Monday, April 28, 2014

I Come to the Garden

In some places it is the custom to put up an Easter Garden in the church. It had not been the custom at the place where I currently hang my biretta, but the wife of our Honorary Assistant had always put one up in the churches where her husband had served. The Altar Creche was a well-established practice, so it was a small step to an Altar Easter Garden. When we redecorated the sanctuary at the Easter Vigil, the final step was to remove a makeshift black frontal to reveal the Garden.

So, on the subject of Gardens and Easter, let me leave you with this (which most people don't realize is an Easter hymn):

Saturday, April 26, 2014

RIP Dan Heap, Priest, Member of Parliament

The Spadina byelection of 1981 was never supposed to be close, and New Democrat Dan Heap was certainly not supposed to be a contender. The national media, who consistently and incorrectly described Dan as a "former" Anglican Priest, treated him as an also ran, focusing all their attention on the perceived frontrunners, Liberal Jim Coutts and Progressive Conservative Laura Sabia.

It turned out the national media establishment were wrong on more than just Dan's canonical status.

Dan Heap with Olivia Chow in the 1980s
Dan Heap narrowly won the byelection - much to the annoyance of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who had engineered former MP Peter Stollery's summons to the Senate for the sole purpose of opening up a "safe" Liberal seat for his retainer Coutts. Heap bested Coutts again at the general election and that was the end of a once promising Liberal politician.

Once he was elected, the media dropped the revisionism about him being a "former" priest, which arose because he chose to be a worker priest at a time when the concept was still too new for a few bored reporters to bother with. Ironically, he was one of three Anglican priests in Parliament at the time, all three priests of the Diocese of Toronto and each belonging to a different party. Via Media indeed.

The byelection occurred just a couple of weeks before I arrived in Toronto to start my Divinity degree at Trinity College, which was in the Spadina constituency. (The neighbouring Trinity constituency was named on the basis of the former site of the College.) Shortly after the beginning of term, Dan was invited to speak to a Divinity class forum, and that is where I first met him.

As a campus NDP activist I crossed paths frequently with our MP and his staff - including his former assistant Olivia Chow who eventually won back Dan's old seat in Parliament (now rechristened Trinity-Spadina) and is the current leader in the race for mayor of Toronto. The last time I saw Dan was more than a decade ago when I was in Toronto for a public relations conference and attended Sunday service at Holy Trinity, Eaton Centre where he was an honorary assistant.

Back in 2011 I blogged a rather sad post about Dan who was at risk of being evicted from his seniors residence because he needed a higher level of care. Eventually he and Alice were able to move to an appropriate facility where Alice died a few months later.

Dan died earlier today. While most of our mutual contacts are political folk who remember him principally as an MP, I will mourn my brother priest who has died in the midst of our celebration of the resurrection, and will pray that he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Some go down to the sea in ships

It's been more than two years since I retired from the Royal Canadian Navy. But the Navy still feels like family.

Leading Seaman Brandon South
Today, the Navy released the name of the member of our family who lost his life in Tanzania earlier this week. Leading Seaman Brandon South of HMCS REGINA was about to fly home for a leave period, which only adds to the poignancy of his death.

I was an honourary member of REGINA's commissioning crew, having been responsible for Public Affairs activities in the City of Regina related to the commissioning. In fact, it was my first Public Relation job. (That's right, my first PR job was promoting the Navy in the middle of the Canadian Prairie.) As a result, anything that befalls REGINA always cuts a little closer.

The official statement from REGINA's Captain, Commander Dan Charlebois is here.

Fair winds and following seas, LS South.

