Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Tower of Babel & the COP26 Climate Summit


Now the whole earth had one language and the same words... 

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.  And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

                                        from Genesis 11 NRSV

I have been thinking all day about the beginning of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow  It's been suggested that this is the "now or never" opportunity to address the climate emergency, although that was suggested about Paris (2015) and Kyoto (1997) and Rio de Janeiro (1992). It seems that just about the only thing we can collectively commit ourselves to substantively is that there is an urgency to the crisis, Even when we develop an accord (Paris) or protocol (Kyoto) or declaration (Rio) we watch global emmissions of CO2 rise and weather patterns become more unpredictable and volatile.The trouble with normal is it always get worse. 

Just before COP26 got underway G20 leaders gathered and issued a climate change statement which didn't promise any new targets despite UN reports that we are on the brink of disaster. What is the point of the next two weeks in Glasgow when those wealthy nations are so mealy-mouthed and China won't even show up at the table.

Do I sound discouraged and cynical? I actually do hope that I am totally wrong about what will unfold during these deliberations. 

I walked in the woods this morning and prayed for a reverse Tower of Babel movement of the Holy Spirit, the divine breath or wind. You may know the story in Genesis of a people who in their arrogance decide to build a monumental tower which reaches to the heavens. God punishes their hubris by confusing their common language

My hope is that humanity will come down from the "summit" of hubris with humility and discover a common language in the midst of so many differing outlooks, for the benefit of all creatures on the planet and the web of Creation.  

Saturday, October 30, 2021

What do Dune and Trenton United Have in Common?

 Neither sci-fi nor fantasy are genres of books or films which appeal to me, so the enthusiasm around the new adaptation of  Frank Herbert's Dune has largely sailed past me. Our daughter who has a strong background in film studies is eager to see it so we may as well -- someday. 

I was intrigued to read that Herbert wrote the original Dune novel in 1965 he included Arabic and Muslim motifs. In a Religion News Service piece Amir Hussain, a cultural critic and professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University. says that a kid growing up in the 1970s, he was personally drawn to Dune’s Islamic themes. “You have to understand, there weren’t Muslim ideas and storylines on television or in movies. Then, there was this book of science fiction that for myself, as a Muslim minority, I was able to see my culture, Islamic culture, as one of the sources for inspiration and being represented in a positive way.”

While we live in a much more multl-cultural society than the 1960's I have the sense that most of us have a limited understanding of Islam, and there are anti-Muslim stereotypes and fears which result in aggression and even violence from a few.

Next Wednesday I'll offer the first of two morning sessions through Trenton United looking at Muslim/Christians relations. After the cowardly murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario in June of this year Canadians were shocked that this could happen in our country, even though there have been many incidents of Islamaphobia through the years.It seemed appropriate to delve into the historical and current relationship between religions and cultures. We 

We will use the United Church study document called That We May Know Each Other which was proposed in 1996 and developed in the early 2000's. As I've read it I'm impressed by how thorough and thoughtful it is and that this was first explored before the terrible events of 911. 

Once again, this will be a hybrid in-person and virtual study so you're welcome to join us wherever you may be. Here is the Trenton UC contact info: 

For the regular work and life and work of the congregation you can reach Rev. Isaac at or at 613 392 6001 ext. 22. 

Our Administrative Assistant, Catherine Lariviere can be reached Monday to Friday from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at 613-392-6001 ext. 21 or at

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Pope's in the Mail

The Pope is in the mail, so to speak. Pope Francis has announced that at the behest of bishops he will come to Canada as part of efforts toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. While this has been necessary and ignored for decades there is a new focus and urgency  following the discovery this summer of hundreds of potential burial sites at former church-run residential schools. No date has been given, so we will wait and see how this unfolds. .

I have expressed what may have seemed to be cynicism about the responses of the Roman Catholic church to this shameful history with Indigenous peoples, largely because there have been a series of broken promises and avoidance of responsibility along the way. Other denominations, including the United Church, have certainly been complicit in the institiutions which attempted to eradicate Indigenous culture but have made attempts toward reconciliation, including financial compensation. 

I listened to two Indigenous women yesterday, both of whom are leaders and both from families which have experienced intergenerational traumas because of the institutions. They feel that if Pope Francis does come he must apologize in a transparent and sincere manner. He must insist that all relevant documents related to the schools be released. And there must be a public commitment to financial reparations which included and goes beyond the $30 million recently pledged by the Catholic bishops of Canada. 

