Friday, April 30, 2021

Activating Our Imaginations


                                                                                       Jordana Wright. (Photograph by Serap Seker)

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18

There was an article in a recent issue of Broadview, the United Church magazine, about re-imagining congregational spaces as traditional buildings no are no longer sustainable by aging and dwindling faith communities. The estimate is that 9,000 of those physical plants in Canaa could close in the next few years across different denominations and faith groups. A drive through the Ontario countryside reveals that hundreds of church buildings are now homes or businesses, and in urban downtowns the same is true, although the large structures are often the fronts for condo developments.

The article focuses on an initiative called Activate Space which is the brainchild of Jordana Wright and has the goal of helping congregations excel as community hubs. She also hosts  Things to Talk About at Coffee Hour, a Facebook Live show of  conversations about the United Church which venture outside the conventions of congregational life. Wright describes which she's up to this way:

One way that I found to buck this trend is to help churches formalize and expand their de facto role as community hubs. The first key service of Activate Space is to help churches partner with local changemakers, and transform their relationships with community groups that already casually use their space into more meaningful holistic partnerships. The second service is to secure alternative financing opportunities through partnerships with municipalities or local anchor institutions.

I'll say first of all that I'm glad that someone with Jordana's creative, outside-the-bricks-and mortar thinking is providing this platform. Having a building to house competing congregations on every corner was never a smart approach to sharing the Good News, and in a day of waning interest in religion and diminishing resources to maintain physical structures these explorations are vital. 

Secondly, I'm pleased that our current congregation, Trenton United, has been looking at how its building can be more versatile in meeting community needs and in working with others who are involved in social outreach. The last congregation I served in ministry, Bridge St. United, is also working collaboratively with community partners, including social service agencies and different levels of government. The physical plant has been transformed to address the needs of those who are marginalized with facilities to run several food ministries, and now providing showers and clothes washing machines. This just makes sense.

Thirdly, I've always felt that when congregations enter into these partnerships and re- imagining their physical spaces they better have a well-developed theology and sense of the gospel. This doesn't mean proselytizing or engagement with ulterior motives. It's an appreciation and commitment to the Good News of Jesus Christ as foundational to their existence.This is respectful of those who established these congregations and visionary in an Acts 2 way..

 As we join with others to create a table of mutual respect and community service we can remember that it is at Christ's table we are nourished. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Gratitude for Thomas Berger


Canada regularly shows up on lists of top countries in the world in which to live. although witth the caveat that this is not the reality for Indigenous peoples. Our version of apartheid has been our shame, with efforts to subjugate and assimilate Indigenous people going back centuries.

The Residential School system forcibly removed children from their families and communities using education as the front for cultural genocide. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of those children died and thousands more were scarred for life by the experiences of abuse. 

Several Christian denominations were complicit in the Residential School system, including the United Church of Canada. We have apologized for our role, made reparations, and participated in efforts to make amends. The UCC was active in the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission which made its way across the country, listening to stories of pain and dispossession. This is our national and denominational shame, and while promises and recommendations have been made toward restoring "all my relations" they have too often been broken or ignored. 

Someone who attempted to address the inequities was
Thomas Berger, a politician and lawyer and judge. Berger was one of the first to truly listen and address treaties which were ignored and violated and helped change the conversation regarding Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples. Here is how the CBC describes Berger and his legacy: 

The former B.C. Supreme Court judge, NDP politician and lawyer was best known for his work to recognize Indigenous land claims. Berger, who died Wednesday after a battle with cancer, is also being remembered for his compassion and respect for Indigenous rights.Former Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus recalled how Berger argued for the Nisga'a Nation in the landmark case Calder vs. British Columbia early in his law career in the late 1960s. The eventual Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1973 marked the first time the nation's legal system acknowledged the existence of Aboriginal title to land.

As a young lawyer he stuck his neck out. Not very many people believed we had treaty or Aboriginal rights. Today, it's common," Erasmus said.Appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in the early 1970s, Berger also led an inquiry that put a pipeline project in the Mackenzie Valley on hold. In that role, Erasmus said Berger visited dozens of communities along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories and Yukon."He did that because he wanted to listen to the people who were on the land and knew the issues of ownership — and so, on that, was really groundbreaking."

I remember listening to reports about the work Berger was engaged in when I was in my late teens and early twenties, although I didn't really appreciate the implications. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Berger for calling Canadians to account through the legal system. He understood truth and reconciliation long before it became a phrase for politicians and others. 