Some went down to the sea in ships *
and plied their trade in deep waters;
They beheld the works of the Lord *
and his wonders in the deep.
Psalm 107: 23 - 24

O Eternal Lord God, 
who alone spreadest out the heavens 
and rulest the raging of the sea; 
who has compassed the waters with bounds 
until day and night come to an end; 
be pleased to receive into Thine almighty 
and most gracious protection 
the persons of us Thy servants, 
and the Fleet in which we serve. 
Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, 
and from the violence of the enemy; 
that we may be a safeguard 
unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, 
Queen Elizabeth, and her Dominions, 
and a security for such as pass upon the seas 
upon their lawful occasions; 
that the inhabitants of our Commonwealth 
may in peace and quietness serve Thee our God; 
and that we may return in safety 
to enjoy the blessings of the land, 
with the fruits of our labours, 
and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies 
to praise and glorify Thy Holy Name. Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

And now ...

So that's that then.

I set myself a goal to blog every day of Lent, and I achieved it (although each day's blog usually ended up posted the next day). 

The result was that I have already blogged in just two months of 2014 more posts that all of 2013 or all of 2012, and this post will put me just one down from all of 2011.

I actually feel good about having gotten back to the discipline of blogging regularly.

That said, I'm not sure I want to continue a discipline of blogging every day. On the other hand, I know full well how easily a few days can become a few weeks and then suddenly it's been months.

There has been some online cultural change since I started blogging. More debate an commentary now occurs elsewhere in the interwebs. This was never a site big on long discussions, but now it is very unusual to received more than one or two comments here - and far more common to received none at all. The discussion happens on Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter), and sometimes on threads on other people's walls where I am then not even part of the discussion. It is a curious dynamic.

So by way of experimentation, I will set myself a standard of blogging at least every Sunday evening. This isn't so far from the discipline I kept when I was blogging regularly. Then I would aim to blog once a week, so if seven days had gone by, I'd make it a point to get writing. But "no more than seven days," while seemingly tangible, is easier to get lost in the day to day business of living. "It's Sunday eveing" has a far more useful specificity.

So for Eastertide (after all, Easter is 50 days long), that will be my minimum standard.

Wish me luck.

Glimpses of the Triduum

A handful of glimpses of the past three days:

Yet another opportunity to quote from Bishop Frank Weston's address to the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress.

A wee child taking off her sock to participate in the foot washing.

One of the teenagers saying that, after stripping the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday, "It looked so ... lonely."

Last minute liturgical replanning just before the start of the Good Friday Cross Walk.

Braving the weather to walk from church building to church building in the Rosemont neighbourhood on Good Friday.

The same teenager eagerly volunteering to carry the cross during the Cross Walk.

An excellent walkthrough on Saturday morning before the parish's first ever Easter Vigil.

The novelty and power of the new fire on the step of the church building.

Listening to recording artist Sharon Gudereit singing the Exultet at the beginning of  the Easter Vigil. (You can listen here.)

A little confusion but a quick recovery as we reset the sanctuary while the organist played an extended fanfare based on Judas Maccabaeus (which was grand whatever my Jacobite misgivings).

A little girl less enamoured of a washing and kicking her shoes off at the prospect of being baptised on Sunday morning.

Some surprise among parishioners at the deployment of an aspergillium during morning worship.

Services at a care home in the afternoon and at a seniors residence in the evening.

And, to round out your Easter Day experience, here's a bit of Handel with no downside for my Jacobite heart.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Wait

Station 14: Jesus Is Carried Into The Tomb
from the Stations of the Cross by Vancouver artist Chris Woods
originally commissioned for St. David of Wales Anglican Church, Vancouver

The parish has since closed. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Love each other as Christ loves us - not any less

I'd meant to take the recorder to Church this evening to record the sermon. Indeed, no more than two minutes before we left, I'd been holding it in my hand. And since I don't really do sermon notes, there is no other way of sharing what I might have had to say. Which may be unfortunate, given that my wife thinks this was a particularly meaningful effort.

I touched on three significant things Jesus said or did on this night, beginning with the saying which gives the night its name: Maundy, from the Latin Mandatum meaning Commandment. As in, "A new commandment - to love one another as I have loved you.

