and to work against religious discrimination wherever it may rear its ugly head. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

We are not alone...Let's Talk


United Church New Creed booklet -- Gary Crawford illustrator 

"Hell is other people." This is the often misunderstood and misquoted phrase from a Jean-Paul Sartre play,  which he later explained meant the opposite of the way many people used it. What a lot of us have learned in the past ten months is that hell is the absence of other people. Of course many of us enjoy solitude and silence, but even the introverts among us have realized during the pandemic that the company of others matters, even if we are usually okay with "me, myself and I." 

We have been retired for several years now and generally quite comfortable with not socializing all that much. Yet we enjoy time with our friends, and family is very important to us. The pandemic has meant that we don't get to be physically present with our two younger grandchildren. We have delighted in visits with the other two, but we are trying to accept a lengthier absence again, now that the older two are back in school. 

For many heaven on earth is other people, including those who are part of our adopted families of faith. i'm aware from clergy friends who are involved in pastoral ministry that lots of their folk are suffering from isolation, and some are losing their grip with reality. The challenge of staying in touch with those who are mentally unstable is itself stressful, and we are realizing who important weekly worship and other congregational contacts can be for mental health. 

I've never met anyone who is more creative and comfortable with her own company than my wife, Ruth. Just the same, she yearns to be in the physical proximity of our adult children and grandchildren, to hug and cozy up to the little ones -- well. all of them! 

Ruth also works a weekly shift in the lunch-time meal ministry which has taken place every day since last March from Bridge St. United Church, our former church home.She says  that it is gratifying to be involved in feeding people who are struggling during the pandemic. She is also aware of the loneliness of many of the guests. Even though pandemic protocols mean that the meal is something of a distanced assembly line rather than a sit-down meal individuals want to chat and tell their stories. She is uplifted every week by the gratitude guests express for what is food for body and soul. 

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, which invites us to be aware of mental health issues. I notice that this year the images Bell is using offer a variety of ways we can be supportive of one another when the ways we've taken for granted aren't possible. 

They bring to mind one of the Gary Crawford illustrations from the New Creed booklet which the United Church created probably 25 years ago. I used this booklet with Confirmation classes in days past, and would ask the participants, mostly teens, to choose a phrase from the creed with its accompanying image. I was somewhat surprised that this was a favourite, with the young people speaking about grandparents. 

We can support one another today, and every day, for that matter, with phone calls and messages and perhaps the distanced visit (I know, we're in a lock-down.) For those of you who are struggling "in the bleak mid-winter, may the abiding, embracing peace of Christ be with you. We are not alone, thanks be to God. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Remembering the Holocaust Today


Last week I mentioned that I follow the Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter. Auschwitz was one of the extermination camps of the evil Nazi regime which murdered 6 million innocent Jews during WW2. Each day the Memorial posts a photo, or several, of persons whose lives were snuffed out, sometimes when they were babies. I often take the few seconds to read the story of the person who was brought into this world in love and who deserved the fullness of life.

This is Holocaust Memorial Day, an opportunity to pause and remember those 6 million precious souls, human beings who died because of prejudice and hatred. This day is also important because we are now nearly 76 years past the liberation of the last concentration camp and there are few survivors still alive and a dwindling number of people on the planet with direct memory of that dark time.You'll notice that today is the 100th anniversary of the young woman in the photo who was only 22 when she died. This is also the anniversary of the liberation of 7,000 prisoners from Auschwitz. 

27 January 1921 | A Czech Jewish woman, Růžena Buschová, was born in Prague. She was deported to #Auschwitz from the #Theresienstadt ghetto on 6 September 1943.
She did not survive.

It's also important to acknowledge the Shoah, or Holocaust, because of the persistence of anti-Jewish sentiment and conspiracies. The growth of the disgusting Q-anon conspiracy which has infected the United States includes hatred of Jews. Sadly, there are supposed Christians who drink at this poisoned well, the way some Christians did during the Hitler years. The attempted coup on Capitol Hill on January 6th included terrorists wearing clothing with hate speech slogans directed at Jews alongside banners proclaiming "Jesus Saves." These are people who disconnect from the Jewishness of Yeshua, Jesus. 

Canada is not immune to this  Only two weeks ago a Montreal synagogue was vandalized with spray-painted swastikas. Every year there are incidents of destruction in Jewish cemeteries and death threats. Many synagogues have security guards to protect worship services, something I would notice while walking close to our home in Halifax where we lived for a time.

