Wednesday, June 30, 2021

O Canada -- A Day for Reflection?

Will I celebrate Canada Day tomorrow? 

 I've always been a proud Canadian, although not in a "my country, love it or leave it" way. This is a physically beautiful land, we've made important decisions along the way regarding health care and social services for all, and while our democracy may be imperfect I don't take electing public officials for granted. I still get misty-eyed when singing our sensibly revised national anthem and I admire those who have served their country in conflicts around the world. Each year we put up our Canadian flag in the front yard. 

Over time I've had to acknowledge that the Canada which has allowed me to flourish as a white male born in the second half of the 20th century is not the same country which others have experienced. During my lifetime governments have apologized for the mistreatment and incarceration of Chinese and Japanese immigrants. We've acknowledged our destructive prejudices against LGBTQ2S persons with laws and practices which destroyed lives. We rejected Jewish refugees during WW2, children and women and men who died when they were returned to Europe. Canada has its own history of slavery and systemic racism. 

I am not proud of any of this and it has tempered my patriotism, to be sure. I'm reluctant to rank these sins against brothers and sisters,, but perhaps the worst is the way we have harmed and betrayed First Peoples in the vast area we call Canada. Treaties were established only to be broken and land was stolen. Children were forcibly removed from their families and their innocence was violated by church and state. Missing Indigenous women and children were considered disposable by our dominant culture and those entrusted with investigating their disappearance failed.

Most media outlets no longer allow comments on Indigenous stories because the racist responses are so vile. Many Indigenous communities do not have adequate housing or potable water. One of the denominations which ran Residential Schools can't bring itself to apologize, even though repentance and reconciliation are at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I listened to an Indigenous leader invite Canadians to observe this July 1st as a day of mourning, and I ask myself why I wouldn't. I'm not impressed by the leader of the Regressive Conservatives, Erin O"Toole, positioning himself as a defender of the nation, the true patriot political leader.  Why did he choose to take this stance during this time of reckoning and reflection? Surely this is a dog-whistle move for those who want to uphold their colonialist views.

Here's a thought. We can reflect on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We might read the perspective of the former Moderator of the United Church, Stan McKay, who was the first and only Indigenous person elected to this role. Perhaps we could read the apologies the United Church has made to Indigenous peoples. 

We put up a flag outside our home designed by Kwakwak'wkw artist Curtis Wilson which incorporates his designs into the flag which adopted in 1965. I do hope for reconciliation based on honesty and honour. 

Stan McKay

United Church Apologies

Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Act 


                                                                  Curtis Wilson 1980 -2019

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Pants on Fire!


But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d] language from your mouth. 

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.

                              Colossians 3:8-9

"Liar Liar, Pants on Fire!" 

                     Classic Schoolyard Taunt

An impressive thunder-boomer shut down the power here for a couple of hours delaying today's blog entry. All four rain barrels replenished, buckets and watering cans filled, and the raised beds thoroughly soaked. Hurray!

The other day the former, twice-impeached president of the United States came up twice in conversation in our home.  Ruth noted this because the man who will likely go down in history as the worst president ever and perhaps even as a traitor to his country just doesn't interest us anymore.

Then I noticed that Trump's former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, claimed during a speaking gig that she never lied in her role. This was simply untrue --  some would say a lie. As an example, she once maintained that Trump never downplayed the Coronavirus, even though he did so repeatedly and even admitted to doing so. Her behaviour was so dishonest during her time as press secretary that she received a "pants on fire" rating from the Politifact organization. 

McEnany assured her audience that she wouldn't lie because she was a person of faith, the same claim made by Sarah Huckabee Sanders who was one of her predecessors in the role. Both of them enabled a leader who lied with a breathtaking ease and regularity. After Trump's  term ended those who were keeping a tally identified a total of more than 30,000 false or misleading statements during his four years as president of the United States. This amounted to roughly 21 false statements per day.

I figure that all of us lie to varying degrees, with the proverbial white lies greasing the machinery of everyday life. I wonder how many people have slid out of Zoom calls during the past 15 months with a fib about why they were leaving.

Lies are told not to avoid hurting feelings or to protect people from painful information. Sometimes we lie to cover our heinies in awkward situations and even though we teach our children and grandchildren the importance of truth-telling it can be a matter of "do as I say, not as I do." Just because the lies seem small or expedient it doesn't make them okay, does it?

Telling the truth is a challenging discipline in our faith, and lying about not lying is not the way to go. Not all lies are equal but the little ones can lead to the big ones.

 At times it seemed as though Trump lied just for the hell of knowing he could get away with it. Power can do that to people. The whoppers told by the president led to massive loss of life and a shameful insurrection that the United States may never live down.The country seems to be in the grip of a culture of falsehood and deceit which leads to suspicion and simmering anger.

The reality is that this can happen in the church of the Body of Christ as well. I have been involved in mediations in congregations where it is clear that some people are lying and bearing false witness against one another. How did they get to this point. It's sad.