I've sometimes noted the conditional nature of one of the petitions in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." In other words, we ask God to forgive us to precisely the same degree we forgive others - not any less; not any more. Likewise Jesus admonishes us to love each other to precisely the degree he loves us, no less. He sets the bar high.

That love is given practical expression in the service he performs, washing the feet of his disciples. That love he calls us to have needs to have practical expression, mostly outside the walls of our Church buildings.

And finally he gives us a meal. The purpose of a meal is to nourish our bodies to do the work they need to do. The purpose of this meal is to nourish us spiritually so that we have the strength to act out our love in service as he commands and demonstrates.

And this led me to close by referring again to Frank Weston's stirring call to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923:
Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done. 
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

And now the Sanctuary is bare, the organ stilled, the Tabernacle empty.

And we wait.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Most often, we think of the Church experience over the next few days as three (or more) services. In fact, it is a single liturgy which begins this evening and continues until Sunday morning.

Tonight, tomorrow and Saturday are one long feast for the senses 
as we taste, touch, smell, hear and see God’s love made manifest 
in bread and wine; 
in water and towel; 
in fire and oil;
in word and action;
in sign, symbol and sacrament. 

What is the meaning of all that we do these Three Days? 

Love is the meaning. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Yesterday, Ottawa Citizen columnist Glen McGregor offered up Why a state funeral for Jim Flaherty? While I don't particularly begrudge the late Mr. Flaherty a state funeral, I do think it is a fair question. There are legitimate reasons to relax, expand or adapt protocol, but the rationale for doing so should be clear.

Lying in State of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald

In Canada, serving Ministers of the Crown are entitled to state funerals. Governors General, former Governors General, Prime Ministers and former Prime Ministers are likewise so entitled. But former Cabinet Ministers are not. Cabinet giants like C.D. Howe and Paul Martin Sr. did not have state funerals. The rationale for giving a state funeral to Jim Flaherty is far from clear. Prior to 2011, the only exception to the established list was Father of Confederation D'Arcy McGee, who also had the distinction of being the first victim of a political assassination in Canada.

The reference to the year 2011 is significant, because McGregor then argues:
The tradition was sharply altered when Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his discretion to extend the honour to Jack Layton, then Leader of the Opposition.

Here I quibble with McGregor.

You see, the word unprecedented can be a bit funny. Sometimes, it means that there is no precedent for the specific action. For example, there are ample precedents that former Cabinet Ministers are not entitled to a state funeral. Therefore the granting of state funeral to Jim Flaherty is unprecedented.

But it can as easily mean that there is no precedent at all. In the late summer of 2011 there was no precedent that a serving Leader of the Opposition was entitled to a state funeral. As importantly, however, there was no precedent that a serving Leader of the Opposition was not so entitled.

Only one other federal Leader of the Opposition has died in office. In 1919, Sir Wilfrid Laurier died while still in office as Leader of the Opposition. Sir Wilfrid did have a state funeral, but he was a former Prime Minister. Thus the fact of his state funeral did not constitute a clear precedent that a future Leader of the Opposition who had not been Prime Minister would be so entitled.

Funeral procession for Sir Wilfrid Laurier

No other serving Leader of the Opposition had ever died in office, so while there was no precedent to say that Jack Layton should get a state funeral, there was also no precedent to say that he should not. The only (albeit tenuous) protocol guidance would be that, for most protocol purposes, a serving Leader of the Opposition is treated as the social equivalent as a serving Minister of the Crown.

At the end of the day, it was up to the Governor General (on the advice of the Prime Minister) to decide if Jack Layton would have a state funeral, and I think it showed tremendous grace and courtesy on Stephen Harper's part to choose as he did.

But he did not "sharply alter" the protocol. He addressed a gap in the protocol and thereby established a precedent going forward. Henceforth we know that a serving Leader of the Opposition who dies in office is entitled to a state funeral.

With apologies to liturgical purists, I leave you with Stephen Page's performance of Leonard Cohen's Halleujah at the state funeral for the Honourable Jack Layton.

