Thursday, March 31, 2022

Trans Visibility Today & Every Day

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

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

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

                                             Galatians 3: 27-28

 I think of comedian Mary Walsh's observation years ago the women get one official day of recognition every year while root vegetables get a whole month. We could never keep up with the ever rising tide of Very Important Days yet I do feel that recognizing the International Day of Transgender Visibility is particularly meaningful this year as we hear of many jurisdictions in the United States passing transphobic laws. In Texas there is now a directive which describes parental support of transgender children in transition, including counselling, as child abuse and directs teachers, doctors, and healthcare professionals to report any "suspected abuse", or face criminal penalties.

Each year on this day I ponder the young man who began worshipping in the congregation I served, perhaps 15 years ago. I've written about him before, that he came on his own, sat near the back, and left quickly. During Lent that year he came to all the services from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday. Ruth recognized him as a committed volunteer at the "new to you" store which was part of the shelter for women and children where she worked, and mentioned that he was someone in gender transition.

I think it was following the Ash Wednesday service that we eventually chatted and we agreed to get together over coffee in a downtown cafe. He told me that he'd first attended the congregation with her family, as a little girl. They eventually dropped away from involvement but he had returned as he searched for spiritual meaning and in the hope he would be accepted.He admitted it was a curious experience because no one recognized him from the past even though some people were familiar.  I recall being nervous as we talked because I didn't want to be an idiot in the terms I used, or blunder about as I responded to his story. He was quite kind and patient. 

Eventually he wasn't around on Sundays and when I asked Ruth about his involvement at the store she said that he's moved to Toronto. I'm grateful for his courage in being visible which helped my change in perception. 

We have someone in our close circle who was born as a boy, anatomically, but from the earliest days identified as a girl. She announced a year ago that she wanted to change her name, a decision which the broader family has supported with remarkable grace.  So has the faith-based school she attends and their Christian community. We do wonder what the future holds for her in a society which is still given to gender stereotypes and cruelty, but in the moment she is happy and bathed in acceptance. 

A generation ago this would have been fraught with challenges at so many levels, yet here we are. We are learning, and deepening our understanding, and I'm convinced that acceptance of the LGBTQ2S community is part of our gospel imperative. 

Here is the link to President Biden's statement for the Day of Transgender Visibility

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Choosing to Enter the Passion of Jesus

As a retiree it seems as though I have a lot of time on my hands and that my life is not my own. That may sound contradictory but while there is a certain blessed spaciousness to retirement our monthly wall calendar (yes, we still have one) fills us with a variety of commitments and activities, even with pandemic precautions. 

I was to lead a brief study group focussing on Holy Week, the period between Palm/Passion Sunday and Holy Saturday but those plans changed. I did begin my preparations using three books as a foundation for our exploration and discussion,  all of which offer excellent and varying perspectives. They are:

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened by Craig Evans and NT Wright
Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner's Guide by Amy-Jill Levine

The first two I've had for years. Levine's book was purchased on recommendation and once again her Jewish perspective with a heartfelt respect for the Christian story offers insights which are very helpful.

Many of us grew up in mainline Protestant churches which moved from Palm Sunday as a celebratory event to Easter, with a Good Friday service along the way. The crucifixion was both crucial, literally, and discomfiting, and usually not well attended.  Maundy Thursday, a commemoration of Jesus' final meal with his followers, was introduced along the way in some congregations, including several that I served. Many people were puzzled by this inclusion.  I was dismayed to learn that before the pandemic one congregation I served dispensed with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Telling this story liturgically is essential to our Christian faith. 

Palm/Passion Sunday is only 10 days away and whether we recognize Holy Week devotionally or in worship, or both, I hope we can all enter into the powerful mystery of Christ's passion on the journey to Easter. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Oscars, Tammy Faye, & the Same Old Dirt

                                                                              Jessica Chastain

 Let's forget the "Academy Award for Most Unexpected Act of Violence After a Tasteless Joke", shall we? I didn't watch much of the Oscars on Sunday night but I saw the next day that Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for her role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. On Twitter Jay Bakker, the son of the late Tammy Faye Bakker was very pleased that this sympathetic portrayal won the award:

Growing up with all the joke’s and fist fights in high school the whispering behind our backs all the gossip… @jes_chastain  win feels very validating for me. My mom always triumphed in adversity and continued to love people no matter what they said about her. What a lady!