In December a delegation of Indigenous leaders is heading to Rome to ask Francis to issue an apology in Canada. Perhaps by then a date will be set. One of the women noted that Francis is "willing" to visit Canada. She noted that she is willing to travel around the world, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen. I laughed in appreciation of her wry observation knowing that this isn't funny. I hope God gives a sense of urgency to the pontiff and the Roman Catholic church in moving toward reconciliation. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Life, Leaf-blowers, & Locusts


Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land! 

Has such a thing happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors?

 Tell your children of it,  and let your children tell their children,
    and their children another generation.

What the swarming locust left,   the hopping locust has eaten, 


and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.

Joel 1:2-4

Hear O Belleviille, if you can hear above the din. In the beauty of the Autumn the leaf-blowers have swarmed the burbs causing all to scatter before them, onto the streets and neigbours yards. The leaves are vanquished, and so too are the humans. 

If you have indulged me through the years of this blog you'll be all too aware that I despise leaf-blowers and their evil companions leaf-suckers. They are the high-pitched machines which ruin the peace and quiet of those who live anywhere within ten blocks...I may exaggerate slightly. Even though we can remember the day when a rake or two would be sufficient for Fall leaves every household must have one now. 

We have several people living in close proximity who head out at least once a day, and some twice. One of them begins in April (I kid you not) and is out there I have said aloud to Ruth that I'm tempted to bag up leaves from our yard and scatter them on their properties in the night. What holds me back? The possibility of security cameras. 

 Enter a New York Times opinion piece in which celebrated writer Margaret Renkl bemoans the plague-like spread of these machines. Gas powered models can have the approximate noise level of a plane taking off and whose inefficient engines spew fumes equivalent to a pick-up truck. She even uses a biblical image, the swarms of locusts which show up here and there to speak of God's displeasure with those who are unfaithful:

They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.Grasshoppers belong here.

What is my problem, you ask? A desire for some window in each day for tranquility and a vain hope that we could establish an "acoustical commons" where noise does not prevail at all times. 

I keep wondering when noise polluiton will become more of an issue in municipalities where the levels of sound continue to rise. I do feel that we have the right to "hear ourselves think" and -dare I say it - that is a physical health and spiritual health issue. 

Our ears matter and so do our spirits. Bring on the snowblowers!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Who Came First, Brendan or Leif?

 A Viking replica ship arrives in the fishing village of L'Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, on July 28, 2000.SHAUN BEST/REUTERS

We have notions of the Vikings as a rowdy, pillaging lot who laid waste to just about everywhere they came ashore from their dreaded longboats. With time we've come to realized that this isn't the full picture of Viking culture but there is no doubt that they were courageous explorers. In my school days I learned that Erik the Red and Leif the Lucky ventured to Greenland (Erik) and North America (Leif). We were taught that they "discovered" these lands, a bit of oversell given that they were already occupied by Indigenous peoples. 

                                                         L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site

I began my ministry in Newfoundland, which was the landfall for Erik so I always pay attention to stories related to the L 'Anse Aux Meadows Viking settlement. A few days ago we were informed that science has established that these settlers arrived exactly 1,000 years ago. Here is a bit from the Globe and Mail article:

Scientists on Wednesday said a new type of dating technique using a long-ago solar storm as a reference point revealed that the settlement was occupied in 1021 AD, exactly a millennium ago and 471 years before the first voyage of Columbus. The technique was used on three pieces of wood cut for the settlement, all pointing to the same year.

One more reasons to take all those Christopher Columbus statues down and and forget about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. 

While we don't have any definitive proof of earlier European voyages to the so-called New World there is also the intriguing story of St. Brendan the Navigator, a 5th/6th century Irish monk who set out with a small crew in a leather boat for parts unknown. It has long been thought that the text known as the Voyage of St. Brendan, is a work of fiction but in the 1970's Tim Severin and crew set sail in an oxhide boat made in the traditional way with the goal of sailing the Atlantic. They eventually landed in a small community in Newfoundland just down the shore from the outport where we lived only a few years later. 

Did Brendan and his crew scoop the Vikings by a few centuries?  We'll never know for certain, but it is intriguing. I imagine that the Indigenous peoples of the continent wished the whole lot were lost on the highs seas, or at the very least made a U-turn. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A New Vision for the United Church?


The Vision of The United Church of Canada as approved by the 43rd General Council at its meeting on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021).