Tragic Absurdity

Yesterday, on the eve of Passover, a known racist with a history of violence and threatening rhetoric entered the grounds of the Jewish Community Center in the Kansas City neighbourhood of Overland Park and murdered a teenager and his grandfather in cold blood. He then proceeded to a senior citizens home where he gunned down a woman who was caring for her elderly mother. When he was finally arrested, he repeatedly shouted "Heil Hitler."

All racism is the work of the Evil One, and those who claim that their racist violence is predicated on protecting Christian values is either deluded or a liar. There is no middle ground here.

But the incident happened at the beginning of the Christian Holy Week, a time that, to our collective shame, was often marked by persecution and pogrom. The Church is not innocent here. Most modern day Christian bodies actively and assertively reject anti-Semitism, but centuries of evil are not overturned in a generation or two.

I can't help, though, to notice the tragic absurdity that, in his eagerness to murder Jews, the pathetic Frazier Glenn Cross actually murdered only Christians, two Methodists and one Roman Catholic. That doesn't make the events either more or less tragic, nor the does it render his actions either more or less criminal. But somehow, like the attacks on Sikhs after 9/11, or the harassment of Chinese immigrants after Pearl Harbor, it shows that there is an inherent idiocy in racism and the irrational fear of the other.

But there is no question about who the shooter wanted to murder. He wanted to murder Jews. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described him as a notorious anti-Semite. And I have no doubt he considers himself a good Christian. 

Lord have mercy.
I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel,
and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder.
I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants,
but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt.
Holy God,
holy and mighty,
holy and immortal one,
have mercy upon us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sermons Online

A couple of months ago, I started recording the sermons at the parish where I currently hang my biretta. I've bee using Soundcloud to upload them, but that means they are on a stream so that, at the end of one recording, the previous recording begins to play.  There is also a limit to the recording space at Soundcloud. I'm open to suggestions.

BTW, here is a link to the page at our parish website where the available sermons can be found.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Christian Seders - Inappropriate Appropriation

In many Christian congregations it has been (or once was) the custom to hold a "Christian Seder" at some point during Lent, usually as part of their observance of Maundy Thursday.

Last Supper - Chartres Cathedral - Stained Glass
The Seder is the traditional Jewish Passover meal, usually observed by families rather than religious communities, during which participants rehearse the story of the Hebrew people's escape from Egypt as described in Exodus. If one accepts the chronology of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), then the Last Supper at which Christ washed his disciples' feet and then instituted the Holy Eucharist was a Passover meal. Thus there is an understandable logic to linking the two sacred meals and to attempt to "bring them back together."

There are several problems with this narrative however, and the fact that the chronology of John's gospel places the crucifixion on the day of preparation for Passover (that is, on the day the Passover lamb is slaughtered for the meal) is not the most pressing one.

The first problem is historical anachronism. While most scholars accept that a ritual Passover meal almost certainly existed in early first century Palestine, it is generally accepted that the Seder as a particular and widely observed structure for that meal is a much later development, likely at some point after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. Indeed, there is a suggestion from some scholars that the evolution of the Seder meal was, at least in part, driven by an intention to create a ritual meal more distinct from the Christian Eucharist. So, even if the Last Supper was a Passover meal, it was almost certainly not a Seder that would be recognizable by most 21st century Jews.

A second problem is the propriety of some of the symbolism if moved from a Jewish to a Christian context. The most obvious example of that would be the closing expression of hope, "Next year in Jerusalem," since that makes no particular sense in a faith that is not tied - or at least not tied in the same way - to the earthly Jerusalem. Of course, one could reinterpret this as referring to "Jerusalem which is above," but that clearly isn't what our Jewish neighbours are talking about.

