Friday, May 25, 2018
In the 1990's a Roman Catholic priest in the war-ravaged city of Sarajevo, Father Ivo Markovic, was faced with a dilemma. His congregation was approaching Easter but there weren't enough choir members left for the music of the season. Marcovic had courageously worked for reconciliation during the war so he proposed creating a choir which would be multi-faith and multi-ethnic despite the antagonism between groups which had led to the destruction of the beautiful city.
Not surprisingly his congregation resisted but Markovic persisted, recruiting choristers who were Muslims and Jews and Eastern Orthodox. The choir they formed would sing music from all of their traditions although even they were sometimes reluctant to engage in the music of their former enemies. They called the choir, Pontanima: “Pont” – meaning bridge and “Anima” – meaning soul. The music Father Markovic said, was to be a “Bridge among souls.”
As one writer put has put it, each tradition carried its own strength. There are the tender words and music of Islam and the playful dance of Jewish music. When they sing Eastern Orthodox hymns it was, he said, as if “we were angels.” Orthodox Christian music richly acknowledges God’s presence on earth. Rather than meeting to talk about peace or how to live together, Father Markovic encouraged the people in his choir to live the dialogue and live ecumenism in their singing together.
Twenty years later the choir flourishes and they have performed more than 400 times in various countries. Soon they will tour several cities in Great Britain.
For me this is a heartening story, good news and Good News.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
We are coming up on June, which is Pride Month in Canada. There will be events and parades in a growing number of communities, an opportunity for LGBTQ persons and those who support them to celebrate various expressions of identity. I notice that some organizations are now using LGBTQ2IQ. I was just catching up with one Q and now there is a second (questioning.) I'm so old that I can remember when gay didn't mean Gay.
Despite my decrepitude I support the growing openness about gender and identity expression in our culture, although we have a long way to go toward acceptance. I'm glad that our children grew up in a different era, that their circles of friends includes LGBTQ persons. The denomination I'm still part of has led the way in the regard, often at considerable cost. I've been on staff with a number of gay and lesbian co-workers and my life has been richer for it.
All this to say that I've been receiving ads for a Pride Bible, which appears to be a garden variety New Revised Standard Version bible with a rainbow cover. I wondered if it would be like the old Red Letter Edition, only with rainbow highlights for inclusive passages, but that ain't it. Apparently 50% of profits will go to the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a Canadian-based charity.
Of course the bible has been used to support exclusion, persecution and even severe punishment for the LGBTQ community for centuries. During my time at seminary 40 years ago the United Church was pondering the limited number of passages in scripture condemning homosexuality and noting that they had more to do with licentiousness than orientation. In fact, the term homosexuality didn't exist until the mid-19th century, with a host of other words used instead.
I won't be purchasing a Pride Bible, but it's an interesting initiative as a fundraiser for those who are oppressed. As food for final thought, some scholars are convinced that King James I whose Authorized Version was the first widely dispersed English language bible was gay.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
We have a membership for the Art Gallery of Ontario and we regularly head to Toronto for special exhibits. Even though we usually have a purpose for our visits I make a point of going to see one painting from the permanent collection virtually every time. It is by Emily Carr and until recently it was titled Indian Church. It speaks to me powerfully because the modest clapboard structure sits amidst of magnificent trees which are a natural cathedral and full of energy.
We have a reproduction of this painting in our home. As someone who spent a career in Christian ministry as an "insider," leading worship within a variety of church structures, some very beautiful, I have often felt that my soul needs were met as an "outsider," in places where the natural world invoked a sense of awe and wonder for the Creator.
This week the AGO announced that after consulting with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation in British Columbia, on whose territory the church was located, the name of the painting has been changed to The Church at Yukuot Village. http://www.nuuchahnulth.org/
The church was built by missionaries in the 1890's and the original building was destroyed by fire, but in endured through Carr's painting.
The AGO's move is part of a global trend of removing racially charged language from older pieces of art, a trend which is not welcomed in all circles. If an artist has named a work, as is the case with Carr, how can subsequent generations alter it to suit changing sensibilities? Carr had a fascination with and deepening respect for First Nations culture, even though she was still a product of her time.
The AGO has erected an informational panel beside the painting that details the history of the church and the context behind the name change. That is helpful and I do appreciate the reasons for the decision. I'll attempt to use the new name, although I may lean toward The Painting Formerly Known as Indian Church when my memory fails me, a nod to the late musician Prince.
Any comments about the choice of the AGO to change the name of this work?
Take a click and read my Groundling musings about the Kilauea volcano
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go -- Matheson & Peace
Ruth, my wife sent a video to someone dear to us who is going through an extremely difficult season in her life. Music and faith are important to this person, but at times in life our resources are exhausted, that which gives us comfort can seem empty, and God seems distant.
Ruth chose a men's choir, the Westminster Chorus, singing the classic 19th century hymn, O Love that Will Not Let Me Go. I'm quite sure that I never included this hymn in a worship service during my years of ministry, nor do I recall it being sung at a funeral or memorial. Yet I know it, and this version moved me to tears. Perhaps it was seeing these younger men, dressed in street clothes, as though they could be heading out to work after they finished singing, that touched me so. As we go about our daily lives others don't know of what are often the heroic decisions to take another step through the "valley of the shadow."