This tweet arrived on Sunday without any explanation or background. Why is General CounciI, the national part of our country-wide denomination issuing a vision statement at this juncture of our life together? read it and by and large agreed with it because I certainly want to be hopeful and daring and spiritual within the context of the United Church. It took a bit of pondering to come up with why I wasn't altogether enthused by what I read. It seemed as though the God aspect of our vision was given short shrift, a total of seven words, before moving on, and those few words felt more unitarian than trinitarian. Isn't the God stuff why we are about the other stuff, and isn't it important to affirm that our faith is the mystery of God, three-in-one?

I mused a bit more and came up with: Called by the Creator God, as disciples of the living Christ, animated by the Holy Spirit... and then off to the races we go.

All may be revealed as time goes on, and I'll look forward to hearing about what has inspired this latest vision statement. In the meantime I'm inclined toward the Statement of Faith which first saw the light of day back in 1968, has undergone some important tweaks and additions, and which has lots of vision within its phrases, thanks be to God:

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. 

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

A New Creed is a brief and well-loved affirmation of faith used widely in our worship (1968; rev. 1980, 1995).

Monday, October 25, 2021

Do Choirs & Choral Music Have a Future?


                                                Norwich Cathedral Choir welcome Dippy the Dinosaur 

We made the half-hour drive to participate in worship yesterday with our home congregation of Trenton United. We continue to observe COVID-19 protocols as a family of faith, with masks, distancing, sign-ins and saniitziing. Our personal exception is that we now sit with our daugther-in-law and two youing grandchildren. The collective change is that we have been singing for a few months now, although it feels a bit strange to be warbling with a mask on. This simple addition to our worship experience which involves both vocalizing and hearing others doing so has been encouraging. 

During the service I thought about an episode of a BBC radio program called The Listening Service which I happened upon. It is called The timeless power of contemporary choral music. It covers a lot of ground in 29 minutes, looking back to the flowering of choral music in centuries past then pondering the extraodinary, dare we say mystical effect of blending human voices in contemporary music. The host points out that there are something like 25,000 choirs in Great Britain and that choral singing is second only to sports as a group activity. The episode is brilliant in  exploring the power of singing together, and that even intentionally dissonant vocal music can be a sort of intimate sonic embrace, or hug. 

Even before the pandemic so many churches in North Amercia were on the verge of being Cheshire Cat congregations, nothing much left but the grin -- or grimace. Needless to say, where congregations have dwindled so have choirs. Not only do many congregations no longer have choirs they can't find accompanists either. Some use recorded music for hymn-singing. Who knows what will happen when or if congregations come back together. 

The BBC piece notes that secular choral music does have a contemplative, transcendent, spiritual quality and often these choirs seeks out less conventional venues which will be cathedral-like. Think of the pop-up Choir!Choir!Choir! gathering to sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah at the decommisioned Hearn Power Plant in Toronto. That recording brings tears to my eyes because Cohen is drawing on the biblical story of King David yet many of the ecstatic singers may have been unaware of the connection. 

I can't do justice to the depth and range of this episode, so give it a listen. I always welcome your thoughts on subjects, so feel free to comment. I've also included the link to an Eric Whitacre virutal choir with more than 17,000 voices from 129 countries. Brilliant.

                                                       Hearn Power Plant Toronto 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Remembering Crucified Woman & Doris Dyke

                           Crucifed Woman --  Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey photo: Susie Guenther Loewen

An Emmanuel College (my alma mater seminary) friend and colleague in ministry let me know about the death of one of our professors from the late 1970's, Doris Dyke. Professor Dyke lived to the ripe old age of  91 havng lived a full and varied life in a number of North American locations. She was the first woman to be appointed to the faculty of Emmanuel, a college of the University of Toronto. She had a passion for the arts and was involved in bringing a controversial sculpture to Bloor St, United Church in 1979, then to the grounds of the college. 

Crucified Woman depicted a naked female figure in a cruciform position, and many were offended by the piece, and accused the Rev. Clifford Elliot of Bloor St. United and everyone else involved of heresy and blasphemy and more. Eventually Doris wrote a book about the sculpture and what transpired. 