Which takes us to the larger problem about appropriation of voice and ritual. Should we play-act (however innocently intended) the rituals of another faith community? Moreover, given the long history of anti-Semitism in Christian history, should the (historic) persecutors appropriate the rituals of their victims? Indeed, by placing the Seder in the context of Maundy Thursday and by incorporating a celebration of the Eucharist, are we not engaged in a deliberate act of supercessionism whereby we expressly and overtly invalidate the very rituals we are appropriating? Holy Week already has a long, sorry and disgraceful history of being associated with pogrom and persecution. Do we need to add to it by aping a ritual that is not ours?

While the parallel is not precise, Islam (which reveres Jesus as a prophet) arose from Judeo-Christianity in a way not unlike how Christianity arose from Judaism. I've never heard of a mosque holding a "Muslim Eucharist," but I have trouble imagining that most Christians would find that appropriate, especially Christians in Muslim majority countries where Christians face legal restrictions and periodic harassment.

Admittedly Jewish opinion on this is not monolithic, and there are many Jews who interpret the "Christian Seder," very charitably, as an attempt to understand Judaism better.

Two fairly solid blogposts lay out both sides of this argument in ways I think are generally fair and reasonable, here and here. An excellent discussion on the problem of the Last Supper as Passover meal can be found here.

None of this is to say that Christians should not participate in a Seder in an appropriate context - as a guest of a Jewish family, for example. It could be a useful bit of interfaith learning to invite the local Rabbi to speak about Passover and the Seder. Learn about the Seder and about Passover by all means, and about the experiences of our Jewish neighbours. Christians who are part of interfaith marriages, or Jews who have become Christians while retaining their self-identification as Jews would hold or participate in Seders as they deem appropriate.

All that said, a "Christian Seder" is not and cannot be a Seder in any meaningful sense. It can only ever be an appropriation of someone else's rites. For ethnic gentiles to appropriate the Seder strikes me as no different than white comedians in blackface, professional sports teams named after derogatory terms for First Nations people or the archetypical rude uncle who tells ethnic jokes. The only defence is that, like the rude uncle, we don't realize we're being offensive. And that isn't much of a defence, really.

Jesus in the Tabernacle, Jesus in the Slum

Yesterday I attended a clergy day which included the reaffirmation of our ordination vows. A colleague soon to depart this diocese was the designated preacher and, although he didn't touch on this particular aspect of our shared ministry, he nonetheless led me to recollect Bishop Frank Weston's closing address to the Anglo-Catholic Conference of 1923. Weston was the Bishop of Zanzibar. a Christian socialist and a leading Anglo-Catholic churchman of his day. 

His complete address can be found here, but it's closing section sets our the principles which sets my Anglo-Catholic socialist heart a flutter:
I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. 
Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done. 
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Politics and its Worst and at its Best

Yesterday was Canadian politics and the House of Commons at their worst. Today was Canadian politics and the House of Commons at their best.

Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty died today of a massive heart attack. He had resigned from Cabinet only one month ago with the intention of returning to the private sector and spending more time with his family. Coverage can be found in all major Canadian media, including here and here. The House of Commons rose for the day prior to the scheduled Question Period.

If yesterday was a case study in politicians conducting themselves like petulant toddlers, today was a case study in politicians putting partisanship aside and acting with grace and compassion.

It isn't that Jim Flaherty wasn't a partisan guy. He could be fiercely partisan - although today his colleagues chose to dwell on other times and other anecdotes when other qualities were on display. Even a fierce partisan knows that there are times to set such things aside. There is a human side to our political culture.

A week ago, I blogged about why I couldn't find any humour in the self-destructive saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. One of my memories of Jim Flaherty's non-partisan side was from last fall, when he was asked to comment on the scandal swirling around Ford.

Flaherty had served in the Ontario Legislature alongside Ford's father, and had been something of a mentor to the Ford brothers early in their political career. He did not choose the path of partisan pitbull, defending the mayor's indefensible conduct. Neither did he choose the path of partisan protectionism, distancing himself from Ford. Instead, he gave the very human response of one who sees a family friend committing slow suicide with alcohol and drugs. Watch the video here.