We must continue to remember, to speak out against hatred in all forms, and to pray as Yeshua encouraged "that all may be one." 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Yes, Words Do Hurt

 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,

 but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, 

so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

                                                                            Ephesians 4:29

Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words will never hurt me.

Last week we spoke with a friend who has experienced regular criticism and harassment from one of her superiors at work. This person is employed by a large corporation and has several superiors, yet this is the only one who makes life miserable for him/her (I'll protect identity. She/he finally approached the immediate superior who supports his/her work, and that person spent time asking another manager and co-workers about his/her worth ethic and interpersonal skills. Every person spoke highly of this maligned individual both in job performance and personal interactions.

The irony of all this is that the company had just taken its staff through a day-long seminar on bullying and has also emphasized maintaining mental health through the pandemic. The bully is someone valued for skills and productivity but obviously hasn't absorbed what the employer is trying to achieve in terms of a positive work environment. Our friend was relieved and reassured by the outcome of the inquiries but has struggled with the effect of the attacks.

We had our conversation on the same day a scathing report was released about the toxic work environment which existed in the offices of the now former Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette. Staffers felt belittled and intimidated to the point that some resigned from their positions. It's hard to fathom how Payette was appointed to the prestigious position when there is evidence that this has been a pattern for her in other leadership roles. 

This got me thinking about the church as well. Unfortunately there is plenty of bullying that goes on in communities of faith  Sometimes clergy are the bullies, abusing power, although denominations such as the United Church tend to give less authority to pastors. Too often the bullies are members who have been around a long time and have a sense of entitlement which is destructive.They intimidate other congregants and engage in attacks on clergy which can be vicious. 

Sadly, women in ministry are more likely to be harassed, sometimes for petty reasons such as attire and weight. That said,  I am a white male with a considerable physical presence, which makes a difference, yet in several congregations there were people whose behaviour was aggressive, including vicious gossip and nonsensical threats of legal action over decisions duly made by the congregation. One minister acquaintance was threatened with physical violence in the parking lot of a church following a meeting with a conflicted board on behalf of presbytery. More recently cyber-bullying has become a reality in Christian circles. As the years went on I became both more skilled at countering this behaviour and yet less willing to endure it. It was a factor in when I chose to retire. 

Wherever it occurs, aggressive behaviour and bullying are hurtful, counter-productive, and morally wrong. In Christian communities of faith it is antithetical to the gospel but because of human nature, which we describe as sinfulness as Christians, it will always happen. A call to repentance and perhaps a "time out" likely needs to happen more often. And no one should leave a job because of bullying and receive a gold--plated pension and perks!

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Vine and the Fig Tree for 2021

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
    and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
    and no one shall make them afraid;
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk,
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.

Micah 4:1-5 NRSV

There were a number of highlights as part of the Joe Biden inauguration, not the least of which was that DT was in Florida, marinating in his own bitterness. Superstar Lady Gaga was impressive with her rendition of the national anthem, but virtually unknown Amanda Gordon dazzled with her poem, The Hill We Climb.

                                             Robert Frost at JFK's Inauguration, 1961

I hadn't realized that there have been only a handful of inaugural ceremony poets, with Robert Frost being the first for John F Kennedy.. Frost was 86 at the time and couldn't complete the reading of his work because the sun was glaring off the page, so improvised the ending.  Gordon, at 22, added a powerful physicality to her recitation with the use of her hands. The phrases in The Hill We Climb which intrigued me were: 

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it.

There was a sort of "nesting dolls" effect to this allusion. It turns out that it was from the musical Hamilton, which was referring to the words of George Washington, who was quoting from the book of the prophet Micah. It's fascinating that Washington was a slave-holder by the age of 11 while Gordon is the descendant of slaves, as she notes in her poem. 

The vision of a time of peace and restoration Gordon employed was an important one in the midst of such turmoil and division in the United States. The imagery of the vine and the fig tree were and are central to Judaism and Jesus, the Jew, used them both. The disturbing invasion of Capitol Hill by domestic terrorists on January 6th inspired Gordon to find the right metaphors for her poem within this history.  

In subsequent interviews Amanda Gordon has proven to be charming and insightful, wise beyond her years. The prophets of old were poets, as the verses from Micah attest, and this fresh young poet has drawn from their well for this moment. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"Going to Church" in 2021

 This morning we will "go to church" without actually leaving home to attend worship. For four months last Fall we drove from Belleville to Trenton to take part in worship with the congregation where our son, Isaac, is the pastor. It was really odd the first Sunday, with taped off pews, masks on everyone, humming rather than singing. Attendance was well below what would have been the usual turn-out., yet the number of worshippers was surprisingly consistent during that period. We felt safer than going to the grocery store because of the protocols and we there was something positively different about actually congregating.