The following is an excerpt from a reflection written by Susie Guenther Loewen, a much more recent Emmanuel student who missed the sculptue after graduating : 

 According to theologians Doris Jean Dyke and Julie Clague, artist Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey sculpted “Crucified Woman” simply as an expression of women’s suffering. It was only reluctantly that she lent the sculpture to a United church in Toronto for Easter one year, unsure of whether she wanted it interpreted theologically. She was overwhelmed by the response, especially of women who for the first time, saw “their suffering, their dying and their resurrection embodied in a woman’s body,” and thereby felt God’s solidarity with the suffering specific to women.

Of course, not everyone interpreted the sculpture this way. Some saw it as heretical, too distant from the male body of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Others saw it as too sexual, as it depicts a nude female form. Others saw it as reifying instead of protesting violence against women. 

But the responses of many women, including many survivors of sexual and physical abuse, told a different story. For instance, in 1989, upon hearing of the Montreal Massacre of fourteen women engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique, hundreds gathered around the “Crucified Woman” to remember the victims and—and for some—God’s solidarity with them.

Doris and Cliff exhibited courage and prophetic imaginations in those "ancient" days, and pushed us all to consider the Christ of the cross who came for all who suffer. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Maid as a Story of Courage


Yesterday we watched the tenth and final episode of the Netflix dramatic series called Maid. It is about a young woman named Alex who makes the difficult decision to leave her alcoholic and emotional abusive partner for her safety and that of her three year old daughter, Maddy. 

Alex finds herself homeless, penniless, and bewildered by the social welfare system which can seem like a hindrance rather than a help in the midst of the trauma of departure from abuse. To add to it all, Alex's mother is a wild and unreliable soul who left her father, with her, year's before and for similar reasons. 

Alex ends up working as a maid for a sketchy company which pays low wages and shows no sympathy for a struggling single mother. To tmost her clients she is virtually invisible with no interest in her as a person. 

The story is based on the Stephanie Land's memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive. In Land's case she worked as a maid for six years before getting into a college English program and beginning her writing career, rather than the year for Alex. According to a Newsweek piece, in 2019 Land told The Telegraph that she was "overwhelmed by how much work it took to prove I was poor. America lives by the myth that if you work hard enough, you'll make it," she said. "For me, I felt like if I wasn't making it, I wasn't working hard enough." 

I watched Maid with Ruth, my wife, who worked for a decade in a shelter for women and children leaving abusive situations. Alex spends time in a shelter not once, but twice, and while she is reluctant to do so it is an oasis, an ark, when there are no other options  Ruth was impressed and moved by how accurately the circumstances for Alex and other women leaving abuse are portrayed, including the powerful temptation to return to the abusers because of the bleak prospects for a decent life. 

There are scene in a courtroom where custody of Maddy is decided which are somehow both gut-wrenching and humorous. As an outreach worker Ruth would accompany women to court and knew their fear and their confusion. 

When Ruth did this work she was able to raise the profile of the shelter in the congregation I served as pastor and the good folk responded with generosity and compassion. Sadly, her attempts to reach out to local pastors and priests and even church women's groups were often declined because they felt that abuse didn't happen in their congregations. In fact, roughly ten women from our congregation reached out to Ruth through the years, admitting that they kept a facade of happy family life out of shame and fear of judgment, even as they struggled. 

The acting in Maid is exceptional throughout, including the adorable child who plays Maddy.  And  Andie McDowell, the unpredictable mother/grandmother, is the actual mom of Margaret Qualley, who plays Alex. 

Yes, this a unsettling topic and the series  can be hard to watch at times. This is a worthwhile story to be told, just the same, and does have its moments o humour and hope.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

When Discimination Becomes Law in Canada


The question to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet created a controversy in Quebec, taking on a narrative and a legend of its own. It led the National Assembly to censure me, cartoonists to ridicule me and party leaders to demand an apology. So here was the question: 

I turned off the English Federal party leaders debate before the Canadian election in September -- remember, we had an election? -- because the format was so frustrating. It really wasn't a debate at all in my estimation, although one question to Parti Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet by moderator Shachi Kurl caught my attention:

“You deny that Quebec has problems with racism. Yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones. For those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.” 

Blanchet made a big deal over his offence at this question and milked it for all it was worth in the days after the debate.The press in Quebec also did a lot of woofing about their indignation.  In my recollection only Green Party leader Annamie Paul had the courage to suggest that this was a valid line of inquiry while the others fell over themselves to say that Quebec is not racist. Ms Kurl was asked to take the question back but she has defiantly stood behind it, and I'm glad.The attempts by other leaders to distance themselves from this question in the days following was frankly shameful. 