We can also be grateful for Justice Berge's humanity and respect for Indigenous peoples. How is it that some people see through the injustices which become ingrained in societies? There are still lessons to be learned from Berger as we continue to muddle our way through treaty rights in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and other parts of the country. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Failing Our Elders


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Neglecting Our Elders


Andre Picard is a writer with the Globe and Mail newspapers who has penned a number of thoughtful and pointed columns on the response by governments to COVID-19 during the past 13 months.He has been direct and at times scathing about the failure to address the safety and care of seniors in those first months leading to a shocking loss of life amongst our most vulnerable. He was written a book called Neglected No More:The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada's Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic. The publisher's description offers: 

It took the coronavirus pandemic to open our eyes to the deplorable state of so many of the nation's long-term care homes: the inhumane conditions, overworked and underpaid staff, and lack of oversight. In this timely new book, esteemed health reporter André Picard reveals the full extent of the crisis in eldercare, and offers an urgently needed prescription to fix a broken system...

In Neglected No MoreAndré Picard takes a hard look at how we came to embrace mass institutionalization, and lays out what can and must be done to improve the state of care for our elders, a highly vulnerable population with complex needs and little ability to advocate for themselves.

Picard shows that the entire eldercare system--fragmented, underfunded and unsupported--is long overdue for a fundamental rethink. We need to find ways to ensure seniors can age gracefully in the community for longer, with supportive home care and respite for family caregivers, and ensure that long-term care homes are not warehouses of isolation and neglect. Our elders deserve nothing less.

                                                    Nursing home visit through a window during pandemic 

As a pastor I've spent a lot of time in long-term care and assisted living facilities, the good, the bad and the ugly. Some of the best environments for residents were small, privately run homes which eventually closed by regulations designed for larger institutions. 

Both of my parents were in nursing homes at the time of their deaths and we were grateful for the excellent staff in their respective nursing homes. Yet my mother lived for a time in an assisted living facility which was expensive, didn't deliver on care, and had a revolving door for managers. She died with dementia in late 2018, and we're relieved that she didn't spend her last days in isolation as so many have during the pandemic, and that we were with her at the end. We shudder at what residents and families have gone through. 

Yesterday Ontario's auditor general, Bonnie Lysak, issued a report saying that the  long-term care sector and the ministry that oversees it were not "prepared or equipped" to handle the litany of issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  This corroborates the assessment by Picard of the failure of eldecare in this wealthy nation. And of course the Ford government refuses to accept any responsibility for what has transpired. 

Do we value our elders? Do we honour our mothers and fathers, as one of the Ten Commandments directs us to do? The crisis of COVID shows us that we don't and we haven't. I hope that we have the will and the moral fortitude to do better. 

                                                        Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysak 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Legacy of Eugene Peterson

 The name Eugene Peterson may not immediately ring a bell for you yet you are likely to have heard of or even own a copy of the bible paraphrase called The Message. Peterson grew up in a Pentecostal home, became a Presbyterian pastor, and gained admiration as a thoughtful writer on Christian themes. 

Peterson's real fame came when he began paraphrasing books of the bible in what he called "American English." Eventually he completed the entire New Testament, then was encouraged to do so with the Hebrew scriptures as well. It was a prodigious task for someone who did so while in pastoral ministry, at least for the first years he was at it. The outcome, though, was a bible which offers an often refreshing take on passages which might otherwise seem opaque. Through the years I would include a passage from The Message on Sunday mornings or study groups to offer Peterson's perspective. 

There is a new biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier called A Burning In My Bones and I've finished reading it. In the early chapters I wondered if this was going to be a reverential and bland recounting of the phases of his life, but I have been such an admirer for decades that I decided I would read on. 

In the end I appreciated the honesty of the book which depended on Peterson's participation in sharing his personal story, along with his wife and children. They address his tendency toward workaholism, a dependency on alcohol to relax which unsettled him, and rough patches in what was a long and meaningful marriage. He  had a quiet desire to be a saint, in terms of  ":a long obedience in the same direction" but. lo and behold, he had human foibles. 

While Peterson was a darling of the evangelical world for many years, a mantle he wore with some discomfort, there was an incident near the end of his life which challenged this. In his early 80's, as dementia cast a shadow on his fine mind, he gave an interview in which he was asked how he felt about LBTQ2 persons and whether he would marry a gay couple. His answer to the latter was "yes" which resulted in a wave of denunciations and withdrawal of his books from from evangelical book chains. Sad to say,he ended up walking back his comments, but one of his sons points out that family friends were gay, that LBTQ2 couples were welcomed in his congregations, and that he would likely have married a gay couple, if asked.

While I was disappointed by Peterson's seeming retreat, I now have more understanding of what unfolded. I continue to be grateful for his books on ministry which I began reading at least 30 years ago. They encouraged me to follow my heart when it came to pastoral ministry and to seek to go deeper as a companion in the spiritual life, rather than becoming a church manager.The Christian world was a better place because of Eugene Peterson's life, witness, and disciplined creativity. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Einstein, a Genius and a Jew

In the last year we have roamed the streaming services, watching recommended series' over a couple of months and then moving on. One series which we really enjoyed was Genius: Einstein, one of three dramatized Genius explorations with the others being Pablo Picasso and Aretha Franklin. We may get to the others but this one about the great mathematician and physicist gets the best reviews and is very well done. 