The verse that puddle-ized me was the third, which is printed above. It speaks of the joy which is a gift from God, even when we are at our lowest ebb. There are several persons we love who are struggling with sadness and loss at the moment, and we pray. We do feel helpless at times to make a difference for them, but there is hope in this old hymn and I'm grateful for Ruth's sensitivity and pastoral heart.
Have a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiZ9xXoZ1Mk
Monday, May 21, 2018
Those of you who have read this blog over time may recall that I was often critical of Pope Benedict, a brilliant man who displayed a disturbing arrogance about religious expressions other than Roman Catholicism. Before he became pope he had the nickname of "God's Rottweiler" because of his unrelenting and "dogged" defense of RC doctrine, silencing those who espoused different perspectives.
For the past five years Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air in the papacy, for the Roman Catholic church, and for ecumenical relations. His encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si should be read by all Christians.
Still, Francis has been disturbingly reluctant to address clergy sexual abuse as honestly as is necessary for healing and reconciliation. During a recent trip to South America he insisted that claims of abuse in Chile were fabricated or exaggerated. He strongly defended clerical leaders who were accused of covering up these terrible crimes.
After his return Francis has a change of heart and sent a special investigator to Chile. The result was a damning report which upheld the accusations, including the widespread and systematic denial of legitimate claims of abuse. Francis apologized for his statements and invited victims to the Vatican for conversation.
Pope Francis with the Chilean Bishops
As a result of the investigation Pope Francis hosted all of the bishops of Chile at the Vatican for four days in order to review the report, and the results were startling. Every bishop -- 34- submitted his resignation to the pope, although we've yet to hear whether they will be accepted.
This outcome is unexpected yet necessary. The victims are supportive of this development, although not if the clerics end up living out their lives in the comfort of Vatican supported stipends, as has been the case for other offenders. They feel that there must be consequences, including the possibility of criminal prosecution.
We are aware these days that these terrible abuses of power are not just the domain of the church. The #metoo movement has exposed the dark side of the entertainment industry and there has been a string of allegations against sports coaches and physicians, as well as politicians. Of course, the Abuser in Chief is still in power in the United States.
We can all pay attention and pray that those who have suffered will finally be heard and justice done.
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Our grandsons, five and two and a half slept over last night. We had a lot of fun and the night went relatively well, so mission accomplished. We will bundle them into our vehicle soon and make the half hour drive to Trenton, their home, and where there father, our son, is the minister of the church we'll attend this Pentecost morning.
It will be interesting to see who's there on this holiday weekend in Ontario. Victoria Day is a relic of a bygone era of British colonialism, but everyone enjoys an extended "2/4" weekend. People tend to vote with their feet when it comes to church these days, and the cottage beckons, so...
These lads are a glimmer of hope in the diminishing church. The younger of the two assumes that this morning will be Messy Church, an event now held by some congregations at a time other than Sunday mornings. It involves lots of interactive, playful activities for sharing the Good News. Food is involved and the hope is that families will come together to enjoy faith and interaction. There was a Messy Church event at Trenton UC last week and 20+ kids were involved, along with the adults, which is encouraging for a congregation where children had all but disappeared.
Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate the swirling, chaotic, empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the first Christians. They were in a "what next?' mode after Jesus' death and resurrection, but when the Spirit came they were emboldened and energized.
We're sleepy and kinda relieved that Pentecost will see the boys back with Mom and Dad, yet we're also delighted by their presence and joie de vivre. We can pray that Christ's body, expressed through the United Church of Canada, can be transformed and inspirited.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Apparently honesty is the best policy and confession is good for the soul. Here is my confession -- I did watch the royal wedding this morning. I was up before Ruth with the plan of going for a walk before the rain commenced. The saunter never happened. I turned on the TV and that was it. I actually watched an hour of the prelims, and then the wedding, which was marvelous in my humble opinion.
I quite enjoyed the Anglo stuff, the hoighty toighty men's and boys choir, the orchestral ensemble, the pipe organ. Even the "liturgical drag" of the Church of England clergy was impressive. There were two stirring congregational hymns, one to the tune Slane (Be Thou My Vision) and then Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer (Jehovah).
What was really powerful were the participants who were people of colour who brought a powerful message of diversity to what could have been an event celebrating colonial exclusivity and the religion to support it. A Black choir sang Ben E. King's Stand By Me, which became an anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. The 19-year-old cellist was remarkable. And the preacher gave a rousing message of love, based on the lone scripture reading in the service -- more on that at my Groundling blog. The same choir sang a gospelly version of Amen! the likes of which has never been heard in St. George's Chapel
And yes, they sang God Save the Queen, and Prince Philip, age 96 and recuperating from hip surgery sang with the rest of the congregation.
In some ways it felt like a changing of the guard, pun intended. We won't claim that white privilege is over quite yet, knowing that the wedding cost an estimated $60 million CAD, $30 million of that for security. Still, there was something very different in the air that felt a lot like Pentecost.
Thanks to those who've already weighed in on yesterday's blog entry!
There was a lovely Earth-honouring passage in the wedding service. Read my Groundling blog to find out more.