Last fall, I was asked to brief new members of our diocesan synod on how synod works, how to raise issues, how to get things done and so forth. Some of my non-church readers may be shocked to discover that ecclesiastical politics can sometimes be as fiercely fought as secular politics.

My closing admonition to that group was a reminder that, however heated the discussion, they should always remember that the person on the other side of the argument loved Jesus every bit as much as they did - and more importantly, Jesus loved that person just as much as he loved them.

We too often forget that most people get involved  in politics to accomplish what they believe is best for their country - even if they disagree with us about what that looks like.

Today the House of Commons remembered that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Threats of Violence in the Canadian Parliament

During Question Period today, Conservative Trade Minister Ed Fast made a gesture in the direction of New Democrat MP Niki Ashton. You can see more on the story here. The video of the CBC story, including the House of Commons video, is embedded below. Shortly afterwards, another New Democrat MP, Dan Harris, raised a point of privilege calling on Minister Fast to apologize for having made a gun-pointing gesture at Ashton while shouting "boom."

Let me begin with full disclosure. Niki Ashton is my friend. I worked on her campaign for the federal NDP leadership in 2012. If you watch the video of her convention speech, I'm the guy in the blue shirt who hugs her as she comes off the stage. I am not unbiased about this story.

My son and I with New Democrat MP Niki Ashton
That said, it isn't particularly clear from the House of Commons video what gesture Minister Fast was actually making. He may simply have been pointing at Ashton. She didn't see the gesture herself because she and Fast are at opposite ends of the House. Harris sits directly across from Fast and seems pretty certain about what he saw and heard, however Fast vociferously denies Harris's description of his gesture or that he made any accompanying sound.

Female MPs, particularly young female MPs, have to put up with a lot of crap that male MPs simply don't have to deal with. Female MPs of all parties have been subjected to overtly sexist criticisms, from Liberal Chrystia Freeland's relatively high-pitched voice (women's voices are pitched higher - get over it) to accusations that Conservative MP Michelle Rempel's Twitter profile picture was overtly sexual (it wasn't). Sexism is alive and well on Parliament Hill. But implied violence during Question Period would be a new low, even for so sexist and patriarchal an institution as Parliament.

Even is one chooses to give Fast the benefit of the doubt (and the evidence isn't there to do more), the situation in the Commons proceeded to deteriorated further. 

First came Fast's response to Harris's accusation. If, in fact, his gesture was not intended to be a pointing gun (and for our purposes here we are giving him the benefit of the doubt), I can understand a vigorous denial. But Fast went beyond that, accusing Harris of making it up. Well, the video is pretty clear that there was a pointing gesture. It is possible that Harris misinterpreted the gesture, but he clearly didn't make it up.

But Fast's response to the Speaker was only the prologue. Next was the spectacle of Conservative backbencher Ron Cannan approaching Harris from the back of the Opposition side of the House. Reporters say he was shouting, and witnesses closer to the altercation say say Cannon expressly threatened violence against Harris. He was eventually restrained by two NDP MPs (House Leader Peter Julian and Northern Ontario MP Glenn Thibeault) and escorted back to his side of the House. Then Fast approached Harris from across the House (at least he didn't sneak around the back of the Chamber like Cannan), apparently also in an aggressive manner.

The initial gesture (if Harris's interpretation is correct) is highly disturbing. But regardless of what gesture Fast made, the behaviour of two Conservative MPs after the fact - one of whom had nothing to do with the issue - was simply outrageous. It is, however, in keeping with recent aggressive actions such as Justice Minister Peter MacKay throwing files on the floor of the House, or appointed Conservative Senators launching vicious personal attacks on elected Members of Parliament.