During those four months we celebrated the sacraments of communion and baptism, and welcomed new members, and did so without compromising safety. We waved our greetings and smiled at one another with our eyes. Just hearing hymns within the sanctuary and humming along made a difference. There was still a sense of sacred space and sacred gathering. 

Then another provincial lock-down, and back to services on-line. I don't know what to think of all this, to be honest. I figure that many congregations earnestly ceased in-person worship for the well-being of members and the wider community. They have been creative and faithful in offering alternatives. Still, ten months later lots are suffering spiritually and financially from not experiencing the intangibles of "wherever two or three gather together in my name."

Every few days I read or hear about a congregation defying the regulations for public gatherings and some gone so far to launch legal challenges. Most of the pastors are white males whose statements give the impression that they are convinced that they are a present-day manifestation of Martin Luther, taking a courageous stand. They really need to get over themselves. At the same time there are churches which offer vital ministries to those with addictions. In many congregations isolated individuals are suffering from declining mental health and really need to be with others, even with masks and distancing. 

There aren't easy answers to this. We are in a region where there have been low numbers of COVID-19 cases and none the past couple of days. I look forward to returning to in-person worship -- and the gym. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Grandchamp & the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


God of love, through Christ you said to us: “You did not choose me but I chose you”. You seek us, you invite us to receive your friendship and abide in it. Teach us to respond more deeply to this invitation, and grow in a life that is ever more complete.

 The joy of our heart is in God.

 God of life, you call us to be praise in the midst of the world and to welcome one another as a gift of your grace. May your loving gaze, which rests upon each person, open us to receive each other just as we are. 

The joy of our heart is in God.  

God who gathers, you knit us together as one vine in your Son Jesus. May your loving Spirit abide in us at parish meetings and local ecumenical gatherings. Grant that together we might celebrate you with joy. 

 The joy of our heart is in God.

God of the one vineyard, you call us to abide in your love in all we do and say. Touched by your goodness, grant us to be a reflection of that love in our homes and workplaces. May we pave the way for bridging rivalries and overcoming tensions.

The joy of our heart is in God.  

A time of silence 

 Very often we think of prayer as something we do, an activity of our own. In this short time we are invited to an interior silence, and to turn aside from all the noise and concerns of our lives and thoughts. In this silence the action belongs to God. We are simply called to abide in God’s love, to rest in him. 

I'm circling back around to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which comes to an end on Monday. Why? Because this year the worship materials were prepared by the women of the Monastic Community of Grandchamp, in Switzerland. This is how they describe themselves: 

In the 1930s a number of Reformed women from French-speaking Switzerland who belonged to a group known as the “Ladies of Morges” rediscovered the importance of silence in listening to the Word of God. At the same time they revived the practice of spiritual retreats to nourish their life of faith, inspired by the example of Christ who went apart to a lonely place to pray. They were soon joined by others who took part in regularly organized retreats in Grandchamp, a small hamlet near the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. It became necessary to provide a permanent presence of prayer and welcome for the growing number of guests and retreatants. 

Today the community has fifty sisters, all women from different generations, church traditions, countries and continents. In their diversity the sisters are a living parable of communion. They remain faithful to a life of prayer, life in community and the welcoming of guests. The sisters share the grace of their monastic life with visitors and volunteers who go to Grandchamp for a time of retreat, silence, healing or in search of meaning. 

When Isaac our son, was in his early twenties he made the commitment to spend a year living and working in the now well known Christian monastic community called Taize, in France.While there he heard that another community which followed the Rule of Taize, called Grandchamp, welcomed a man or two to spend time with the sisters to help in the gardens and do other heavier physical labour. He applied, was accepted and spent several months living there in the rhythms of prayer and work. It was a very positive spiritual experience in a beautiful setting. When Isaac married a few years later he and Rebekah spent time in Europe, including a few days at Grandchamp, where they were warmly welcomed.

So, perhaps we can agree that it is a small world, after all. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Cathedral and the Jab

 Great Britain  has been contending with one of the highest levels of COVID-19 infection rates in the world, and with that a disturbing number of deaths. Is it a coincidence that they have a blow-hard white male at the helm of government, as do other nations with high death tolls? 