Obviously not all Quebeckers are racist,  and I actually think it is a marvelous province in so many respects. At the same time we are allowed to wonder how legislation which overrides the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is anything but racist and designed to marginalize certain religious groups, particularly Muslim women. 

Since last month's election an inquiry into the death in a Quebec hospital of an Indigenous woman. Joyce Echequan, stated bluntly that if she had been white she wouldn't have died. When Echequan was in serious pain she was mocked by nurses rather than treated with compassion.  Why can't leaders in Quebec concede that systemic racism exists in the province or that legislation which supposedly upholds cultural values is discriminatory?

When our son Isaac began ministry in Quebec, where he attended seminary, he showed me an editorial in a local newspaper while we were visiting. He actually had to read it to me because it was in French, and I was astonished at what a vile and ill-informed attack on Islam it was. He loved living in Quebec and enjoyed the culture, but he was jolted by this sort of open hostility. 

Human Rights Watch has raised red flags about the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the violation of religious freedoms inherent in Quebec's new laws.

Surely more direct questions need to be asked about discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and our Prime Minister needs to be amongst those asking them. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pope Francis, Holy Pest


I have calmed down somewhat following my outrage two weeks ago regarding the news out of France of findings that since 1950 200,000 children have been abused by Roman Catholic clergy and an estimated 150,000 more by others working for and associated with the church. My initial thoughts were that there can be no redemption for the insitituion and I still wonder whether the ongoing revelations about abuse in every form, including patriarchy have destroyed the credibility of Roman Catholicism. 

There are still rays of light along the way. and they are often in the form of willingness by  Pope Francis to challenge conventions. One of these came in an address to the Fourth World Meeting of World Movements, an eclectic gathering of those working for a better world from all walks of life. Francis spoke to these "social poets" as he calls them, those addressing social inequalities with a persistent sense of hope. The pontiff identifies a number of these circumstances before issuing a challenge: 

And thinking about these situations, I make a pest of myself with my questions. And I go on asking. And I ask everyone in the name of God.

I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.

In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples.

In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries -- mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness -- to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people.

In the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.

In the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.

In the name of God, I ask the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.

In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.

In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.

In the name of God, I call on powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. We have already seen how unilateral interventions, invasions and occupations end up; even if they are justified by noble motives and fine words.

This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.

Together with the poor of the earth, I wish to ask governments in general, politicians of all parties, to represent their people and to work for the common good. 

This is a bold and prophetic call to action, as is the rest of his address. And while Francis admits he doesn't have ready answers he expresses the urgency eloquently and invokes the God of mercy and justice as he does so.

 I do commend him and can imagine that some of the criticism that he has received for views such as these within his own church will become every sharper. I'm grateful that he a social poet and a holy pest. 

Here is the link to the full text of the address by Pope Francis:

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Nobel Prize for Economics &...the Gospel?


UC Berkeley economist David Card won the 2021 Nobel Prize in economics for his research on minimum wages and immigration.NOAH BERGER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thus says the Lord:

For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and push the afflicted out of the way;

                     Amos 2: 6-7 NRSV

It's been noted by several media observers that Premier Doug Ford has not yet congratulated ex-pat Ontarian David Card on winning the Nobel Prize for economics even though Prime Minister Trudeau has. Why, oh why? I must be truthful and say that usually I pay no attention to this prize but this one seems important (I know, they all are). Card and two others were the winners although Card in particular hs challenged some basic assumptions of labour economics. 

It's been suggested that economics is more of an art than a science except the Card and those who've worked with him have been data wonks who seek out empirical evidence about trends. Here is the way Ian Brown describes one aspect of Card's research, this on comparing the minimum wage in two US states:

Here again, classical economic theory predicted what seemed obvious and logical: Raise the minimum wage and jobs disappear. (It’s the same argument Doug Ford recently used to resist raising the minimum wage in Ontario.) But Card & Krueger, try as they might – and they were very rigorous – found (Hello, Mr. Ford. Are you still there?) no hint that the rise in the minimum wage reduced employment. In fact, under certain real-life conditions, boosting the minimum wage actually increased employment.

Another commandment of holy economic dogma had fallen. “The so-called conventional wisdom in a lot of these areas,” Prof. Card says, “is in fact much more complicated or ambiguous than is sometimes pretended to be the case in undergraduate textbooks.”