Here is my blog from last September after I saw the film: 

Ten days ago I received an email from one of the faith-based organizations I follow offering the opportunity to watch the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye. This is a Toronto International Film Festival movie and while it screened in TO it was also online as part of the hybrid format. We watched this dramatized depiction of the lives of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, the televangelists who eventually fell from grace due to hubris, greed, and sexual impropriety. Jim did jail time for financial malfeasance but he's back on televison at age 81 and still a scam artist. 

Tammy Faye died of cancer at the age of 65, and she left this life as the butt of endless jokes because her penchant for heavy makeup turned her into a clown figure. She is portrayed by Jessica Chastain who is excellent in the role and whose performance lifts a film which is up and down (still well worth watching.) 

The premiere at TIFF received a standing ovation and I imagine that it was because of Chastain's sympathetic portrayal of a woman who overcame poverty and personal rejection as a child to become a beloved figure to their huge audience. 

                                                         The Bakkers in their Heyday

The film reminds us that so much of the "health and wealth" gospel is a pyramid scheme with an off-kllter halo, and the Bakkers were pioneers in the media-savvy version of Christianity which is actually antithetical to the gospel. Bakker deserved to go to jail, as do many of his successors. 

Tammy Faye genuinely cared about others and was convinced that God loved everyone. In the homophobic milieu of the evangelical Christianity of the 70's which persists today she was remarkably open-minded and welcoming. One scene in the film depicts the hour on one episode she devoted to an interview with a man living with AIDS and who was open about his homosexuality and convinced that God loved him. 

Tammy Faye agreed “I refuse to label people,” she said in a 2000 documentary with the same name as the current film -- “We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt, and God didn’t make any junk.”

Tammy Faye became something of a gay icon, part parody, part appreciation, and ultimately support. In the final interview before her death she said, “When we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”

The Bakkers' son, Jay, who has been a progressive pastor and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, endorses the film and feels it humanizes his parents, despite all their flaws. He certainly loved his mother and her portrayal does honour strengths as well as foibles. 

As the Canadian government reveals net zero emissions targets, do we have a prayer in addressing climate change? Today's Groundling blog

Monday, March 28, 2022

Big Name Philanthropy & Simple Gifts


“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you

                                                             Matthew 6:2-4 NRSV


the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good cause

When the  elite "Richie Rich's" of the world divorce the news of vast financial settlements is splashed around as though it really matters to us lowly folk who gawk for a while, then move on. Most recently it was Bill and Melinda Gates who parted company, but three years ago it was Mackenzie Scott and Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame who mutually and civlly pulled the plug on a 25-year marriage. The settlement made Scott the third wealthiest woman on the planet with $38 billion. 

What was noteworthy, from my perspective, was her commitment to giving away that wealth. This is a promise which she is keeping having bestowed $19 billion to various causes around the world, including here in Canada. Habitat for Humanity has received nearly half a billion, Black colleges have benefitted, organizations which address mental health and addictions and reproductive rights. The other day an umbrella organization for Canadian environmental groups was given $19 million without knowing that they were even on the radar for Scott's foundation's generosity.

By and large, Scott keeps a personal low profile with these gifts, although the magnitude and scope brings lots of attention. There are no expectations that her name be displayed on any edifice or any of the other quid pro quo expectations which are often part of big donations. And there will be a searchable database for the organizations which have been recipients in a move toward transparency.

The philanthropy of the rich is intriguing because wealth can make a signficant and immediate difference for the wellbeing of others. Yet we need to ask how that wealth was derived, and what the motivation is, and whether this form of generosity is appeasement or a tax dodge. In Scott's case her wealth actually grew through the pandemic as Amazon made obscene profits and workers benefitted very little. 

Through the years of congregational ministry there were signature gifts from some well-to-do individuals which were welcome for certain projects. And I was convinced that in most cases the donations were genuine and faith-full. I was never comfortable, though, when congregations felt compelled to be especially deferential to these people or that there needed to be what could seem like fawning recognition. The truth is that in most faith communities the majority of money to carry out ministry comes from everyday folk who make decisions for stewardship and even tithing which never get high-profile recognition. As disciples of Christ who believe in the mission of their expression of the Body of Christ they give. 