These verses in Colossians invite us to choose a better way, Christ's way. 

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

                          Colossians 3:12-14

Monday, June 28, 2021

Meal Time

                                                                                     Loaves and Fishes

 I saw a tweet on the weekend in which the writer claimed that every chapter in the gospel of Luke includes a meal. I've often said that Jesus did his best work at meal tables and picnics but this claim caught me off guard. Could it be true? It is a bit of a stretch because but there is a lot of talk about food in Luke, and some scholars suggest that shared meals are the organizing principle in this gospel. There are at least ten distinct stories of shared meals and six of them are specific to Luke. This is a big deal because Luke shares so much source material with Mark (the first gospel written) and Matthew yet he offers these additional meal accounts. All four gospels offer a version of the miracle of  the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the Last Supper. 

As we have a glimpse of life after COVID-19 many of us are looking forward to the shared meals we've lived without for months and months. Some have been the biggies such as Christmas and Easter, along with birthdays and anniversaries. We've also yearned for the dinner parties and the casual communal meals with loved ones and friends. 

Many meal ministries have been inventive in making sure that people are fed, but they haven't been able to offer sit-down meals through much of the pandemic. Ruth will leave shortly to work at the lunch ministry from Bridge St. UC but these are bag lunches presented with a minimum of conversation. It's often in the "breaking of bread" at table that meaningful 

I've appreciated that Rev. Isaac and Trenton United have figured out how to celebrate the sacrament of communion several times during the past 15 months but out of necessity it has been quite restricted. We can look forward to the opportunity to sharing this meal before long, we pray. 

                                                                Last Supper -- Paulo Medina 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

National Canoe Day & Indigenous Peoples


Yesterday was Natoonal Canoe Day and last evening I got thinking about our personal history of paddling. My first canoe trip was through the Christian camp which was the setting for the deepening of a faith which I had been nurtured in since birth.

Ruth and I first paddled a canoe together 47 years ago and we are blessed to be healthy enough to venture out regularly, including since the end of March this year. Now it's more likely to be in our kayaks than one of our canoes, as with so many others. It is actually noteworthy to see a canoe on a vehicle roof now.

Both canoes and kayaks are gifts to the world from Indigenous peoples. Kayaks were first designed to be more enclosed against frigid water, although a lot of what are sold as kayaks today are more like pointy bathtubs. Canoes could be created to hold one person or many. The paddling crews of canoes adapted by the Hudson Bay Company and other enterprises traveled across what we now know as Canada, trading for significant cargoes of furs. The unfortunate reality is that a craft perfectly designed for the challenges of wilderness rivers gave Europeans the opening for colonization which led to the sorry mess we find ourselves in today.

It's telling that Canada has issued a number of stamps through the years which feature kayaks and canoes. Hardly any of them include, let alone feature, the Indigenous peoples who designed these marvels of watercraft engineering. The settler mentality appropriated both. 

There is a stamp which depicts a Quebecois legend of the "witched canoe" with a Satan-like figure looming over a flying birchbark voyageur canoe. I can't help but look at it and think that it represents what settlers, including so many who came in the name of the Christian religion, brought with them. 

Do I still love canoes and kayaks? Of course I do, and I figure that we should be giving credit where credit is do. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Right Relationships in 2021

The Canadian news media are now awash with reporting and personal stories regarding the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves containing the remains of Indigenous children who died while held at Residential Schools. I've already noted that public response is as though this is revelatory, the first evidence of the grim consequences of the cruelty and cultural genocide of the school system. This outpouring of regret and contrition is necessary  but it reveals that Canadians have largely ignored the apologies of Christian denominations and governments going back more than 30 years. More importantly, it is as though the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with its revelations and Calls to Action didn't register either. 

In previous blog entries I have shared the United Church apologies to Indigenous peoples, the first and general apology from 1986 and the more specific Residential School apology from 1998.  Here is a letter from UCC Moderator Richard Bott addressed to clergy regarding recent discoveries. I appreciate that our denomination continues to find its way toward reconciliation. I've included the link to the UCC Healing Fund as well. The Healing Fund was established in 1994 to support healing initiatives for survivors of the residential school system 

June 25, 2021

Dear Colleagues in Ministry:

I am writing you as the truth about unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools continues to emerge, confirming what many people in Indigenous communities have said and known for years.

I know that you and members of your congregations have questions about what the church is doing or will be doing in response. The General Secretary and I are working with the Indigenous Ministries and Justice staff to reach out to the communities affected by the 15 schools we operated. We want to ensure that our denomination’s response is firmly grounded in the principles of right relationship that we seek to live. This is ongoing work that requires our support and participation. As the conversations continue, I will keep you updated.

This is a time for The United Church of Canada to listen rather than prescribe. The pain in Indigenous communities and churches is immense. I ask you to continue to hold Indigenous members of the United Church and their families and communities in prayer and ask members of your community of faith to do the same. 