Fortunately Britain is excelling at vaccinating its population against COVID, using every imaginable venue to give people the jab. I wish Canada could make a similar claim. 

I noticed that one of the vaccination sites is Salisbury Cathedral, one of the many magnificent churches of the British Isles. The first person to receive his COVID shot in this location was a 95-year-old WW2 veteran who was pleased to say that it didn't hurt a bit. 

The dean of the cathedral suggested that there probably wasn't a more beautiful setting to get the jab than the cathedral and I suspect he's correct. Today I heard a report about this location on CBC Radio about this unique location and I could hear the cathedral organ playing in the background. Sights and sounds to make the "medicine go down" or in. 

How wonderful that a 13th century cathedral built to the glory of God, and which has endured through the plagues and wars of the centuries, is now employed as a place of physical hope and spiritual uplift in the midst of a modern-day pandemic 

To segue elsewhere on the vaccination subject, I learned recently that the Mary Poppins film song with the line "just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" was written after the songwriter's son came home and assured his dad that his early-60's polio vaccination at school went smoothly because it was administered on a sugar cube. Take that, anti-vaccers -- literally!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Inmates and Inoculations

                                                                   Christ in Prison -- Robert Lenz

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

I was in prison and you visited me.’

Matthew 25:34-36

Most Canadians are looking forward to receiving an inoculation which will protect us from the current form of COVID-19, as well as its variants. The supply has stalled for the moment, but we'll get there, probably by the Fall. My wife Ruth and I are of an age that we'll be slightly ahead in the queue, but there are a lot of people ahead of us, and that's the way it should be because we're healthy and can make choices to stay that way. .

What about those who have been convicted of crimes, inmates in our federal prisons? There have been significant COVID outbreaks in jails and prisons, which shouldn't surprise us given that inmates live in close proximity to one another. The federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination effort includes a plan to immunize high-risk prisoners in federal prisons, the elderly and unhealthy.. This would only be about 600 inmates,or about four per cent of the prison population. Just the same, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Erin O'Toole declared “Not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or frontline health worker,” 

There are lots of people who figure that if persons have been convicted of crimes and are inmates in prison they can, and perhaps should be treated, inhumanely, that punishment should be disproportionately harsh. When I spent a summer at a chaplain intern in Kingston Penitentiary 40 years ago some Christians expressed their opinions that inmates shouldn't be allowed out in the yard for exercise, or to watch television.The meanness of spirit rattled me. 

We don't have the death penalty in Canada anymore but not vaccinating vulnerable inmates could be the equivalent.Someone has also noted that there are millions of Canadians with criminal convictions of some kind. Do they go to the back of the line for the jab?  And what about the exposure of prison staff members? 

Navigating our way through this pandemic will require consistent compassion, generosity, and grace. Apparently Mr. O'Toole is a Roman Catholic.Christian. Perhaps some bible study would be helpful, particularly the teaching of Jesus.Tho medical personnel administering vaccines could be seen as inoculating Christ, if we believe what we read. And bye the way, prison inmates are Canadian citizens and do not relinquish their civil or human rights when they are incarcerated. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Worship, Prayer, and the Presidency


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

                                  Micah 6:8

This is Inauguration Day for President Joe Biden and by the time he places his hand on a bible to be sworn in he will have already attended a morning worship service, along with the top The top four congressional leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi,  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Tomorrow there will be another, virtual prayer service with representatives from most major religions taking part. 

I have no doubt about Biden's sincerity as a practicing Roman Catholic, and he has already invoked scripture and quoted from hymns and St. Francis as he addressed the nation. I will readily admit that I found Donald Trump's insincere pandering to conservative Christians stomach-turning, and the dissonance in regard to what he said and what he did was clanging. And when Trump claimed that if Biden was elected "there will be no more God", well...

While I believe in the separation of church and state, I'll be paying attention to what President Biden models and the actions he takes in the days ahead. As his term commences I am praying that the migrant children who were effectively orphaned and incarcerated as though they were criminals will be treated with compassion and reunited with families.

I fervently hope that the tone of American discourse will shift toward decency and goodwill, and that the ecumenical and inter-faith spirit on display in these two days will inform the policies of this administration will carry into the challenging days ahead. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Christian Unity in the Midst of Discord

I am the vine, you are the branches. 

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples. 