The acting in Genius: Einstein is excellent and so is the story-telling. I love to learn and I learned a lot through the episodes, yet the unfolding of Einstein's life is compelling rather than didactic.

One aspect I found intriguing was Einstein's Jewishness. He was not an observant Jew, and while from time to time he made passing reference to God his comments were vague enough to be open to broad interpretation.He was impressed by Mohandes Gandhi, but he described himself as a :"deeply religious non-believer" 

Einstein was German, however, and he saw firsthand persecution of Jews around him as the Nazis rose to power. He was determined to remain in Germany but eventually left because despite his international acclaim and Nobel Prize  he realized that he would not be immune to the threat which Nazism presented. He was encouraged to become involved in the Zionist movement and as the years went on he became more vocally a socialist, which drew the scrutiny and ire of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in his adopted land.

Einstein once observed: "And the Jewish people  to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. ... I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them."  It's unlikely that this outlook would have spared him if he stayed in Germany. 

Those who are adherents of different religions have been subject to persecution through the centuries in different settings, up to the present day. Christians are under threat in many countries and many die for their faith. The Genius:Einstein series was yet another reminder that Jews have been persecuted not only because of their practice but because of ethnicity and association. 

Humankind has found varied and convoluted ways to hate Jews even when they have chosen or been coerced into assimilation in their societies and even when they are recognized for their contributions in virtually every sphere of life. Anti-Jewish sentiment continues to be a poison in North America, including Canada, and we need to be aware of its existence and denounce it wherever it is evident. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Premier, an Apology, and Forgiveness


                                            Premier Doug Ford apologizes on April 22, 2021

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

                                                          John 20:21-23

Last week the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, held a news conference in front of a family home during which he apologized to the people of the province for messing up stay-at-home restrictions related to the third wave of COVID-19 infections. The usually blustering, get-er-done, premier seemed genuinely contrite, and even shed a few tears of remorse. 

The public response to Ford's mea culpa has been interesting. Some dismiss what happened as damage control, a staged response to public outcry against measures which were not recommended by health officials and which ignored their actual recommendations. Others figured that Ford was admitting his mistakes, so should be forgiven and given another chance -- hey, we all make mistakes.

I am a strong believer in forgiveness, and it is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this season of Easter we often hear the challenging verses from John's gospel which are in the same chapter as the discovery of the empty tomb on Resurrection morning. However we interpret them, there is the implication that while forgiveness should be freely given it is also transactional.

Forgiveness is so often a process, not just a moment of generosity in response to an expressed apology. When someone or a group apologizes there is the expectation of changed behaviour and attempts to make amends.When Ruth, my wife, worked as an outreach worker in a women's shelter many of her clients had been or still were in toxic relationships where abusive partners would offer teary, abject apologies for their wrongdoing, only to repeat it. Governments and churches have apologized to Indigenous peoples yet have been slow to implement the changes which will end systemic racism and effect reconciliation. Sometimes talk is cheap. 

So, should we "forgive and forget" in response to Premier Ford's apology? While I can accept that it was well intentioned, I actually figure he should resign because of his consistent mishandling of the pandemic in Ontario. He simply isn't up to the job. I remember the good old days when leaders took responsibility for failures. 

But if Ford remains in office we can test his sincerity by looking to the steps he takes to act conscientiously on behalf of the nearly 15 million people who are depending on his leadership. Some consistent humility which involves listening to those who understand the science of epidemics and those on the front lines of healthcare would be an excellent start. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Protecting the Lungs of the Planet


                                                                   Leaders Summit on Climate 

Beginning this past Sunday, which was Earth Sunday, I have blogged every day on environmental and Creation care themes. In several instances they have addressed complicated issues which is a challenge to write about in a few paragraphs and likely not all that easy to read. Yet it's important for all of us as Christians to have a sense of what is unfolding for our planetary home.                                                               

Yesterday I wrote about the Leaders Summit on Climate an international conference convened virtually by the United States. This is an important initiative by the Biden administration, signalling a return by the US to the table in addressing the global climate emergency. 

Today we're hearing about a pitch by Brazil to the US  -- provide a billion dollars in financial support in return for reducing deforestation of the Amazon basin which is sometimes described as the lungs of the planet. If this sounds like extortion, it is, and many environmental activists within Brazil are sounding the alarm. The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has allowed clear-cutting, burning, and development in the Amazon region. He has no regard for Indigenous peoples and many forest defenders have been killed during his regime. 

Some of us can remember the so-called United Nations Earth Summit which took place in Brazil  in 1992 with a Canadian, Maurice Strong, chairing this international meeting. There was optimism that the nations of the world would take positive action to preserve the Earth's ecoystems. 