Jesus said that  "you always have the poor with you" and his crucified body was laid in the tomb of a wealthy benefactor rather than thrown on the rubbish heap of the executed. He also warned against the accumulation of wealth and making a show of generosity

I am not sure that there is an easy answer here, so we can each choose to respond with compassion, love, and generosity in Christ's name  

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, 

and when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed;

to turn, turn will be our delight

'til by turning, turning, we come round right.

Simple Gifts VU 353

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Praying for the Indigenous Delegation in Rome

                                 Chief Wilton Littlechild (Alberta) will meet with Pope Francis on March 31

Today we can pray for the Indigenous delegation which is now in Rome for meetings with Pope Francis regarding the horror of Roman Catholic run Residential Schools. Several Christian denominations  and the federal government established the schools to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian society and they existed for more than a century.

Most denominations, including the United Church, have apologized for involvement. The United Church did so in 1998 and through the years has paid reparations, established a Healing Fund, and participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While this response doesn't compensate for what amounted to cultural genocide it is a recognition of wrong-doing.

The Vatican has yet to issue an apology but the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of former RC schools has prompted Canadian bishops to apologize and led to this meeting. Here is the CBC description of who is in Rome and what they hope for:

Thirty Indigenous delegates, including survivors, knowledge keepers, leaders and youth representing Inuit, Métis and First Nations from coast to coast to coast will be meeting privately and publicly with Pope Francis from March 28 to April 1 at the Vatican. 

The trip is being jointly organized by the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and is in preparation for an eventual visit of Pope Francis to Canada, expected to happen later this year.

The delegates will press the Pope to make an official apology for the Church's role in running Catholic residential schools during his visit to Canada. "Our aim is to tell the stories about the painful legacy of the residential school system on our community members," said Gull-Masty, in a release.

                                                            Mitch Case -- Metis delegate

Here is the United Church apology from 25 years ago. I have shared it a number of times but it bears repeating: 

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

Saturday, March 26, 2022

More Thoughts on World Water Day


                                                                               Christi Belcourt 

Earlier this week I wrote about World Water Day and blah-blahed about the named theme of groundwater. I thought it was a fairly good blog entry but honestly I wouldn't write any of them if I didn't feel the subjects were important and that we would benefit from reflecting on them from a Christian perspective.

Then on Thursday I listened to an Indigenous lawyer speaking about the $8 billion class action settlement she was instrumental in negotiating. A portion of that historic settlement will go to the 100,000 Indigenous persons who were represented in the suit. Billions will go to improve infrastructure in First Nations communities, including the 50 to 60 which have been living under Boil Water Advisories or Drinking Water Advisories. If you search the latter term you will arrive at the Government of Canada website which claims that the number advisories is actually down to 34, in 29 communities, but that total fluctuates and it is still far too many.

 The list of communities where drinking water advisories have been lifted are essentially all Indigenous which is such a reminder that our supposed colonial past is still a part of the present reality for many. And I was unpleasantly surprised to see that one of the communities is the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte which is just a few kilometres from our home, where I never give thought to the cleanliness of the water I drink. That advisory was lifted on March 15, 2022, just a few days ago. 

The exhibit at the McMichael Gallery in 2019-20 called Uprising: The Power of Mother Earth introduced us to the powerful work of artist Christi Belcourt. There is considerable variety to her work but the sacredness of water is essential. I appreciate her feelings about the destructive legacy of Christian institutions for Indigenous peoples yet as I appreciated the spirituality of her painting and prints the imagery of Christ as Living Water in the gospel of John. I am convinced that we have so much to learn from Indigenous peoples around the planet when it comes to the sacredness of H2O. 

                                        What the Sturgeon Told Me -- Christi Belcourt

Friday, March 25, 2022

Prolonged Grief and Hope


 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died

                                                     I Thessalonians 4:13-14

In my final pastoral charge an elderly man with stately bearing began attending worship. I had no idea who he was but a member expressed her mild surprise that he was there, given that she had lived in the same condo building for years and she couldn't recall him ever coming to church.She mentioned that his wife had died a couple of years before and that he made a trip across town every day to visit her grave.