The Right Reverend Richard Bott
Moderator / Modérateur
The United Church of Canada / L’Église Unie du Canada

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Trellis of Religion


Tomato Trellis -- not ours!

Remember when we were asking if Spring would ever arrive during late April and into May? Then the temperature rose, we noted the heat, and everything began to grow like crazy. Our vegetables have flourished despite the paucity of rain thanks to watering. Our tomato plants are staked and caged, our peas are climbing a net, and beans scaling a trellis. Without the support they would tumble over and simply not produce to the same extent. We also have a trellis for a clematis which is spectacular every year if we trim it and train it. 

The notion of the trellis got me thinking about the spiritual life. I recalled that the Latin and Greek words for "trellis" are the same as for "rule", as in the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict was a sixth century Italian monk who created a framework for living in community in a practical and prayerful way. There are directions regarding listening to God and to others, and on the importance of practicing hospitality. It became the rule for the dozen or so communities Benedict established and for other religious orders through the centuries. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton lived by Benedict's Rule and taught it. 

There is an insightful book called Benedict's Dharma in which several Buddhist writers reflect on the Rule, and the first chapter is called The Trellis. They explore how structure in the spiritual life matters and that even though our "trellises" can give us form they can allow us to be fruitful and ultimately don't define us. 

In recent weeks we have become painfully aware of bad religion here in Canada. Destructive rules and structures resulted in the complicity of church and state in genocide for Indigenous peoples. This was a hierarchical abomination which resulted in inter-generational destruction. People followed rules and laws which were contrary to the gospel and as a society we must repent and make amends.

Aware of this, I am still committed to religion, not as the restrictive gatekeeper of my life, but as the structure on which my spirituality and Christian faith grows. For all the flaws and fault of religion and in my own life this is still the structure by which I  still hope I will flourish and bear the fruits of compassion, love, and justice, as a follower of Jesus, the Christ. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Time for Reckoning & Reconciliation With Indigenous Peoples


                                       A 1931 photo of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. 


This past Sunday was the Indigenous Day of Prayer for some Christian congregations and Monday was National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. Today we will hear a grim body count, the outcome of a search for the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the site of a Residential School in Saskatchewan. Word is that the number will exceed the 215 found in British Columbia a discovery which shocked Canadians just a few weeks ago.

I must admit that I am perplexed that this is a revelation to so many of us. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission  which concluded its work in 2015 identified records of more than 3,000 child deaths in Residential Schools but felt that the number was at least twice that because of shoddy record-keeping, and perhaps as high as 25,000 according to Murray Sinclair who chaired the commission and is a former judge and Canadian senator. Ponder that number: 25,000 children snatched from their families by the government to become prisoners in church-run schools, never to return, never having the opportunity for meaningful lives. It was barbaric by any standard. When children died families were usually not informed directly with limited information sent to the regional Indian agent. In many instances the deaths were not recorded or the notation was a first name only, the English name imposed by the school authorities. 

It's obvious that for all the thorough consultation done across the country for several years most Canadians just didn't pay attention to what was revealed or the ensuing recommendations from the Commission. 

                    Residential school students at a cemetery Northern Quebec November 3, 1946. 

                                                       PHOTO BY ARCHIVES DESCHÂTELETS

I saw yesterday that the United States government has announced that it will do a similar search for graves, and cites what is happening here in Canada. While these are important initiatives I hope we understand that this is not the equivalent of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Identifying graves reminds us of our shame, but there is so much which must be done for those who are alive now, including survivors of the schools and there families. 

As a nation we have apologized, as have a number of Christian denominations, for these schools. It is appalling the the Roman Catholic church refuses to do so. We are now in a time of reckoning which must result in tangible reconciliation. 

We can pray for all those whose wounds have been reopened by these revelations. 

Here is the United Church of Canada apology regarding Residential Schools from 1998:

To former students of United Church Indian Residential Schools, and to their families and communities: 

From the deepest reaches of your memories, you have shared with us your stories of suffering from our church’s involvement in the operation of Indian Residential Schools. You have shared the personal and historic pain that you still bear, and you have been vulnerable yet again. You have also shared with us your strength and wisdom born of the life-giving dignity of your communities and traditions and your stories of survival. 

In response to our church’s commitment to repentance, I spoke these words of apology on behalf of the General Council Executive on Tuesday, October 27, 1998: 

“As Moderator of The United Church of Canada, I wish to speak the words that many people have wanted to hear for a very long time. On behalf of The United Church of Canada, I apologize for the pain and suffering that our church’s involvement in the Indian Residential School system has caused. We are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation has perpetrated on Canada’s First Nations peoples. For this we are truly and most humbly sorry. 

“To those individuals who were physically, sexually, and mentally abused as students of the Indian Residential Schools in which The United Church of Canada was involved, I offer you our most sincere apology. You did nothing wrong. You were and are the victims of evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused. 