Faith matters in all of this. At that time of the Earth Summit the World Council of Churches was actively involved in exploring the implications from a faith standpoint. Our United Church participated and has been involved in various international conferences o the environment through the decades.  

Just over a year ago Pope Francis, who is from South America, convened what was called the Amazon Synod which brought representatives from Indigenous groups to the Vatican to discuss their relationship with the land and the oppression and persecution they were experiencing. Francis was criticized from within the Roman Catholic church for incorporating symbolism and rituals from these cultures into the liturgies of the synod. I admired Francis for his openness and willingness to listen. 

Who knows where today's discussions will go regarding the Amazon and the conclusions from the Leaders Summit. It's tempting to be cynical, given the history and current leadership in Brazil, but perhaps this will be the moment in history when we wake up to what needs to be done to "live with respect in Creation." 

                                                 Vatican Amazon Synod February 2020

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Earth Day & the Leaders Summit on Climate


Happy Earth Day to all of you, the 51st since its inception in 1970. Actually Earth Day began a year earlier with a former Pentecostal pastor, but that's another story.

Today there will be a virtual international conference called the Leaders Summit on Climate Summit,  hosted by the United States and stretching through tomorrow. After four disastrous years of environmental regression under President Voldemort the Biden administration is taking immediate steps to reclaim global leadership when it comes to the climate emergency. This is an encouraging development, to say the least, after the United States had withdrawn from the Paris Accord and weakened environmental laws under Whatshisname. 

The United States has already committed to doubling it's greenhouse emission reduction target and other countries, including Canada and  European Union nations,  have increased their efforts. 

Summit Objectives

Biden has urged the other leaders to use this summit as an opportunity to release their countries climate ambition and how they will take action to reduce emissions. The US is also expected to announce its ambitious 2030 emissions target as its new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement.

The main objectives of this summit are:

- Get the world's major economies to reduce emission in this decade while also getting the public and private sector involvement.
- Show how climate action can have economic and social benefits. Build new businesses and industries.
- Using the technology available to adapt to climate change but also reduce emissions. Use nature-based solutions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
- Protect lives and livelihoods by finding ways to adapt to climate change.

The US also wants to "reconvene the US-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate" that was started by former President Barack Obama in March 2009. It is a forum that gets together the 17 major economies that are responsible for approximately 80 percent of global emissions as well as global GDP.

We can pray for the outcome of these two days. knowing that they signal the concerted global commitment necessary for addressing climate change. That the United States wants to lead this effort is very encouraging. If we do believe that "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" we will pay attention what happens today, tomorrow, and in the days ahead. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Carbon Pricing and the Integrity of Creation

                                                     Erin O'Toole Carbon Pricing  Announcement 

 Earth Sunday, Earth Week, and Earth Day tomorrow. Yes, there is a reason for a few days of environmental and Creation-care related blog posts. 

A few days ago the Conservative Party of Canada announced that, if elected, it would bring in a form of carbon pricing to replace the current system used by the Liberal federal government. Carbon pricing charges greenhouse gas producing industries and consumers. and rewards those who develop a smaller carbon footprint. This is regularly called a carbon tax but the premise is that will be revenue neutral for the government, redistributing the revenue in the form of rebates to those who reduce emissions.

Through the years the federal Conservatives have steadfastly opposed carbon pricing, labelling it as a tax grab. Several Conservative provincial governments, including Alberta and Ontario, took the federal to court in opposition, and lost. Ontario spent $30 million in taxpayers money in this lawsuit in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that because climate change represents an existential threat to the well-being of all Canadians the federal government has the legal right to mitigate its causes. 

Are you yawning yet? The Conservative announcement proposed what amounts to a rewards system with the opportunity to give rebates which can be applied to specific purchases. While some see this as an encouraging step by a political party which has been reluctant to acknowledge the climate emergency most commentators suggest that it is an odd approach which would not be as effective as the one which already exists. Some say that it is gimmicky and would be difficult to implement, and it sure looks that way.

Conservative leader Erin O"Toole may be making an earnest effort here, but he has bigger problems. At the recent CPC convention the delegates defeated a resolution which contained the words “we recognize that climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act.” How is this possible in 2021? 

As a Christian I am convinced that all creatures are paying a terrible price for ignoring the climate crisis. The scientific consensus is that we have reached a tipping point for climate warming and species extinction.  We are undermining the integrity of Creation by our actions and inaction.. 