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

John 15:5-9 NRSV

Yesterday was the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and, needless to say, Christians won't be gathering to acknowledge that they are people of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Then again, my experience has been that even in the best of times there has been an indifference to this initiative to unite Christ's people in prayer which began in the early 1900's. I would refer to it as the Week of Prayer for Christian Apathy" because even in the ecumenical ministerials I was involved in there was limited interest in coming together. I always felt it was vital to find common ground with those who chose to express their allegiance to Christ differently, and that there could be strength in our diversity. 

This year is challenging, and not only because of COVID-19 restrictions. In recent days we have heard and seen supposedly devout Christians give themselves over to the false god of nationalism in the neighbouring United States, with the culminating image of domestic terrorists joining in prayer in the rotunda of Congress after an unprecedented violent invasion of the seat of government. To me this was a deeply offensive expression of idolatry, the worship of Mars, the god of war, rather than Jesus, the Prince of Peace. I feel totally disconnected from the cult-like devotion to a person and principles which have nothing to do with the gospel. I know I should pray for unity but I'm so aghast and, honestly,  angry that I am finding it next to impossible to do so. 

This year the theme for the week is Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit, which is from John's gospel and the words of Jesus. I realize that I can't do this in my own strength, that I need the Holy Spirit to do her transforming work within me so that mu outrage is not the only response to outrageous behaviour. While I would like to cast others into the fire, I am called to abide in Christ's love so that I'm not consumed by disdain. 

Perhaps I'll prayerfully read these verses each day as an antidote to disunity, and ask Christ to dwell in my heart and the hearts of others. Surely we've had enough of the "grapes of wrath" and need to uphold the fruit of the Spirit. 

                                           Capitol building rioters praying -- to which god?

Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK & 10 Commandments for Non-Violent Change


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in all 50 states, although two of those states still observe Robert E Lee Day on the third Monday of January as well. Just to refresh your memory, General Lee was the commander of the Confederate army which rebelled against the American union in an internal war which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 citizens. Lee was a slave-owner and a traitor, but why not recognize him on the same day as a Civil Rights icon?

Dr. King was a Baptist pastor who led a non-violent movement for change, with the goal that the constitution which declared all men and women equal would actually be true in practice. And King was masterful in calling on the Judeo/Christian scriptures as the bedrock for his message of justice, equality, and love.

Today King is quoted at every turn and lionized, yet in polls from the 1960's he was considered the most hated man in America. Many Blacks and People of Colour noted during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that the King people are quick to quote was assassinated for his courageous leadership.

We might keep in mind today the the first time a Confederate flag was raised in the House of Congress,occurred during an a violent invasion of this the seat of American democracy on January 6th, 2021. Racism and hatred are still cancers in American society and in too many places around the planet.

 It's worthwhile looking at the covenant or pledge the Ten Commandments for peaceful change signed by those who were part of the Civil Rights movement. While it isn't scripture, there is a scripture-inspired quality to these phrases which make it sacred. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Remembering Mrs. Rogers


   Come, Lord Jesus, be thou our guest,
     Our morning joy, our evening rest.
     And with thy daily bread impart,
     Thy love and peace to every heart.

A couple of films about Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame and his messages about love, inclusion, and kindness as a sort of naloxone for a  vicious US president meant that he was revered more than a decade after his death than he might have been in life. There is no doubt that he touched millions of lives and that his Christian faith was at the core of his being. Fred studied music at university but he was also an ordained minister of the Presbyterian church. 

Today we might give some thought to Joanne Rogers, Fred's wife of 51 years. Joanne died a few days ago at the age of 92 and she deserves to be remembered as an accomplished musician with a lengthy career, a loving partner to a busy man, and a person of faith. Joanne claimed that Fred was a person of deeper faith than she was, yet she was the one who befriended "Officer Clemons" in a church choir and eventually introduced Francois (his first name) to Fred. Their friendship with Francois was like family , and while the couple came to realize that Francois was gay, they continued to love and support him despite the societal prejudices of a different time

In an interview a couple of years ago Joanne noted that the prayer above was the one they said before every evening before dinner. There is a dinner scene in the biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood where Fred is sharing a meal with a cynical reporter in a Chinese restaurant. In the midst of the lunchtime chatter Tom Hanks as Rogers asks his companion to take a minute of silence to consider the people who’ve loved him into being. It's powerful because we never experience that length of silence in a film. For the next 60 seconds, they reflect quietly while the camera pans around the restaurant, which gradually becomes silent. Joanne is in that scene, a gentle recognition of her role in Fred's life.

Perhaps we could take a few moments in silence to express our gratitude for Joanne Rogers.