“We know that many within our church will still not understand why each of us must bear the scar, the blame for this horrendous period in Canadian history. But the truth is, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors, and therefore, we must also bear their burdens.” 

Our burdens include dishonouring the depths of the struggles of First Nations peoples and the richness of your gifts. We seek God’s forgiveness and healing grace as we take steps toward building respectful, compassionate, and loving relationships with First Nations peoples. 

We are in the midst of a long and painful journey as we reflect on the cries that we did not or would not hear, and how we have behaved as a church. As we travel this difficult road of repentance, reconciliation, and healing, we commit ourselves to work toward ensuring that we will never again use our power as a church to hurt others with attitudes of racial and spiritual superiority. 

“We pray that you will hear the sincerity of our words today and that you will witness the living out of our apology in our actions in the future.” 

The Right Rev. Bill Phipps General Council Executive 1998 The United Church of Canada

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Hope Muscle and Vaccines

I wait for the 
Lord, my soul waits,

   and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

from Psalm 130 NRSV

At the beginning of last week those of us who had dutifully received a first COVID-19 vaccination were trying to figure out why we were being penalized, left off the list of those eligible for a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna. I was trying my best not to be glum or angry as more and more people I knew were getting their second-jab appointments, including Ruth, my wife. Of course I wasn't annoyed with them, and I knew my time would come. My self pep-talk included the reminder that originally our first shots were to happen in June until the timetable moved up.This was FOMO (fear of missing out) and I needed to relax. 

On Friday morning I prayed that I would stay patient, and I came upon the intro for a podcast interview with NPR's On Being host, Krista Tippett. In the interview she said that hope "is a muscle that keeps us moving and acting and doing."  I really liked the notion that hope can be developed like my paddling or cycling muscles and that it can grow stronger through discipline and repetition. I'm not the most patient guy but I was certainly aware that others might be a higher priority, so I could just keep working out my hope. 

That afternoon I looked at the Quinte Health Care "dashboard" for an update on the numbers of COVID cases in the region (virtually none) and saw a banner advertising vaccination appointments which had just been made available. Even though I was away from home I proceeded to book my second jab on my phone. Four days later -- yesterday -- I got my Moderna second shot and could hardly believe it as I walk away a few minutes later. 

I liked that my vaccine certificate says it was an "intramuscular" dose. And as I write Ruth is getting her second vaccination. 

While we figure we will exercise caution for the rest of 2021 we also know that two weeks down the road possibilities will open for us, including reconnecting with two of our grandchildren with whom we've had limited in-person contact. This fills us with hope and joy. 

Since about 20% of Canadians have received two vaccinations I imagine some of you are chafing at the "hurry up and wait" realities of trying to book an appointment. Hang in there and exercise that hope muscle. Millions of doses are wending their way to Canada, and you will be a recipient before long! 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A Prayer for those "Living Rough"

                                                     Trinity Bellwoods Park today

I invite you to say a prayer for the wellbeing of those who have been "living rough" in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto. City police are at the park this morning with eviction notices for a group of people who are living in tents and makeshift structures. We would call them homeless, but they see the park as home, with neighbours and a sense of belonging, however temporary.

There are hundreds of people in Canada's largest city who choose not to enter the shelter system for a variety of reasons. The proximity to others which can lead to disputes and violence, concerns about infectious illnesses, regimentation, are deterrents to many. For some with mental health challenges and addictions the prospect of being in a shelter is intolerable. And as advocates for the unhoused regularly point out, the claims that there are enough shelter spaces for everyone who needs one doesn't always jibe with the day-to-day reality.of availability. 

These evictions may be necessary because of issues such as safety -- there have been a number of fatal fires in encampments -- and hygiene. It is not unreasonable for those who have homes in the immediate area to want to feel safe, although I've heard no reports of negative incidents in the vicinity.  Just the same, they are "lose lose" situations. The police have been heavy-handed at times when it comes to clearing camps, but they will always seem heartless in this role. This always feels like control rather than justice. The encampments aren't a long-term solution, so ensuring that the services necessary for those who reside in them, and the provision of safe and affordable housing must be high priorities. 

I know that faith-based ministries have been involved with those who live on the margins in Toronto, including those living rough. These folk are people with names and who deserve to experience the love of God through the compassion of others.

Wherever we live we need to be aware of who is doing this necessary work, whether it is providing food or housing or advocacy. May the Christ who directed us to see him in the homeless and hungry be with those who struggle for dignity and those who walk with them. 

An update: Yesterday there was what seems to have been an excessive display of force in Trinity Bellwoods with more than 100 police officers and security guards arriving for the eviction. This for about two dozen residents of the encampment. A journalist had camera equipment confiscated, an intimidation tactic. The city did promise to find permanent housing for those who were forced to leave and nearly all departed peacefully. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Not Too "Up Close & Personal" Worship


Yesterday we went to church. To be more accurate, we travelled to Trenton where we gathered with other members of our Christian community for the experience of worship. It was a beautiful morning, which was ideal because we met outside, in the church parking lot no less. The TUC council has deliberated about how to resume worship after the required provincial shut-down following Easter Sunday. Some people wanted to gather again, but not inside. Some were dubious about the challenges of being outdoors adjacent to a busy street. In the end a compromise of alternating indoor and outdoor services was struck. 