He arrived early so one morning I slipped into the pew, introduced myself, and offered to visit him. While he seemed taken aback by this suggestion he agreed and that week I found my way to what was a huge condo with a commanding view of the Bay of Quinte. He told me with some pride about his distinguished military career, including several years as an attache in New York City. As he told me about his late wife he softened, admitting that he hadn't moved any of her things in their bedroom nor rearranged the furniture which she had carefully chosen. He pointed out a vase with flowers which were his wife's favourites and that when he bought them he imagined bringing them home to her. Over the next couple of years I visited this man several times, including during hospital stays in which he admitted that he looked forward to being reunited with her. 

How do we measure grief and how long should it persist? I thought of this man and many other parishioners through the years when I saw the title of a New York Times article, How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer. The latest edition of the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, sometimes known as “psychiatry’s bible,” includes a controversial new diagnosis: prolonged grief disorder. This supposed form of mental illness refers to a small percentage of grieving people who  are incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities. With the diagnosis there are suggested treatments. 

There has been an immediate response from those involved in grief counselling who reject the idea that the length of time to grieve can be quantified or that extended grief should be diagnosed as mental illness. 

I ain't a shrink but through the decades I learned that grief is a profound mystery and that I was no predicter of how long that process might take. There were people in life-long loving relationships who seemed to recover relatively quickly from loss, even remarrying in their 80's. There were others who spoke to me about their grief and it was so real that I thought that the loss was recent, only to discover that it had occurred a decade earlier. 

Some mourned the death of a miscarried child even after another had been born. Parents who lost a young adult child in a terrible accident eventually parted ways because the agonizing grief of one for exceeded that of the other. A fair number of people mourned pets as though they were human, and I wondered at times if they would experience the same grief when a grumpy partner died!

Should there be a "prolonged grief" mental illness? Some people do seem stuck in grief, to the detriment of living full lives. Still, I am somewhat leery at the prospect. Keep in mind that Queen Victoria wore black, the "widow's weeds"  for 40 years after the death of her beloved Albert. Was she mentally ill? And many cultures and religions set periods for mourning.

In many funeral and memorial services I included the verses from Thessalonians above. I've always hoped that our Christian faith and resurrection faith makes a difference to our sense of loss, even though grief should never be denied.  And while I still have moments of grief recalling loved ones and friends who have left this life I find comfort in that promise. 

Do we all need a healthy dose of clouds in these stormy times? My Groundling blog

                                                      Queen Victoria and her children in mourning 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Rise of Hatred and Mending the World

Earlier this week The Globe and Mail offered an in-person and online webcast with the sobering title of Hate Crimes in Canada. Hate crimes are on the rise in this country with a sharp increase in 2020 and initial evidence that there was another uptick in 2021. Haters hate through physical violence, vandalism, and online trolling. Whether it's on the basis of skin colour, sexual orientation, or religion, it's ugly and pervasive in this country. The seminar involved a number of speakers who identified the challenges of keeping up with the multiplicity of hate platforms and groups, defining what constitutes hate, and of coordinating efforts to address it. 

I couldn't watch throughout the afternoon but I was fortunate to tune in as United Church minister, the Rev. Anthony Bailey from Parkdale United Church in Ottawa, took the podium. Anthony lived through a horrendous racial hatred experience as a young man in Montreal. He and his brother were accosted by racists and his sibling was stabbed to death. During his time at Parkdale there have been a couple of incidents in which racist graffiti was spray-painted on the church building and Baileym who is Black, received personal threats.

One of the perpetrators, a minor, was caught, and Anthony entered into a restorative justice relationship with this person. He has also been involved in a program with this purpose in the city of Ottawa.He spoke of the Jewish concept of "tikkun olam", mending the world, and attempting to break the cycle of escalation and retributive violence. 

He also spoke of offering an alternative narrative or story, describing the practical and symbolic initiative Parkdale undertook with the Jewish and Muslim communities in their neighbourhood, whose buildings were also vandalized. They collaborated on a well-advertised blood drive to remind everyone that while our vital blood may have different types it can't be identified by ethnicity or religion.

I appreciate that Rev. Bailey was included amongst the Globe speakers and what he offered was a powerful Christian and interfaith witness.  

Monarchs are on the move, thanks be to God! Today's Groundling blog

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Gospel or Backdoor Socialism?