Card has also done research into which children get into so-called gifted programs and young people into graduate programs at universities. It would seem that who you know, how persuasive parents are, and what precedents there are in educated families disadvantage  kids from immigrant families and those from poorer households. Again drawing on Brown's article in the Globe and Mail:

But it’s his more recent work on the economics of education that, he suspects, will be his most lasting contribution. In 2015, to cite just one study, Prof. Card and his fellow researcher discovered that kids in Grade 2 in an undisclosed city were selected for gifted programs almost entirely on the basis of parent-teacher meetings and referrals. The result was that minority students and underprivileged kids were under-represented in gifted programs.

Now, if your economic policy is based on the assumption that raising the minimum wage kills jobs, or that cronyism is fundamental to political life and life in general. David Card may not be the sort of person you want to praise, do ya think? 

The United Church has been speaking out about a livable wage for a long time now, both in terms of a fair minimum wage and more recently about Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI). We are often dismissed as goofy leftists, although we feel that we are listening to the voices of the prophets and Jesus. I like the notion that an economist with a penchant for cold, hard data has done work which gives some credence to the gospel and the biblical imperative of economic justice.  

Congratulations Professor Card. Premier Ford's best wishes are in the mail. 

1 What does the Lord require of you? What does the Lord require of you?

2 Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God.

3 To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

                                               Voices United 701 based on Micah 6:8

Sunday, October 17, 2021

World Food Sunday


                                                                       World Food Sunday logo 

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

but it is fed and watered by your almighty hand;

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

the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;

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

Voices United 520

We won't be in worship this morning  at Trenton United Church when the Rev. Ed Bentley is guest presider. I am intrigued that Ed will be addressing World Food Sunday which falls on the third Sunday of October every year and in 2021 folllows immediately on October 16th, World Food Day. I know Ed will be thoughtful and faith-full. 

The bible is full of food stories, the scarcity and abundance of it, the celebration of harvests as a regular part of religious life, the importance of breaking bread together in ways that are fair and equitable. In the gospels Jesus is criticized when his hungry followers pluck some grains  gets in trouble for harvesting grains of wheat on the Sabbath. He challenges religious prohibitions by pointing out that compassion for the hungry overrides religiosity. 

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.But if you had known what this means,  ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12 NRSV

The provision of our daily bread is both a spiritual and practical issue which affects all of us, wherever we live. Food prices are rising in North America, affecting the poor more than those of us who have the financial means to absorb the increased costs. 

During the pandemic migrant workers who work in agriculture in Canada were mistreated in many instances and some died of COVID-19 because of lousy living conditions. 

Those who are attempting to make a living on smaller farms find that the pressures of debt can be overwhelming and lots of younger people are electing to leave family operations for work which pays a living wage. 

We know that there are huge famine and hunger issues in Afghanistan, and Ethiopia, and Yemen, brought about by conflict and the weaponization of food.

The United Church of Canada began in 1925 as a largely rural denomination with congregations in smaller communities where food production and harvest was a part of everyday life. So many of those congregations have closed or amalgamated and those enterig ministry are often from urban settings.Are we as aware as we once were about food issues and expressing gratitude to the Creator? Thanksgiving Sunday is no longer the celebration of provision and the harvest it once was. 

I'm impressed that Princeton Theological Seminary now offers what is called The Farminary, which is "a place where theological education is integrated with small-scale regeneratie agriculture to train faith leaders who are conversant in the areas of ecology, sustainability and food justice."  There is so much to ponder this World Food Sunday, and again, 

I'm grateful that Rev. Ed will be offering his perspective today. Here are a couple of links which might help in your understanding.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Counting Homeless Sheep in 2021

                                                                     Belleville Tent Encampment 

 So he told them this parable:  “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

Luke 15:3-6

I'm pleased to say that I was part of the process to hire Steve Van de Hoef as coordinator of outreach programs at Bridge St, United Church five years ago. Steve was finishing a contract with the Chrisitan Reformed Churches of Canada and we were impressed by his background in research as well as his personal Christian faith. 

I retired not long after Steve came on board and through the years since then his role has expanded, notably in conducting enumerations of the homeless in our region, an elusive task when those being sought out, are without a fixed address. Yet it is important as municipalities attempt to provide services, including housing, to those who fly under the radar for the most part.

There are also the prejudices, some of them on full display and others which are more subtle, regarding those who live on the margins of society. There are genuine concerns as well. Homeless encampments can be eyesores and dangerous places for those who live in them. People can feel threatened by the presence of what we used to term vagrants, and businesses sometimes deal with vandalism and theft which affect the bottom line.  