So there we were in the parking lot, carefully distanced and still wearing masks, even though the latter probably wasn't necessary because we were outside.  The music and message were meaningful, as they are when worship is online (yesterday's service was also recorded and shared).  It was the intangibles of coming together which were striking. Before worship commenced we sang Happy Birthday to Rev. Isaac, a happy moment. During the service there were a few chuckles and when we made the sign of peace we tried to figure out who everyone was with masks on, hair longer, and dye jobs long gone! There were about ten children in an activity area beneath some shade trees and it was a delight to see them busily at work with crafts and using sidewalk chalk on the pavement. Oh yes, we actually sang the hymns, albeit with masks on. 

We were participants in this service as well as during the shoulder periods before and after. People spoke before and after, catching up on life, respecting the guidelines for distancing. Some present hadn't attended in-person worship since March 2020, even though we had several periods of indoor worship during the past 15 months, so this was a homecoming. 

I appreciate that every congregation has been required to make difficult decisions regarding in-person worship based on location in hotspots and sanctuary size. I applaud the Trenton UC council for doing the difficult work of discernment about what to do in their situation. It has required creativity when everyone is COVID-weary, and this has been a roller coaster ride,  but it has made a difference to the health of the congregation. 

I have always maintained that gathering for worship is the "heart and lungs" of a community of faith. I certainly felt that yesterday. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Indigenous Day of Prayer


                                                                Rev. Mitchell Anderson

This is the Indigenous Day of Prayer for the United Church of Canada, the Sunday before National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), which is described as "an opportunity to celebrate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples’ values, customs, languages, and culture"

An aspect of our respectful and prayerful response today can  be listening to Indigenous voices. Below is a piece written by the Rev. Mitchell Anderson for the United Church of Canada which explores issues of justice and reconciliation. I encourage you to read it today. 

 Published On: June 16, 2021

Last year I noticed someone regularly going to the gym the same time as me. He wore a hat with the former logo of the Cleveland baseball team. This logo was an offensive and stereotypical depiction of an Indigenous man, and the name for the Cleveland team was also offensive, as team names in other sports have been. As a Dene man, I have rejoiced as the Edmonton CFL team, the Washington NFL team, the Cleveland baseball team, and more have stopped using names and practices that are offensive to Indigenous nations. These decisions were the fruit of decades of dialogue and pressure, but a real catalyst event occurred in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and a renewed attention to questions of racial justice for Black communities. While that work continues, I still celebrate as an Indigenous person and a sports fan that we have set aside some of these team names and logos.

Last summer in a Facebook group for sharing dënesułiné language and culture the question was posed about how we might express that Black lives matter in Dene. One of the suggestions was dënë zené daghéna hádorilʔi – literally “we want Black people to live.” To express this as Indigenous people in our own languages is important because it recognizes that Indigenous justice and reconciliation can only take place in ways that ensure that Black lives matter. Our movements for justice are linked. And sadly sometimes we see them as being in conflict, as if in church or society gains for Indigenous peoples can only come at the expense of Black peoples or the other way around. With this mindset of scarcity we end up seeing ourselves in competition with one another.

Scripture tells again and again of God’s intention to heal our ethnic divisions and tensions. In writing to the church in Ephesus the writer emphasized a point throughout scripture that Jesus Christ is our peace, and through his blood on the cross he reconciles divided peoples into one (Eph. 2:11-18). The Spirit moved powerfully to compel the early church to welcome people regardless of ethnic background (Acts 10:44-48), including an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). God has purchased with the blood of Christ for Godself people from every tribe and tongue and nation and people (Rev. 5:9); God promises to make a house of prayer for all peoples (Isa. 56:7) ending former hostilities and divisions. I believe that movements for reconciliation and justice for Indigenous nations should include and support our belief that Black lives matter, and so on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day as I celebrate our work for justice I will say thank you to the movement of Black lives for raising all kinds of concerns of racial justice. And I will say proudly in the language of my people that dënë zené daghéna hádorilʔi, we want Black people to live.

— Mitchell Anderson is a Dene man and lead minister at St. Paul’s United Church, Saskatoon.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Father's Day & Faithfulness

Through the decades both Mother's Day and Father's Day have been acknowledged in many churches. Even though I think mothers and fathers should be honoured -- hey, it's a biblical commandment -- it's often felt like the tail wagging the dog, with the commercial rah-rah seeping into services of worship. This must have been hurtful for those who wanted to be parents but couldn't for various reasons, or for those who had fraught relationships with parents. Fathers Day was always the less important of the two anyway, with moms getting the prime billing. 
In anticipation of Fathers Day, which is tomorrow, I want to acknowledge our son, Isaac, who is an exceptional dad, in my estimation. Isaac is a United Church minister in the congregation we now attend. He is diligent, creative, and pastoral. His deep Christian faith is evident in everything he does. 

