Thursday, February 15, 2018


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is embraced by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould after delivering a speech on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights in in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, made a 15-minute speech in the House of Commons which was clearly a response to public outrage at the acquittal of a Saskatchewan farmer who shot and killed Colten Boushie, a Cree man who drove onto his property with friends. Trudeay promised new legal framework for Indigenous peoples and the speech included the phrase "we need to get to a place where Indigenous peoples are in control of their own destiny." I've heard a number of responses to the speech from Indigenous leaders, most of them cautiously optimistic, although they are well aware that there have been plenty of words which have not issued in action when it comes to healing the brokenness of virtually every system which addresses Native rights and culture. Someone suggested that what we need is "reconciliaction," the simple but profound addition of a letter to remind us that the time is now for concrete proposals and their implementation.

The United Church has responded in the form of a letter by our Moderator Jordan Cantwell. I'll include a portion here, as well as the link for you to read her worthwhile thoughts in their entirety:

I am therefore asking you to reflect on the legal system’s response to the violent death of a young Indigenous man in a Canada that says it is committed to reconciliation. I am asking you to reflect as members of a church that has also pledged its commitment to reconciliation and to confronting racism.

To the members of the United Church’s 64 Indigenous communities of faith and to Indigenous members of the church in urban areas and other communities of faith, I say that the United Church will continue to seek to build a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. We understand that this cannot be accomplished simply with words. It requires confronting our own racism and dismantling systems of privilege that deny you your rightful place in the life of your nations and this country.

To the those of you who are members of non-Indigenous communities of faith in the United Church, I ask you to think about what our Indigenous relations are experiencing and feeling in this moment. I ask you to think about how you can respond in a way that will be meaningful for them, and that will contribute to a new relationship between us.

What can we do? We can pray for those affected by this case, and for all those who have been or are being harmed by the systemic racism that underlies it. We can pray for the strength to face hard truths. We can join in public witness and support. We can learn more about what changes the TRC has recommended for the Canadian legal system with respect to Indigenous peoples (Calls to Action 25-42), and we can advocate with political leaders for the fulfillment of those reforms. Most importantly, we can acknowledge and confront our own racism and privilege.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Snow Day

Backyard cross this morning

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Psalm 51

Ruth and I have been delighted by the amount of snow that has fallen through this Winter. Okay, there have been some moments when I wanted to hang up my shovel forever, but for the most part it has been a delight. We're old enough to recall pre-climate change Winters in Southern Ontario, back in the days when the seasons weren't Spring, Summer, Autumn and Grey. We also lived in Northern Ontario for eleven years and quickly learned to embrace the outdoors opportunities of the season with our young family. The alternative was a serious case of cabin fever.

Cold and ice and snow are transformative. They can literally alter the landscape, obscuring reference points, making some places inaccessible and others accessible. Snow can remake the dreariest thicket into a place of enchantment and surprise the most cynical heart with joy.  

Through the years I've pondered all this in the context of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Ash Wednesday shifts around the calendar because of it's relationship with Easter, our curiously migratory celebration of Christ's resurrection. It can be as early as February 3rd and as late as March 9th.  Still, for a lot of Canadians snow is at hand as Lent begins Through the decades of ministry I had just one Ash Wednesday cancelled because of a heavy snowfall and white-out conditions.

It's important to have the "dirty forehead" aspect of Ash Wednesday, the contrition and repentance which open us to a new and clean heart and mind. I also appreciate the words of the Ash Wednesday Psalm, 51, where David is sufficiently convicted by guilt and remorse to seek a fresh start: "wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." How often did David see snow in the course of his lifetime? It couldn't have been more than a few. In that respect the imagery is even more powerful.

I hope that this Lent is a time for redirection and transformation for all of us. May Christ be with us on this journey. Happy sledding.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Old and the New of Lent

Why I Believe: Daily Devotions on Faith & Discipleship

Today Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday" will be celebrated will be celebrated with varying degrees of debauchery around the world. Others of us will stick to pancakes, perhaps ramping the meal up with some sausages on the side. This is the last day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Because Lent was traditionally a time of self-denial Christians would get rid of the fat in their kitchens and do some celebrating before the six-week season began.

A lot of us grew up without Lent, leaving that notion to the Roman Catholics. While many conservative Christian groups still look askance at this "popish" behaviour, a surprising number now include aspects of the liturgical year in their worship life.