Mental health issues and substance abuse can result in unpredictable behaviour in any sphere of society. If we're honest, we are inclined to want marginalized people to be somewhere other than where we are. The truth is that these folk are often invisible until something goes wrong. They live in tents in wooded areas or sleep rough under bridges in this community. Shelters such as Grace Inn can only accomodate a percentage, and some resist going to them. 

Earlier this week Steve made a presentation to Belleville city council which demonstrated that homelessness is increasing and that some of the assumptions about those who are homeless in the region have come here from elsewhere are not accurate. This is from the Belleville Intelligencer report on the presentation: 

The count found nearly two-thirds of people who were homeless in Belleville had been in the city for a period of six years or longer. About one-quarter “had always been in Belleville, he said.

“There doesn’t appear, through these results, to be that influx of individuals experiencing homelessness into Belleville” after moving to the city from other areas, he said. Respondents reported coming to the city because they had roots or family and friends here, etc. The city is also a hub for social services. Belleville Coun. Tyler Allsopp said the report showed “really conclusively” homelessness is an endemic problem in the city, not an issue caused by migration.

To say otherwise is “a terribly inaccurate suggestion,” Coun. Chris Malette said. He added he gets “quite annoyed” by complaints from people who don’t like seeing homeless people around Bridge Street United, the home of a newly-expanded drop-in centre for people who are homeless. It provides food, showers, laundry facilities and more.

“What better place than a Christian church to get help?” said Malette.“These are ideal places for helping the least fortunate, the least vulnerable in the community, and I commend you for that.”

Indeed. I commend city council and regional governments for the efforts to address this reality in our midst, one which doesn't have easy solutions.  And I'm grateful that there is ongoing funding for Steve to do this important work. We can pray for him and others who participate in a variety of ways.  Steve is also vitally involved with the meal ministries which happen out of Bridge St UC. While these meal ministries make a difference every day we know that there are broader issues for which we must find solutions. 

                                                                               Steve Van de Hoef

Friday, October 15, 2021

Nudged to Get the Jab


“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

                                                                                            Philippians 2:4

Yesterday all United Church clergy in paid accountable ministry along with all of us retread ministers received an email regarding vaccinations. Until now our denomination has not been directive regarding our vaccination status but while the message was more carrot than stick it was firm -- get jabbed. This makes eminent good sense in every regard; morally, ethically and certainly medically. Clergy have responsibilitiies as shepherds of their flocks, contributing to the health and wellbeing of parishioners. 

Through the years institutions including hospitals and nursing homes have encouraged clergy to get annual flu shots to protect the vulnerable when they visit. In latter years I refrained from shaking hands at the door on Sunday mornings during flu season. I happily complied because it was in the best interests of those with whom I had entered into a covenant as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It only makes sense to extend this to COVID-19 vaccinations.

I appreciate that this directive to clergy is supported by theology and scripture: 

The United Church of Canada is committed to providing safe environments for work, worship, and study, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The church also seeks to support ministry personnel towards health, joy, and excellence in ministry practice.

The United Church’s resource on Duty of Care outlines the theological rationale for this commitment, which is grounded in scripture: Jesus came into the world to bring life in all its fullness. 

As followers of Jesus we are called to show love to one another, and to the world (John 13:34‒35), to share our gifts and resources, and to build a community of mutuality and respect (Acts 2:44‒47). As a church, we have a primary duty to care for those who are marginalized, less powerful or more vulnerable in our community. (Deuteronomy 10:17‒19, Isaiah 61:1‒2)

I have to say "well done." The United Church has decided not to require proof of vaccination for those attending worship, which I also support even though I hope everyone "sees the light" and gets their shots. Congregations are encouraged to maintain protocols which will protect those who attend and are involved in other activitiies. 

We will continue to adjust to changing conditions and science-based information along the way. It has been exhausting in some respects but I'm really impressed by the leadership demonstrated at every level in the United Church. 

We've seen the egotistical yahoos in some faith communities who strut and crow about "freedom" and issue nonsensical statements about being protected by Jesus.I thank God,  Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that I live in a country where vaccines have been available to all, quickly and without direct cost. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Bruce Cockburn, Geezer in the Worship Band

Lord of the star fields 
Ancient of days

Universe Maker Here's a song in your praise
Wings of the storm cloud Beginning and end
You make my heart leap Like a banner in the wind
Oh, love that fires the sun Keep me burning

Lord of the star fields Sower of life
Heaven and earth are 
Full of your light...
                                              Lord of the Starfields 1976

 Do you remember the 70's? Admit it, many of you do, and I'll leave it to you to calculate how old you were at the beginning of that decade. I was in my teens and was enthusiastic about rock music and didn't have much time for folk, which was moe the style of my girlfriend at the time, who has been my wife for the past 45 years. 