                                                      Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

                                            Matthew 20:16

 At the risk of revealing a mean streak, I delighted in the popping sound of federal Conservative heads exploding at the news of an agreement between the minority Liberals and the New Democratic Party. This deal will ensure a degree of stability for the ruling Libs, avoiding the fall of the government through a non-confidence vote. The concession to the NDP in this agreement is the implementation of pharmacare and dental care, two glaring omissions in our supposedly universal health care system. Contrary to the spluttering of outraged Conservatives, this is not a coalition government because the NDP will still be an opposition party without representation in cabinet and this is legal under the Canadian constitution. 

Do I think it's a good idea? Time will tell on whether this will work, and the NDP didn't sign in blood, from what I can gather, so could withdraw at any time. 

I am pleased that there will be a plan to implement dental coverage and a broader drug plan for all Canadians. As a United Church benefit plan member for years and now a pensioner I've been grateful for coverage in these areas for decades, even though our plan is modest compared to others. For those with marginal incomes the costs are prohibitive. Chatting with guests at church meal ministries through the years I've literally seen the outcome of not having dental coverage. When our Syrian refugee families arrived a big challenge during the first couple of years was funding thousands of dollars in dental care even though other medical support was provided. People get sick from lousy teeth and gums and often require other expensive medical care as a result. 

Tommy Douglas was the Baptist minister who became a politician and worked toward medicare in the 1940's and 50's. It was resisted by other politicians and the medical community before coming into being in Saskatchewan first, in the early 1960's, and eventually the rest of the country when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's federal government offered to fund 50% of the cost. Douglas envisioned a more expansive program over time, and this may be the fruition of what he began. 

Douglas, the biblical Christian, was proud to be considered a socialist which we should keep in mind as the Conservatives claim that the agreement is actually a deal with the devil and "little more than backdoor socialism", to quote interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen. She can dream about this on the $3,800 mattress she billed to Canadian taxpayers for her brief role. 

We are pilgrims on a journey,  fellow travellers on the road;

we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

                                                          The Servant Song VU 595

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Opioid Epidemic & Communities of Faith


                                                                     Illustration by Neil Webb

Provinces are now reporting the number of opioid deaths in 2021 and the news is bleak. As examples, British Columbia and Alberta had record totals of deaths, with nearly 4,000 between the two provinces. 2022 is starting out in similar grim fashion. 

You may have seen that the Sackler family in the United States is in the news again. They are the wicked bunch who owned Purdue Pharma, producers of OxyContin, the drug prescribed to millions as a safe and effective painkiller. The company knew that it was highly addictive for years but engaged in a deceptive and deadly campaign to sell their product. Somehow the Sacklers have avoided personal liability and prosecution by paying massive fines, beginning with $4.3 billion. Recently they agreed to raise that amount to roughly $6 billion. Is that what half a million lives lost during the crisis of the past 20 years is worth? No one goes to jail and the Sacklers are still multi-billionaires. It was greed and a fascination with recognition -- their names were on institutions around the world -- which drove them. 

Communities of faith have never been sure how to respond to addictions, often stigmatizing those who are deeply affected by them. The AA groups meeting in church basements have generally been separate worlds from the Sunday morning congregations. Through the years I had a fair number of conversations with those living with addictions of various kinds, everything from alcohol to drugs to gambling. Some of the individuals were members who were living secretive and desparate lives under the veneer of respectablity. I often felt inadequate in responding to their complex needs but they felt there was a spiritual component to their illness and the possibilities for recovery. 

There was a thoughful article in Broadview magazine last Fall about the way different congregations are responding to the crisis and I encourage you to read it. I am impressed by the volunteers from our congregation, Trenton United, who took part in a harm reduction seminar related to the Warming Centre at the church. Here are two excerpts from the article: 

“For a long time in the church, we have used a purity-based abstinence model,” says Rev. Evan Swance-Smith of TUNM, “and the reality is that people are still using. Clearly it does not work for everyone. It doesn’t work for the majority of people. We need to ask ourselves: how can we reduce the harm in this activity and the stigma?”


Stigma is a significant contributor to the crisis, says Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia and author of Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada’s Opioid Crisis. “We stigmatize substance users more than people with leprosy,” he asserts. Attitudes of blame and judgment have led to people using drugs alone, he adds, with no one available to provide first aid or emergency support if the drug supply is contaminated.