Isaac is also committed to work/life balance, so his two young children and his wife are priorities. He is both playful and patient with his kids and I admire his approach to parenting, which involves plenty of presence.  I think I was a loving parent to our three children but I was immersed in very active congregations, as well as the wider community when they were young. I worked from dawn until past dusk far too many days and it was Ruth, my wife, who was the glue of family life. 

It is so tempting for clergy to become overly involved in their congregational and to take their families for granted. Folk have a tendency to shrug their shoulders and reward the imbalance.In some instances congregations make the right noises about balance but have expectations which are impossibly high for their clergy. I don't remember being asked if I was spending enough time with my family by those who were responsible for my care and feeding in congregations. 

Well done, Ike, for being a "good and faithful servant" as a father, a husband, and as a pastor. Oh yes, happy birthday as well! You are loved and admired.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jesus was a Refugee


When Jesus was a refugee, Egypt took him in-- 

gave safety from King Herod and shelter from the wind. 

When Jesus was a refugee he lived among the poor. 

I see him then-- I see him now. He's knocking on my door.

 For Jesus is a refugee and if I take him in, 

I see the suffering through his eyes and learn to be like him

                           When Jesus Was a Refugee -- Dan Damon

This is World Refugee Week and not surprisingly we've been hearing the grim statistics about refugees, migrants, and displaced persons around the world. The United Nations estimates that there are more than 80 million people who fit into these categories, the most in human history and roughly one percent of the population of the planet. 

We've also been told that more than 600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in less than half this year, with half a million refugees and asylum seekers living in terrible conditions in Libya. In the United States there is no longer an obsession with "we're gonna build that wall!" but the Biden administration is warning migrants from Central America to stay where they are, despite their desperation. 

                                                    Asylum Seekers on the Mediterranean

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the the situation even more dire as countries around the world have closed their borders and reduced quotas of asylum seekers. Few people flee their homelands by choice, but everything from war and political unrest, to economic privation, to domestic violence or physical attacks because of sexual orientation, compels them to be on the move. In recent decades the number of climate refugees has been on the rise. 

This all seems bleak, yet those of us who live in relatively stable and prosperous countries can encourage our governments to take the moral high road and welcome those who need our assistance, including welcoming them to our shores. 

Communities of faith, including churches, were instrumental in bringing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada a few years ago. We have been gratified to see that the majority have prospered here, returning to physical and psychological health, finding employment and educational possibilities.

This week reminds us that the need and the opportunity are still real.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Smellfungus and the Sermon on the Mount

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

                                   Matthew 7:1-5 NRSV

During our Trenton United Church study group on the Sermon on the Mount using Amy-Jill Levine's excellent book of the same name we received many of her insights into verses and passages we may have read for a lifetime. One was regarding Jesus' often misunderstood teaching on not judging others. This has always seemed both hopeful and baffling, at least to me. We make judgments every day which are necessary, everything from entering an intersection while driving to weighing moral circumstances which are choices between good and evil. It would be naive to suggest that we can live without elements of judgment.

Levine suggests that Jesus is speaking about the fault-finding which can be so destructive, including in communities of faith. I thought about all this again when I came upon a word I'd never heard before which is "smellfungus." 

It was coined in the 18th century by author Laurence Sterne, a poet and author. A smellfungus is a person who grumbles and complains and finds fault in others. This is a brilliant word and seems to sum up the worst of judgmentalism, as opposed to the sound judgment we all need to practice. 

I was blessed during my decades of ministry to meet and work with hundreds of fine Christians who lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that inspired me. This is my lasting memory of congregational life. 

I also had to deal with individuals and "clatches" of people whose surname should have been changed to Smellfungus. Too often their pernicious grumbling and fault-finding undermined the well-being of congregations and quenched the spirit of life together as the body of Christ. At times it sapped me of energy for leadership and sadly some left congregations because of the nastiness of the complainers. 

It wouldn't be a good idea to find fault with Jesus, all considered, but it might have been helpful if he had offered an over the counter topical smellfungus treatment to be daubed on lips rather than feet. I would have purchased it in bulk. Perhaps that would be too great a miracle to expect!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Weaponizing the Eucharist?

                                                          Last Supper Paulo Medina

Come to Christ’s table not because you must, but because you may.

Come not because you are fulfilled, but because in your emptiness

you stand in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and assurance.

Come not to express an opinion 

 but to seek Christ’s presence and receive the Holy Spirit.

Come to this table, then, sisters and brothers, as you are. 