Abstinence and self-denial can actually be good choices in an age where there seems to be so little encouragement to see less as more. Perhaps we would be better off with less screen time and more prayer time during our journey toward Easter. Fasting from meat a day or two a week makes a lot of sense, environmentally.

There are resources such as the United Church Lenten devotional book, Why I Believe. Our son, the Rev. Isaac Mundy is one of the contributors this year. Here is a sample of his weekly reflections 

Image result for cpj lent give it up for the earth

Citizens for Public Justice have their Give it Up For the Earth emphasis, which has a Creation Care theme. I wonder how far we can go to reduce plastic from our "diet," a modern day version of the traditional ridding ourselves of rich foods during Lent. What if we consciously chose not to purchase goods, including food, entombed in the plastic which is plaguing our waterways, lakes and oceans?

Lent is also about a shift in attention and intention. I would encourage you to take a moment in every day to be aware of the world beyond your walls, admittedly a challenge at times when we feel housebound by winter conditions. How about keeping a Lenten notebook in which you record the simple pleasures and beauty of the natural world? That may require a commitment to get outside more often to experience creation and Creator.

Diana Butler Bass is about to release a book on gratitude and recently tweeted:

Lent begins this Wed 2/14. Add a practice of gratefulness to your life. Keep a gratitude journal, write a thank you letter to someone you appreciate, surprise friends with thank you gifts, do gratitude meditations. Make this a thankful Lent.

Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

Will you give up or take on anything for Lent this year, or will you give up thinking about Lent for Lent?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Queen Victoria and Christian Compassion

Martin Compston as Dr Traill in Victoria

 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth,
I therefore command you,
“Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Deuteronomy 15:11 (NRSV)

We haven't been watching the British series on PBS entitled Victoria. We started last year but I gave up on the melodrama about the British monarch of the 19th century and Ruth wasn't impressed by the beginning of the second season. We did stumble into an episode last evening and it was quite worthwhile. It explored one of the darkest eras of Queen Victoria's reign, the Irish Potato Famine. During a roughly seven year span in the middle of the century disease ravaged the staple of this nation of eight million inhabitants. Estimates vary widely but by the time of stabilization he population was halved either by starvation and disease (1-1 1/2 million and emigration (1-2 million). It has never recovered to that eight million figure and even in the 1970's the population was only around three million.

Skibbereen by James Mahony, 1847.JPG

Back to Victoria! The focus of the episode was on a Church of Ireland (Protestant) priest, Dr Robert Traill , who served one of the most afflicted parishes where people sometimes died by the side of the road and lay unburied. Traill was initially fiercely anti-Catholic but put aside sectarian biases to work on behalf of the starving souls of the area. He wrote passionate and eloquent letters beseeching authorities to come to the aid of the afflicted

That's where Queen Victoria comes in, at least in the drama. She becomes aware of Traill's advocacy and gives him an audience. She, in turn, asks the Prime Minister to respond to what was one of the greatest humanitarian crises in European history. The British government had been fully aware of the unfolding disaster but chose to ignore it.

The historical Dr Traill is the great-great-great-grandfather of Victoria writer Daisy Goodwin who thought his story would be a good way to illustrate the terrible way in which the Irish were treated by the British government. Traill set up a soup kitchen in his parish rectory and eventually succumbed to disease himself, dying of "famine fever" in 1847.

What struck me was how overtly biblical this episode was. Traill quotes from Deuteronomy 15 and we are also given a snippet of 1 Corinthians 13 (the Love Passage) and a nod to the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.)

I think I've made a strong case for channel surfing here! Were you aware of the magnitude of the famine? Are you aware that there is a memorial to those who left Ireland on the Kingston waterfront? And don't forget the Heritage Minute about Irish orphans!

Image result for irish famine memorial kingston

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Uneven Justice?

Image result for colten boushie verdict

 Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie

What if I shared with you that I own a handgun which I keep loaded and ready in the event that a stranger ventures onto our property? And what if I told you that I was ready to use lethal force, even if I wasn't sure of the intent of that stranger, or whether he or she was armed? You might inform me that doing so is illegal in Canada and that I would likely go to prison if I acted in a reckless fashion.

I don't own a weapon and probably never will but your response would be accurate, or at least we thought it was. On Friday a Saskatchewan farmer named Gerald Stanley was acquitted of the murder of Colten Boushie, an aboriginal man who ended up on Stanley's property one fateful night. Stanley was charged with second degree murder but could have been convicted of manslaughter. Instead he walks away a free man while the Boushie family is mourning again.