With the arrival of fentanyl in recent years, the likelihood of contamination is considerable. A potent painkiller, up to 100 times stronger than morphine, it’s potentially lethal even in trace amounts. “People from every walk of life, every socioeconomic strata, are affected,” says Perrin. As a society, our aim needs to be saving lives, not punishing people, he insists. Perrin approaches the issue through both the facts and his faith: “God doesn’t want to leave us in a place of sin and trauma. God wants to heal us,” he reflects. “And to get to that place, we’ve got to stay alive.”

Water from the Rock and World Water Day in today's Groundling blog

Monday, March 21, 2022

Guaranteed Livable Income & Brian Mulroney


I was not a fan of Brian Mulroney when he was Canada's Prime Minister (1984 -93) for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his blarney-ful duet with Ronald Reagan. Except that I did admire his environmental record which eventually resulted in being designated Canada's "greenest" PM. Imagine, a Conservative being progressive in environmental policy because it might conserve what is vital to our economic wellbeing? 

Now I see that Mulroney has offered a video with his agenda for "building back better" following the pandemic which includes what he terms Universal Basic Income or UBI. He expresses his feeling that this makes sense for the disadvantaged who are struggling to get by in our relatively wealthy society, including those who lost a lot during the past two years. His outlook is not unlike that of another Progressive Conservative, Hugh Segal, author of  Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada. I confess that my view of Mulroney has been shaken up.

As it happens I recently chatted with a retired guy at the gym who met with a local politician about the plight of his disabled son who is attempting to live on $17,000. His parents supplement his income because he would be impoverished otherwise. When I asked how the meeting had gone he shook his head in frustration. What we need, he said, is a guaranteed income for those who need it most. 

I agreed and mentioned that the United Church supports what we term Guaranteed Livable Income. I told him that son Isaac, who is a UCC minister is involved in that initiative. 

Of course, we did have a form of GLI during COVID with supplements for those who lost work, but as the economy has recovered those are disappearing. And it seemed that the GLI pilot project in Ontario was off to promising start before Ford and the Regressive Conservatives came to power and killed it. 

Isn't it time we woke up to Segal's premise that people do want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but we have to make sure that they have boots in the first place? I do believe that this is a biblical imperative as well, and that Christ's call to compassion can guide us.  



Sunday, March 20, 2022

Mid-Lent, Masks, & Celebration


Mid-Lent, Celebration in Masks, Charlevoix Franklin Arbuckle 1945

This morning as we arose, groggily, we sat with our morning coffee and I commented that it seems as though we have been living in a two-year-long season of Lent. This is the third Sunday of the six-week period of preparation for Holy Week and Easter and while there is always a sombre and reflective tone to the season, this year it weighs even heavier. 

It's strange because at least we have the option of in-person worship whereas the last two years most congregations were restricted to online services. We can see the Lenten candles being extinguished, one by one, and sing our mask-muffled hymns. 

This Thursday is the actual mid-point of the Lent and next Sunday is Laetare, or Joy Sunday, with a rose candle rather than purple. It's an invitation to come up for air, liturgically speaking. There is also a French-Canadian celebration called Mi Careme, and I was reminded of it by the painting above which was included in the wonderful Twitter account called Canadian Paintings. It seems to be much like the mummering tradition of Newfoundland where people wear masks and costumes and go door-to-door seeking treats. 

After two years of masking for public health and what I feel is now the ominous choice by governments to abandon mask requirements, have we missed the opportunity to combine what has been an unprecedented necessity with a note of Lenten revelry. Who knows? 

I will continue to wear a mask in public settings in keeping with the recommendations of epidemiologists and the provincial science advisory table.I'll pray for kids in schools who will be more vulnerable to COVID as the masks come off, and for all those who are immuno-compromised so will end up more isolated.

 Maybe, though,  I can yuck it up a bit on Thursday by rummaging around for one of the Christmas themed masks in the basket by the door? Hmm. I could end up seeming loonier than I already am!