I am not partisan in my politics. I did not vote for the Liberals in the last election because they are not addressing the urgency of what it is the even greater pandemic of our time. This said, the "reward miles" program the Conservatives have proposed just isn't up to the challenge either. We do need governments at every level that will act decisively for this crucial moment and for the benefit of future generations. We must all do better, and act with courage.God help us all. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Feds, the Budget, and Green Hope

                                        Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers budget 

 Over the past year or so I've done my best not to gasp at the amount of COVID-related spending by the Ontario and Canadian governments. Yesterday we received the first federal budget in two years and discovered that our grandchildren will be hock forever. While the spending will continue to be staggering through this year are for a few to come, there are important initiatives, including a $17 billion commitment to addressing the climate emergency. According to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, "We are at a pivotal moment in the green transformation. "We can lead, or we can be left behind. Our government knows that the only choice for Canada is to be in the vanguard."

A CBC article about the "green" budget spending offers:

Freeland said the budget measures will help the government meet its greenhouse gas reductions targets under the Paris climate agreement, achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and preserve 25 per cent of land and marine conservation targets by 2025.But environmentalists said they fall short of the transformative change needed for Canada to become a climate leader.

Minister Freeland is correct in saying that we are at a pivotal moment when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, but we have been been laggards throughout the two Liberal terms, not at the vanguard. And just last Thursday a report by the Environmental Defence organization said that Canada subsidized the fossil fuel sector to the tune of $18 billion in 2020. It's not hard to do the math here and conclude that we aren't exactly leading the way. We aren't even treading water.  

Hey, I want to be a decent Christian and an earnest Canadian, giving the feds the benefit of the doubt on wanting to do the right things concerning the environment, particularly in this Earth Week. Unfortunately I'm dubious about any sort of conversion here, but my faith invites me to live in hope, so I'll endeavour to do so. Whatever choices I make as an individual, it will be governments, globally, which bring about the changes necessary to avert this crisis. In the case of Ontario, this will need to happen through the ballot box. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Evolution, Creation & Creator

                                                                 Artwork for a Song of Faith UCC

 We are not alone,

    we live in God’s world.

 We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God. 

from UCC New Creed  1968

It's hard to know where to begin in expressing annoyance with Ontario's Premier, Doug Ford. The disastrous announcement on Friday about COVID restrictions has drawn the ire of many, including a growing number of  those who voted for him. 

I don't have time to list all the reasons I figure he's not up for the job, but I will draw your attention to a news item from today about the application of fundamentalist Canada Christian College to become a university. Premier Ford has supported this application and spoke of it as almost a fait accompli  a few months ago in the Ontario legislature. The response was swift and vocal from a number of fronts, including former premier Kathleen Wynne. She asked "Why this government would extend the mandate of the most publicly and vocally homophobic man in Ontario? Why, in the name of all that is decent, would this minister validate the hateful, vicious, racist and homophobic rhetoric of Charles McVety by extending the reach of his Canada Christian College?"

The news today is that a decision will be announced soon about the possible change in status for the college, and it isn't looking good. In addition to the concerns about homophobia there is the fact that while CCC might choose to develop degree programs in biology it's theological stance is Creationist, that the world was made in six days, following a literal interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis. 

Not only is this unacceptable science, it is bad theology. Yesterday was Earth Sunday, a day to uphold the goodness of Creator and Creation, which might suggest  to some that all Christians share CCC's outlook. In the United Church we are part of widely held position that while God brought all life into being, the best science we have indicates that life has developed over millions of years through the process of evolution. Many denominations, including the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, have statements affirming that science and religion are not at odds regarding the development of life. 

You may recall that I was not impressed when Ford mentioned that CCC was going to become a university last November. Needless to say, I hope that it doesn't happen for a bunch of reasons. 

Finding ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery,

   of living things, diverse and interdependent,

   of complex patterns of growth and evolution,

   of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls,

we sing of God the Creator,

the Maker and Source of all that is.


Each part of creation reveals unique aspects of God the Creator,

   who is both in creation and beyond it.

All parts of creation, animate and inanimate, are related.

All creation is good.

We sing of the Creator,

   who made humans to live and move

   and have their being in God.

                  from Song of Faith United Church of Canada 2006

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Activism or Awe on Earth Sunday?

This is Earth Sunday and Thursday is Earth Day. Many denominations make an effort to recognize this day, but what do we choose, activism or awe. Fortunately this isn't an either/or situation, but an opportunity to recognize and engage in protecting Creation, along with declaring that "this is God's wondrous world."

It's fitting then, to note that today the US and China have jointly announced a commitment to address the climate emergency. Under the Emperor Trump this crisis didn't exist, but President Biden has moved quickly to re-engage with the the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and to work with other nations. According to the Aljazeera news agency: 

China and the United States, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, have agreed to cooperate with other countries to fight climate change. The joint statement on Sunday followed two days of talks between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart, John Kerry, in Shanghai.

“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” their statement said.The two countries will also continue to discuss “concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach”

For me this is literally an answer to prayer, and I know it is for many American Christians who understand that climate change is the most significant existential threat of our time, even greater than the COVID pandemic which Trump also chose to deny. We can hope that this goes beyond rhetoric to address the complexities of international cooperation and action. 