I                            Invitation to the Communion Table

 Today Roman Catholic bishops in the United States gather, the beginning of three days of virtual meetings. The theologically conservative bishops have included an agenda item which can't possibly receive the support needed to make it policy but is contentious, just the same. The goal is to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Joe Biden.  No matter that Biden a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years. There is a group of bishops and other clerics in the US who are obsessed with abortion and supported the execrable Emperor Trump, a  man who violated virtually every notion of decency and was thrice married (an RC no-no) because he was supposedly anti-abortion. Biden has the temerity to separate church and state and to respect the reproductive choices and rights of women, regardless of his own convictions.

I wrote about this before but there has been an intriguing development. The Vatican and Pope Francis has pointedly directed the bishops not to pursue this wrong-headed censure of the president. According to a New York Times report: 

“The concern in the Vatican,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis “is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.” Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

I appreciate that phrase communion "is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners."  I do wonder whether the fixation on abortion and the "right to life" is part of the denial of the appalling secrecy around sexual abuse by priests in the United States and around the world. Untold thousands had their right to a full and meaningful life compromised by these predators, and they had no choice. There is also the undertone of misogyny amongst some conservative Roman Catholic leaders which is disturbing. 

I'm glad the Vatican is emphasizing healthy theological and sacramental practice rather than the manipulative tactics of what we can pray is an unsuccessful minority. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Baptismal Swim


                                         Depot Lakes Swimming Spot -June 13 2021 photo: Ruth Mundy

It's likely that next Sunday we'll return to in-person worship, either outdoors or indoors. This is good news, although virtual worship means that we can "go in church" at our convenience. This past Sunday we took advantage of an excellent forecast, including low wind speeds, to take our kayaks to Depot Lakes Conservation Area, a gem north of Kingston with one lake allowing camping on its islands and shores. 

We wanted to paddle, which we were able to do with virtually no other boats on the lake. We also stopped at a vacant campsite (they were nearly all without campers) where we had our lunch and the first swim of the season. With all the hot weather of recent weeks the water was refreshing but not cold. There is something wonderfully Canadian about swimming in a lake with pine trees and granite in view. 

I was grateful to the Creator as I called out "baptism!" to Ruth. There was a sense of the holy in our swim and it caused me to ponder Baptism, which is one of our two Protestant sacraments. Along the way many denominations lost much of the sense of the immersive, sensory experience which was Jesus' model for us. For too long we were virtually hydrophobic when it came to the use of water in baptism, although in the past forty years clergy have been encouraged to be more liberal in its use.

And of course most creatures are able to swim and even delight in water.  This year we've seen an otter and beaver at this Depot Lake, at well as minks and muskrats. At our home we watch the robins and blue jays frolic in the bird baths of our back yard. 

It's wonderful that we have a sacrament which connects us with Christ, with one another, and with all living things. Let the baptismal swims commence!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Our Leaders and Anti-Muslim Laws

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks from the podium at a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack on five members of the Canadian Muslim community in London, Ontario, on June 8, 2021.NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Farmers Market is open in downtown Belleville, so we stopped by on Saturday morning for a few items. We purchased some delicious Syrian food from one of the families who came to our community in 2015 and 2016 as refugees. Most of those newcomers have done remarkably well, and while this family was not part of the 23 extended family members our sponsoring group brought to Canada, we have spoken with them regularly through the years. They are warm and enterprising and very impressive.

On Saturday it was mother and father and two of their older children at the stall, Bother mother and daughter were wearing the hijab, a head-covering common for women who are Muslims. When they first arrived the daughter was not expected to do so because she was a child but she's now regarded as a young woman. My mind went to the tragic murder of a Muslim family in London the week before, killed by a man who had never met them but randomly killed them because of their religion, the colour of their skin, and their dress. 

Later I read a Globe and Mail newspaper opinion piece by Robyn Urback who bluntly decried politicians who have expressed horror at this hate crime yet allow one province -- Quebec -- to pass legislation which is essentially religious discrimination against Muslims: 

How does one reach the level of shamelessness to at once pledge that the government will do everything in its power to combat discrimination and Islamophobia in Canada, and then, moments later, shrug off questions about Ottawa’s indifference to a patently discriminatory provincial law that prohibits those who wear religious symbols from working certain jobs?...

Surely it was not lost on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the same symbols that ostensibly made the Afzaal family a target for the man now charged with their murders and attempted murder in London, Ont., would have also made them ineligible for certain jobs in Quebec. Indeed, 15-year-old Yumna could’ve grown up to be almost anything she wanted in Canada – except for a teacher in one of Quebec’s French language boards, if she had chosen to wear a hijab. 

Bill 21 is quite clearly legislated discrimination, and it would almost certainly be in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had Premier François Legault not pre-emptively equipped it with the notwithstanding clause when he tabled it years ago... 

“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you,” Mr. Trudeau said on Twitter a day after the London attack. If he was being honest, he would have added: “unless you live in Quebec.”

Urback's observations are so accurate, in my opinion, and should be widely shared. 