What is a Wild Church and what does it have to do with the beginning of Spring. Today's Groundling blog

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Spring & the Sacrament of Silence


On three occasions in the past week we've walked in spots where there was very little human-made noise. There were the sounds of birds and of wind in the trees but we were blessedly free of intrusive mechanical noise. On our foray to Lodge Point at Sandbanks Provincial Park we were alone as we walked out toward Lake Ontario and I asked our companion, our 9-year-old grandson to stop and tell me what he heard. He looked mildly puzzled and said "nothing", although he went on to mention the birds. I told him that we liked it there because so often we don't hear anything except natural sounds. His hearing is keen and ours is failing but we all benefitted from "the sounds of silence."

Human beings are often uncomfortable with silence and even suspicious of it. In the latest issue of Orion a biologist who spends extended periods in a blind in the wilderness, far from other people, writes that her temperament is well suited for the role. Over the years people have commented to her "you're quiet", a mixture of bemusement and reproach. 

                                                       Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Many people in ministry are introverts who appreciate silence and solitude as aspects of the spiritual life, even though they live out their vocation in extroverted and social congregational life. We may try to point out that Moses and Elijah and Jesus and Paul spent extended periods of time listening for God in the silence but it doesn't always fly. The other day I was recalling the times I spent at various retreats including Ghost Ranch in the high plateau of New Mexico. Nearby there was a Roman Catholic monastery and a Sufi retreat centre.

I pulled out my copy of Holy Silence by Brent Bill, my favourite Quaker writer (I honestly don't know of many others.) His first chapter is called Silence: The Quaker Sacrament. He compares the experience of silence to the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Roman Catholic eucharist, and I really like that notion. You may be aware that Quaker meetings are often held in the silence. 

To careen from the sublime to the ridiculous, there is a scene in the highly irreverent series Fleabag when the main character goes to a Quaker meeting house in Soho, a busy part of London. The priest who takes her there explains the concept of expectant silence which doesn't fit her personality at all, but she's fallen in love with him. Awkward hilarity ensues. This is filmed in Westminster Quaker meeting house which goes back to the mid-1600's in various locations. 

Well, this blog entry is a bit of a ramble, isn't it? All to say, I hope Spring, which begins tomorrow, brings many more opportunities for the sacrament of silence. 

                                                       Quaker Meeting House scene in Fleabag 

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

There is a book called The Cross and the Lynching Tree, wriitten late in the career of Professor James Cone, a Black scholar who grew up in the segregated American South. He was the first Black doctoral student to be admitted to Union Theological Seminary and he was a leading voice in critiquing the racist culture of the US.

While The Cross and the Lynching Tree is still in the precarious pile of "to be read" books next to my bed I know that is a thoughtful  reflection on the gruesome practice of execution called lynching, the use of White power to subjugate Black people, compared with the cross of Jesus, which subverts that power and sets Black people free. 

Did you hear that the US Senate just passed legislation to criminalize lynching? I was gobsmacked to discover that this vote took place in 2022, and only after hundreds of failed attempts to bring it about. Here is a segment of the NPR report: 

 The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Monday that criminalizes lynching and make it punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It sailed through the House of Representatives last month, and President Biden is expected to sign it.While it eased through both chambers of Congress this time with virtually no opposition, the path to passage took more than 100 years and 200 failed attempts.

Under the bill, named the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act after the 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was lynched while visiting family in Mississippi, a crime can be prosecuted as a lynching when a hate crime results in a death or injury, said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., a longtime sponsor of the legislation."Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy," Rush said in a statement Monday evening. "Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act."

There is now a museum in Alabama which commemorates the 4,400 documented instances of the lynching in various forms which took place well past the middle of the 20th century.

There has been lots of unjustified criticism of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement because it has been so vocal about the deaths of Black people, including George Floyd and so many others. These are effectively lynchings, even though they are too often at the hands of police. Who wants to be told that there is systemic racism in society which still veers into White Supremacy? 

If we imagine that lethal racism doesn't happen in Canada, read Desmond Cole's book The Skin We're In. Or read the racist and violent statements made by some organizers & participants in the so-called Freedom Convoy which occupied Ottawa. 

As we make our way thrugh Lent to Holy Week and Good Friday we must take up our own crosses and follow Jesus in decrying racism wherever we see it and repent of our own discriminatory biases. 

The Dawn Chorus spoke to my heavy heart this Lenten morning. My Groundling blog today

This stained-glass window was donated to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham by the people of Wales after the church was bombed in 1963. (Solomon Crenshaw, For The Birmingham Times)