Meanwhile, please get outside on this beautiful day and savour the gifts of Spring. The Dawn Chorus was in full voice in the early hours, the trilliums are emerging, and the Creator deserves to be praised!

                                                  My worshipful walk at the Frink Centre early this morning 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Prince and His Funeral

THE FIRST LESSON  Ecclesiasticus 43. 11-26 Read by the Dean of Windsor

Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker; it shines with a supreme beauty, rounding the sky with its gleaming arc, a bow bent by the hands of the Most High. His command speeds the snow storm and sends the swift lightning to execute his sentence. To that end the storehouses are opened, and the clouds fly out like birds. By his mighty power the clouds are piled up and the hailstones broken small. The crash of his thunder makes the earth writhe, and, when he appears, an earthquake shakes the hills. At his will the south wind blows, the squall from the north and the hurricane. He scatters the snow-flakes like birds alighting; they settle like a swarm of locusts. The eye is dazzled by their beautiful whiteness, and as they fall the mind is entranced. He spreads frost on the earth like salt, and icicles form like pointed stakes. A cold blast from the north, and ice grows hard on the water, settling on every pool, as though the water were putting on a breastplate. He consumes the hills, scorches the wilderness, and withers the grass like fire. Cloudy weather quickly puts all to rights, and dew brings welcome relief after heat. By the power of his thought he tamed the deep and planted it with islands. Those who sail the sea tell stories of its dangers, which astonish all who hear them; in it are strange and wonderful creatures, all kinds of living things and huge sea-monsters. By his own action he achieves his end, and by his word all things are held together.

 I went for a walk in Prince Edward County very early this morning -- take that Doug Ford -- and saw virtually no humans but lots of birds as I rambled along. 

On my drive home I turned on the radio for the CBC news and was frustrated that it was the funeral for Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth. Of course I believe that Philip deserves a decent funeral and I was saddened to discover that after 73 years of marriage our monarch was sitting alone because he was the only person in her COVID bubble. I just didn't care about what was planned as a relatively brief and small ceremony, or so I thought.

It turns out the Duke of Edinburgh had been planning his own funeral for something like 18 years, down to the smallest details. He insisted that there be no homily or sermon, and no eulogies. It was mostly music, which he chose, and his selections for scripture. 


The Duke of Edinburgh requested that Psalm 104 should be set to music by William Lovelady. Originally composed as a cantata in three movements, it was first sung in honour of His Royal Highness's 75th Birthday.

My soul give praise unto the Lord of heaven, In majesty and honour clothed; The earth he made will not be moved, The seas he made to be its robe. Give praise. The waters rise above the highest mountain, And flow down to the vales and leas; At springs, wild asses quench their thirst, And birds make nest amid the trees. The trees the Lord has made are full of vigour, The fir tree is a home for storks; Wild goats find refuge in the hills, From foes the conies shelter in the rocks. My soul give praise unto the Lord of heaven, In majesty and honour clothed; The earth he made will not be moved, The seas he made to be its robe. Give praise. O Lord, how manifold is your creation, All things in wisdom you provide; You give your riches to the earth, And to the sea so great and wide. You take your creatures breath and life is ended, Your breath goes forth and life begins; Your hand renews the face of earth, Your praise my whole life I will sing. My soul give praise unto the Lord of heaven, In majesty and honour clothed; The earth he made will not be moved, The seas he made to be its robe. Give praise.

William Lovelady (b. 1945) abridged and arranged for choir and organ by James Vivian (b. 1974) with the composer's permission  Words from Psalm 104, adapted by Sam Dyer (b. 1945)

One of the pieces of music was a setting of my favourite psalm, which is 104, and it was beautiful. If I heard correctly, Philip commissioned this piece. And there was a scripture passage which sounded like something from the book of Job, yet wasn't entirely familiar to me. It was actually from the book of Ecclesiasticus, which is not in our Protestant bible (and not Ecclesiastes.) I found it upon my return home. Then there was the hymn Eternal Father Strong to Save which became important to me when I began my ministry in outport Newfoundland in 1980. 

I've included both the reading and the words for the music for your consideration. 

Well Prince Philip, you surprised me, and pleasantly so. Thank you, and rest in peace. 

1 Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm has bound the restless wave,

who bade the mighty ocean deep  its own appointed limits keep:

O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.

2 O Christ, whose voice the waters heard, and hushed their raging at thy word,

who walked upon the foaming deep, and calm amid the storm did sleep:

O hear us when we cry to thee  for those in peril on the sea.

3 O Holy Spirit, who didst brood  upon the chaos dark and rude,

and bade its angry tumult cease, and gave for wild confusion, peace:

O hear us when we cry to thee  for those in peril on the sea.