I did appreciate a guitarist and singer/songwriter who was one of her favourites, Bruce Cockburn. He wa an excellent player and he wrote thoughtful songs which often had a a spiritual element. Earnest young Christians speculated about his faith, and he did share that he was a Christian of the evangelical persuasion in those early years. Time passed, his marriage ended, and Cockburn drifted away from the "me and Jesus" sort of faith and church-going, even though he continued to be passionate about issues of social justice. We saw him in concert in various cities and venues through the years, at least four times. 

Nearly forty years later his now wife cajoled him into attending worship with her.San Francisco, where they live. She had returned to church after experiencing the loss of someone dear to her. Cockburn found the experience meaningful and he had a degree of anonymity despite his fame and accolades in Canada and elsewhere. When he was invited to join the wroship band he did, Earlier this year he released four songs as a fundraiser for the congregation's programs to assist homeless people and combat human trafficking. 

In a Religion News piece about his return to a faith community he reflects on being a Christian: 

The truth was, “The formal church and I had grown apart,” he said of his decision, even as his faith remained strong. “It’s a continuing journey,” he said. “I don’t feel I have the corner on understanding anything. I just have a desire to have a relationship with God, a day-to-day thing … I’ve always believed a relationship with God should be central to everyone’s life, and I’ve tried to keep it the center of mine.” 

While he doesn’t have “any hesitation” identifying as a Christian, he’s starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public in the U.S. these days. If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated.”Because of pandemic shutdowns, Cockburn hasn’t played live at church for more than a year. But he has played songs for online services and participated in a sermon series about parables. The worship band gives him “a chance to play music other than my own,” he said. “It’s a meaningful way for me to participate.”

I get a kick out of the notion of geezer Bruce (he's now 76) as part of a worship band with congregants saying "hey, the old guy is pretty good!"  How wonderful that he's sharing his gifts in this way. 

Here is the link for the Lighthouse congregation

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Inviting Women

                                                                              Junia Icon

Greet Andronicus and Junia,my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.

Romans 16:7-9 NRSV

Recently I mentioned visiting the McMichael Gallery for a wonderful new exhibit called Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment. It features the work of 33 artists who were usually not invited to show their work with male counterparts. Few of them received the recognition they deserved during their lifetimes, even someone such as Emily Carr who had the support of Lawren Harris.  There are also pieces in the exhibit created by Indigenous women artisans whose work will never be attributed, sad to say. 

This was meant to be a complementary exhibit following the 100th anniversary retrospective for the Group of Seven painters, a decidedly male bastion. The pandemic meant tha
t Univited didn't open until this year, but it was worth the wait.

As we meandered through the rooms of captivating works my mind went to the "uninvited" women of the bible. There are actuallly many women in the stories of scripture, although they are often unnamed. They just don't get the airplay that men often do even there are heroic figures such as Miriam, sister of Moses, in the Hebrew scriptures, or another Miriam (we know her as Mary Magdalene) who was the first witness to the Risen Christ and arguably the first Chriistian evangelist. 

At least one woman in the New Testament was masculinized by translators because they weren't comfortable with the implications of her role in leadership. Paul seems to offering a shout out to Junia as an APOSTLE! The gender police added an "s" to her name to transform her into an acceptable guy, although more recent translations have corrected this.  As Junia was allowed to be a woman again some scholars questioned whether she really was regarded as an apostle. It never ends. 

Far too often in history women have been univited, not included at the table, either literally and figuratively. While we are learning, slowly, to recognize the historical and present-day gifts of women, we need every nudge and jolt possible to set us in the right direction.

 It has been argued, persuasively, that because Jesus' Last Supper was a Passover meal his women followers would have been present but we don't see that in many paintings, do we Leonardo?  

I'll be presiding in worship at Trenton United Church in a few weeks, so I think I'll explore this topic. And yes, there may be aspects of this blog entry which find their way into my message. 

Here is the cover of a new book by Ashley Wilcox which explores the passages about women in scripture which intrigues me. I do wish I still had a book allowance!