Considered in conjunction with the recent Conservative attempts at voter suppression through amendments to the Elections Act that have been opposed even by their own conservative elder statesman Preston Manning, it is clear that the Conservative government fears for its future when next it faces Canadian voters. It is not uncommon for governments in decline to respond in ways that are crude, immature and even violent - though fortunately we have been spared the latter in Canada to this point.

But if Conservative MPs are going to continue trying to cow their critics both inside and outside the Commons with both character assassination and physical intimidation, one is moved to wonder what comes next.


I intend to be at a memorial event this Saturday for a friend. It isn't his funeral because it isn't being called a funeral, and it looks as though there won't be much in the way of funereal ritual. It is, in that respect, entirely suited a man who was Spiritual But Not Religious long before that term was in vogue.

I hadn't been close to this person for several years, but in the last few months of his life I was able to do him a service based on a rather strange set of mutual relationships. I was able to make some contacts and inquiries which he did not feel he could make without possibly causing upset.

It isn't often I attend funerals where I am not presiding or in some other vested role, and even less often that I am at funerals which deliberately eschew the traditionally religious. It isn't that I avoid such funerals so much as that the reality of my life makes explicitly religious funerals more common.

The rituals of dying and death are slowly evolving in our post-Christian society. I don't know that it is either good or bad, merely that it is. But I do think that the typical secularized funeral (in my admittedly limited experience) does not necessarily fulfill all the roles the rituals of death are intended to fulfill. Certainly the life of the deceased is remembered and honoured. Those attending to express solidarity with the bereaved. These are all to the good. But is death itself given its proper place, along with mortality? Is the relaity of death confronted or denied?

Of course, I've seen supposedly Christian funerals that seem to miss the mark on these points. Ritual is a complicated thing.

But this intellectual speculation is for another time. On Saturday, I will honour my friend, support his loved ones, and I will hope to acknowledge death without trying "to minimize this loss, or seek[ing] refuge from it in words alone."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Quebec says no to bigotry

The election results are in and it wasn't particularly close. Having chosen the path of ethnic purity, the Parti Quebecois found it blocked by an electorate that didn't care for either the xenophobia of the so-called Charte des valeurs nor the economic uncertainty of the neverendum referendum.

When all was said and done, the Liberals under Phillippe Couillard coasted to a majority with 70 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. The PQ were reduced to 30 seats and their lowest popular vote since 1970, with Premier Pauline Marois going down to personal defeat in her own riding.

It is too soon to write the obituary for the sovereignist movement, but it may be on its way to palliative care. The decimation of the Bloc Quebecois in 2011 led many to conclude that a new generation of Quebecois - francophone, anglophone and allophone - were tired of having the province's politics driven by the so-called "National Question."

Mind you, the party driven from power this evening was hardly the tolerant, progressive party of René Lévesque. It's paranoid contempt for allophones and religious minorities bore more resemblance to Adrien Arcand than to the chain-smoking ex-journalist who first led them to power nearly 40 years ago. If the PQ can sideline their internal Tea Party faction of pur et dur hardliners, perhaps they can recover the kind of genteel civic nationalism that Levesque might even recognize.

In the meantime, the only disappointed federalists will be the Liberal apparatchiki who were hoping for another national unity crisis to exploit for partisan gain,

And now, for no particular reason, here are Quebec musical comedians Bowser and Blue singing about The Night They Invented Poutine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What the Eff?

So Justin Trudeau uses a certain Anglo-Saxon word that originally referred to agricultural activities and the entire Canadian media drops everything to ooh and aah. It was more than a little strange. And what it said about the national media is possibly more interesting that what it said about the leader of the third party. But what does it say about the leader of the third party?

After all, it wasn't the "profanity as art form" we expect from Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker. (VERY strong language warning on the link.) It was a workaday profanity used in a workaday manner by a man for whom workaday is less an adjective than a notional construct.

It was ultimately National Post journo Kelly McParland who explained what it was really all about. Justin Trudeau wants to position himself as the tribune of the middle class - which wouldn't be so hard if he had the first clue what constitutes the middle class, or what concerns the middle class, or anything at all about the middle class.