4 O Trinity of love and power, all travellers guard in danger's hour.

From rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe'er they go:

thus evermore shall rise to thee glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Hamnet & Judith and Our Plague


Yesterday I finished reading the award-winning novel Hamnet and Judith by Maggie O"Farrell. It is another book which was written prior to the pandemic yet speaks to issues we have been facing during the past 13 months, including death and the resulting grief. The title refers to the twin children of William Shakespeare, one of whom, the son,died at the age of eleven. The cause of death is unknown but O'Farrell attributes it to the bubonic plague, which was commonplace in that era.

The writing is powerful throughout, and the description of the grief of Hamnet's mother Anne, or Agnes, Hathaway, as well as William, is so real. Both parents are haunted by their loss, and O' Farrell tells the story so that Shakespeare wrote his play, Hamlet, as a way of working through his grief, The names Hamnet and Hamlet were interchangeable in that time, and the play was written about four years after their beloved son's death.

Agnes in this story is a confident, sought after, intuitive healer who cannot save her own child. She and William encounter the figurative ghost of their boy in what become the excruciating events of everyday life. The play, with the apparition of the elder Hamlet is both witness and catharsis as death is named and explored. Shakespeare's stage notes refer to the deceased king as "ghost."

It is, alas, the priest who offers religious platitudes which Agnes rejects. Others are tongue-tied or overly solicitous. Both of the parents are profoundly changed by their loss. 

As grim as this may sound, this is a novel worth reading. All of us are affected by grief along the way -- it is inescapable and we all must frame our narrative to address it. And the pandemic has brought home the tenuous nature of life and our mortality which we are often inclined to ignore.  

I think of a prayer I used often at funerals and memorials with these concluding phrases:

And since we have been but a hair's breadth from death since birth,

teach us, O God, how breathlessly close we are to life 

-- the life in all it's fullness, which Christ alone can give. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

World Art Day & Spirituality

                                          The Starry Night -- June 1889 --- Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is Unesco World Art Day, which intrigues me. Humans have created art for thousands of years and cave paintings in locations around the planet convey a spiritual presence which those who've seen them describe as akin to stepping into a cathedral. 

Some of you will know that my undergraduate degree was in art history and that as soon as I had the capability to share art images in worship, including as sermon illustrations, I did so. I realize that my first use of visual images was nearly 30 years ago using an overhead projector like those used in school classrooms at that time. Sometimes I showed depictions of the biblical stories, both historical and contemporary. I also shared images which would evoke emotions and spiritual responses even though they were not overtly religious. 

As serendipity or providence would have it, I came upon an article today in the New York Times about Johanna Bonger, the woman who married Theo van Gogh, brother of the renowned Vincent van Gogh It's common knowledge that the brothers were close, despite the life-long emotional challenges Vincent experienced. Theo was several years younger and a successful art dealer who supported the penniless Vincent for a decade before his death. Theo rushed to Vincent's side when he was dying of what may or may not have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Vincent was only 37, but a few months later Theo died at age 33 leaving behind his young wife, Jo, and an infant child they had name Vincent. 

As much as I've read about Vincent Van Gogh and Theo I was not aware that it was Jo who set out to nurture the artistic legacy of her brother-in-law, who had no success while he was alive. Despite her grief and no training as an art critic or dealer she determinedly brought Vincent's work before critics. She fell heir to hundreds of his paintings, and she also curated his correspondence with Theo to help create the persona of the imaginative and emotionally tortured artist. Jo had actually admired Vincent's The Starry Night painting when Theo felt that it was a disturbing reminder of his brother's descent into mental illness.Initially critics dismissed what may be his best recognized painting as well. 

An aspect of Jo's determination may have been her affinity with Vincent's spirituality and sense of social justice. Vincent had first studied for the ministry and worked with impoverished miners and farmers. As a churchgoer Jo developed her own sense of social responsibility which is reflected in Vincent's early work. Despite lots of resistance Jo persisted with critics and carefully shepherded Vincent's legacy. All the more remarkable given that she and Theo were married only 21 months. 

I appreciate the article, The Woman Who Made van Gogh, by Russell Shorto. The insights fascinate me, especially today. 

                                    The Potato Eaters -- April 1885 -- Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Mourning the Loss of Environmental Programs At Laurentian U.


                                                              Lake Ramsay, in the heart of Sudbury

1 Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care:

gift of great wonder, ours to surrender,  trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

3 Let there be greening, birth from the burning, water that blesses and air that is sweet,

health in God's garden, hope in God's children, regeneration that peace will complete.

                                               Touch the Earth Lightly -- Voices United 307

When we moved to Sudbury in Northern Ontario in 1988 the environmental rehabilitation initiative to repair what many described as the moonscape of the degradation and destruction of vegetation  caused by acid rain was ten years old. The mining companies whose smelters  released the suphuric acid worked in conjunction with governments and environmental scientists at Laurentian University to mitigate emissions, neutralize the sulphuric acid in soil and lakes, and replant with native species. It has been hugely successful and by the time we left in 1999, eleven years later, the outcome was evident.