I have written before about listening to women Muslim scholars who are convinced that the hijab and the burka are cultural rather than religious requirements, and that Muslim women should not feel obligated to wear them. I feel mildly uneasy when I see women in these garments, with a sense that this is a form of oppression, yet I realize that many Muslim women wear them by choice as a sign of religious devotion. 

I grew up in an era when most women wore hats to church and it was required in many denominations. Some Roman Catholic nuns still wear a wimple. There certainly wasn't and isn't the sort of discrimination and contempt in these circumstances as is directed toward Muslim women. 

What I know is that it is not my right to impose my cultural and religious values on others, nor to discriminate and restrict freedom of religious choices. And I have no time for those who intimidate or humiliate or do violence against women because of what they wear. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Grape Island & the Methodist Legacy

                                              Rice Bed at Grape Island -- photo: Ruth Mundy

 After a poor night's sleep on my part this had the potential to be a do-nothing day. Then Ruth proposed that we tie on the kayaks and head over to Big Island off Prince Edward County and do some exploring in the Bay of Quinte. That's what we did on what proved to be a calm and quiet morning on the Bay. We ended up paddling across to Grape Island which was the site of a Methodist Mission 200 years ago, sponsored by Bridge St. Church, the final congregation I served before retirement. Today it is owned by a single family but back then there were more than 200 Mississauga Ojibwe people who were established on the island to be taught agriculture, and to read and write. The experiment didn't last long and the residents left to become part of what is now the Alderville First Nation near Rice Lake. 

We have paddled to Grape Island by canoe and kayaks  before and I've written about the experiences, including during Bridge St.'s 200th anniversary year. The island is not large and once we arrived today we circumnavigated it in less than half an hour. It's hard to imagine 20 people living there, let alone 200+.

                                                            Dave Mowat Alderville First Nation 

During the Bridge St. 200th anniversary Dave Mowat from Alderville, a First Nations historian and conservationist and current chief, took part in a play about the early history of the congregation. I was so impressed by Dave's contribution I invited him to return for to take part in an Anniversary Sunday dialogue.On the Alderville website we find: 

The creation of Upper Canada and its colonization, and later the War of 1812, were events much larger than the Mississauga and other related groups could contain. Eventually, by the 1820’s, they found themselves forced to adapt and during this period a number converted to Christianity, primarily Methodism, from the Bay to the Western end of Lake Ontario. By 1826 the Methodists at the Bay had convinced the Mississauga to take up the development of a mission and attempts were made at teaching the people a new agrarian economy. On tiny Grape Island, the people learned to read, write, and to worship in a different manner, becoming a major target group of the early assimilation policies of Canadian church and state.

This morning at Grape Island was magical in many respects. Blue herons and ospreys flew from the island and a beaver scurried into the water and swam near our kayaks. There are magnificent trees, including huge cottonwoods. We paddled through a bed of wild rice, a probable food source for the residents 200 years ago. 

It was also sobering to be there in light of the grim news about the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at a residential school n Kamloops BC recently. Upon our return I read that another 100 graves have been discovered near a residential school in Manitoba. As we sat on the water Ruth wondered aloud whether there are graves of those who may have died while living on Grape Island. I said a prayer, repenting of what the church has done, supposedly in God's name. I hope our contrition as a nation and as Christian denominations will result in an honest reckoning and action. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

The G7, Vaccines, & Loving Our Neighbours

 Some of the drama of the meeting of the Group of Seven leaders of wealthy nations in Cornwall, England, has been diminished because the emperor-wannabe, Donald Trump, has been consigned to the scrap heap of history (we hope.) He won't have Justin to dis anymore and President Biden actually cares about forming meaningful alliances and showing respect to global partners. 

There are a number of important agenda items for this in-person meeting, including addressing climate change. There will also be discussion of how these nations will support the process of procuring and administering vaccines in countries other than their own, particularly those which are developing nations with limited financial resources. The United States took the lead in pledging 500 million doses of vaccine, Great Britain followed with 100 million, and today Canada also pledged 100 million. These are significant promises on the way to making a billion doses available, although that represents only a portion of those who will need to be vaccinated.


                                                                           World Leaders Can't Count

There has been an ongoing discussion of the ethical role of wealthier countries providing or not providing  vaccination support for other countries. Canada has not been a leader in this regard and actually been criticized for a "me first" outlook on vaccination roll-out. It's good that ethicists, including Francoise Baylis, a member of my congregation in Halifax, have been vocal in calling our government to provide the necessary leadership on the world stage. 

Canada is now at the top of the class globally in terms of first doses for our own citizens. Many of us who had accepted that we might not get that first jab until this month are impatient to get a second. At the same time we can ask what it means to "love our neighbour as ourselves." When Jesus offered this as part of his response to a question about the greatest commandment he was asked a subsequent question: "who is my neighbour?" According to Luke's gospel he went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.

We have the capability to be good neighbours and Good Samaritans in terms of vaccine equality on a global scale.

Let's hope and pray that the G7 countries will make promises that they are committed to keeping.