This is a complicated situation because Boushie and his vehicle full of friends arrived unannounced that night and from reports some of them were inebriated. Local farmers had been dealing with thefts from property in an area where police response is slow. It seems as though everyone involved had changing stories about what transpired. But Boushie was shot in the back of the head as he sat in his vehicle.

Stanley and others claim that their readiness for intruders has nothing to do with race. Yet racism is an issue in Saskatchewan, which is evident from social media comments at the time of Boushie's death, during the trial, and after the verdict. And the defense lawyers for Stanley used their selection exceptions to ensure that no Native was on the jury.

Image result for colten boushie verdict protests

Yesterday there were protests across the country over the verdict. Aboriginal spokespersons decried the outcome, saying that there is no sense that justice has been done in this situation and in so many others. Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, held a news conference on Saturday saying that while he supports an inquest into this particular verdict, he doesn’t think it will be enough to create lasting, system-wide change.

Perhaps this verdict was "just" according to what was presented in the courtroom. The jury was carefully informed by the judge and jurors deliberated over the evidence. Still, I am heartsick about the outcome. I can't imagine a single aboriginal person in this country -- more than a million Canadians -- being satisfied with this outcome. The United Church has been involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose recommendations noted a wide range of systemic disparities in many aspects including justice. It does seem that the system is broken when it comes to justice and trust. I wonder what our denominational response will be?

I hope that congregations across the country will be praying for the Boushie family today and for all those affected by this verdict, and for justice for all in this country. Federal ministers and Prime Minister Trudeau keep claiming that "we have to do better." Those words need to be more than just another platitude.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dangerous Decibels

Related image

In the event you haven't noticed, it has snowed a lot this Winter. Yup, we get the weather warning and, sure enough, the neige starts falling. On Tuesday it was deep enough that the snowblowers on our court were out in force. I was bemused at one point when I saw and heard that our next-door neighbour was using her leaf blower to clean the snow off her car! I hate the mosquito-from-hell sound of leaf blowers, and here it was whining away in February.

It so happened that earlier in the day Dr Peter Lin did his regular health spot on CBC radio. He spoke about a recent World Health Organization report on the effects of noise on health. It is far more than an annoyance or irritant. Noise can affect heart health and deprive us of sleep. While the threshold of 85 decibels is often cited as danger level for hearing loss, anything over 55db can affect us significantly and 40% of Europeans live with environmental noise above that level. According to WHO, noise shortens the lives of a million people in Western Europe each year.

Remember that I noted the gospel reading from Mark for last Sunday included Jesus' choice to get away from the demands of his ministry by going to a deserted place to pray? There is an old expression "it's so noisy I can't hear myself think!" I continue to wonder how we turn down the noise of our lives so that we can think and pray and find some sense of peace and tranquility. Ya, it is the impossible dream for parents of young kids, and the poor often have little choice about their noisy surroundings. Strangely though, it is our affluence which turns up the noise with our gadgets and gotta-haves.

What do you think? Is your world getting noisier? Was Jesus on to something? Am I bringing on your heart attack by musing on this subject so often?

Image result for making noise book

Friday, February 09, 2018

A War Still Raging

Image result for syrian refugee children

Have you been paying attention to the civil war in Syria? Are you under the impression that the fighting may be on the wane, or that is effectively over? The truth is that there is still intense conflict which results in the deaths of innocent people.

While the direct conflict with ISIS/Daesh/ISIL is all but over, fighters have returned to their insurgent roots, hiding out in the desert. They continue to attack Syrian government forces and they may become more organized in their terrorist attacks. The US and others have cut support to the patchwork of rebel groups and the Assad government has all but defeated them in most areas but there are still pockets of strong resistance. Hospitals are still being bombed and in a suburb of Damascus, the capital, 60 or more people died on Tuesday of this week. This is a complex situation which will not lead to stability any time soon.

This means that the roughly five million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan will continue to live in crowded camps without any semblance of a normal life.

Canadians were remarkably generous in bringing Syrians to this country beginning in 2015. Many of the sponsor groups were faith-based organizations including Christian churches. Here in the Quinte region many families were welcomed into our midst and the coalition of congregations and other faith groups I was involved in brought more than twenty members of the same family to begin a new life here. We discovered though that the children hadn't been educated and they had physical and psychological challenges which we might have anticipated given their flight from danger and life in wretched circumstances.

I hope that as people of faith we will continue to support those we have brought to Canada, and that we'll continue to pray for resolution to what is a monumental humanitarian crisis. Our work of compassion is far from over.