For the April Earth Sunday before my departure I contacted one of those Laurentian environmental scientists seeking some "before and after" photos of areas within the city of Sudbury and the surrounding region which I showed the St. Andrew's congregation as I spoke about caring for Creation. Of course we all went about day-to-day activities and weren't aware of the rebirth of the scarred landscape. These photos of two decades of restored hillsides were quite dramatic. One choir member who had lived in Sudbury through his 65 years admitted that seeing those photos had moved him to tears of gratitude. I was in Sudbury the summer of the 40th anniversary of this program, nearly 20 years after our departure and I was really impressed by the positive changes in that time. We also visited Killarney Provincial Park, a refuge while we lived there, even though most of the lakes had become lifeless because of acid rain. They too have been revived. 

All this to say that I am dismayed that the severe cuts announced yesterday at Laurentian University - 100 professors and staff, and about a third of programs -- will include environmental biology programs which are recognized around the world. The mismanagement which has led to these draconian measures is appalling, as is the lack of involvement by the provincial government in decisions which will also affect unique French-language and Indigenous programs at Laurentian. In Southern Ontario we are often oblivious to what goes on in the North of our province, and I wonder if such sweeping changes would have been allowed at institutions such as Queen's or Western. 

We can all be grateful for the contributions of these environmental programs in restoring ecological health and balance in the Sudbury region. They deserve so much better treatment and we all lose because of their closure.  

This image illustrates the pathway for acid rain in our environment: (1) Emissions of SO2 and NOx are released into the air, where (2) the pollutants are transformed into acid particles that may be transported long distances. (3) These acid particles then fall to the earth as wet and dry deposition (dust, rain, snow, etc.) and (4) may cause harmful effects on soil, forests, streams, and lakes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hymns and Song When We Face an Unknown Future

When We Face an Unknown Future (a free hymn)

BEACH SPRING D (“God Whose Giving Knows No Ending”)

When we face an unknown future that we can’t imagine yet,
when the closeness we have treasured turns from blessing into threat—
As we miss our friends and loved ones, as we crave community,
may we look, God, in this season, for a whole new way to be.

Jesus faced the lonely desert as a time to look within.
There he met such trial and conflict; there he knew you were with him.
In this time of separation when we miss the life we’ve known,
may we hear your voice proclaiming: “I am here! You’re not alone.”

May we cherish those around us as we never have before.
May we think much less of profit; may we learn what matters more.
May we hear our neighbors’ suffering; may we see our neighbors’ pain.
May we learn new ways of offering life and health and hope again.

God, when illness comes to threaten, and when so much here goes wrong,
may we know this thing for certain— that your love is sure and strong.
You’re beside us in our suffering— and when times are surely tough,
we may face an unknown future, but it’s filled, Lord, with your love.

Tune: The Sacred Harp, 1844; attributed to Benjamin Franklin White
Text: Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

 I haven't given any thought to the possibility of hymns written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic until reading a Religion Unplugged piece about the music which has been created over the past year. Here is an excerpt: 

The pandemic has prompted composers to create new sacred music of all kinds — hymns, liturgical music, prayers, praise music and more. These are not limited to one religion, but have cropped up in Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant circles.

And they span the globe, leaping cultural and language barriers via social media and the internet:

•       In Japan, a Buddhist priest named Chiba Kenjō from the Rinzai Zen tradition collaborated with electronic musicians to create a piece of sacred music titled “Repel” intended to ritually ward off the coronavirus.

•       In India, a group of Hindu women gathered to sing an “aarti,” a form of sung worship, with a chorus of “coronavirus go away.”

•       In England and Scotland, the Methodist Church is linking home worshippers to newly-written COVID hymns, including “When We Face an Unknown Future” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

These “COVID hymns” are an attempt to cope with uncertain times and express that which may be too painful or difficult to express in plain words.

Here is the link to the Religion Unplugged piece which includes it's own link to an international musical event based on Psalm 147


Jesus the Essential Worker

Jesus the essential worker never made a lot of money

Rode a bike and fed the hungry, carrying deliveries.
Jesus the essential worker drove a truck and dropped off boxes,
Ran a shelter for the homeless, caring for the least of these.

Jesus the essential worker made the beds and changed the dressings,
Cleaned another ventilator, wiped another toilet down.
Jesus the essential worker mopped the floor and stocked the freezer,
Waited for a bus to take her to the poorer part of town.

You can see it in the numbers: some lives matter more than others.
Every day it makes me wonder who’s essential, what that means.
We could choose to feed the hungry, heal the sick and love our neighbors.
We could be essential workers, building up the world we dream.