So instead of bothering t understand the middle class, one-percenter Trudeau and his one-percenter handlers have decided that the Dauphin should pretend to BE middle class by doing those things they dimly imagine the working class do.

Like swearing in public.
Mr. Trudeau has taken to cursing in public, apparently figuring that’s the way the middle class communicates.
Ultimately, Trudeau thinks middle class people are graceless, classless, foul-mouthed folk with limited vocabularies and no particular sense of propriety. Charming.

I was in the Navy for 25 years. I know how to swear. I can make a celebrity chef blush, and I could give Malcolm Tucker a run for his money. Indeed, I have used the same profanity Trudeau used - and I have used it as a verb, a noun, an adverb and an adjective ... in the same sentence.  I think I've even used it as a preposition once or twice.

But there are places where I have never used and would never use that word. Because there are places it's simply inappropriate.

And anyone with even the faintest clue of what a middle class sensibility looks like would know that.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

CD Launch

One of the neat things about this job is that you get invited to all sorts of different events. Tonight it was the launch party for Sharon Gudereit's second CD. Sharon and her family are long time parishioners.

And just to add to the fun, I actually won a free CD. I don't think any of her songs are available online, but if I find out they are, I promise to post.

The Goats Have Been Well and Truly Scaped

Apparently there would be no sectarian violence in Africa, if only North Americans would stop being nice to gay people. Indeed, Africa would become the very sine qua non of religious tolerance if it weren't for the gays.

At least that is the disingenuous position taken today by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

On a radio call in covering a range of topics, Welby was asked why clergy of the Church of England shouldn't be allowed to officiate at same sex marriages which are now legal in England and Wales. His response was either mind-boggling in its naïveté or soul-destroying in its pure evil.

According to The Guardian:
... Welby said he had stood by a mass grave in Nigeria of 330 Christians who had been massacred by neighbours who had justified the atrocity by saying: "If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians." 
"I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America. We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact," Welby said. If the Church of England celebrated gay marriages, he added, "the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic. Everything we say here goes round the world."

One really doesn't know where to begin. One is mostly just shocked that a supposedly intelligent member of the English establishment could say something so manifestly idiotic.

There is no denying that there is sectarian violence in many parts of the world. The causes are generally complex and go back several generations. It has to do with religious extremists who want to establish theocratic states. It has to do with previous ethnic rivalries now cast in religious form. It has to do with local demagogues - both religious and political - who divert attention from massive corruption by inciting violence against LGBTQTS. It has to do with cycles of violence where religious communities attack each other. It has to do with the particular sociopolitical pathologies of particular countries. Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa kill Christians (and Christians kill Muslims) for a constellation of reasons. But the suggestion that Mulsims kill Christians because North Americans treat LGBTQTS like human beings is a lie from the pit of hell.

Oh, I have no doubt that, at some point, some Muslim rabble rouser has used endemic cultural homophobia to incite listeners to violence. So have Christian rabble rousers. They may even have referred to the advance of LGBTQTS rights in the West.

But if it hadn't been homosexuals, it would have been something else. To the limited degree that bullies and terrorists need a reason to bully and terrorize, they can always find one. After all, violence between Christians and Muslims in most of Africa predates Gene Robinson's 2003 consecration by some decades.

It is interesting how this all manages to avoid the issue of Christian demagogues like former Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola or former Ugandan Primate Henry Orombi who have deliberately made life more dangerous and violent for LGBTQTS Africans, and have also been known to incite violence against Muslims.

Archbishop Welby reminds me of the people who tell victims of domestic violence that they must have done something to provoke their abuser. He is scapegoating, pure and simple. His comments are utterly disgusting and without any moral credibility.

Friday, April 4, 2014

I Can't Laugh at Rob Ford

One of the biggest ongoing political stories in Canada (and, unfortunately, much of the world) is the saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford careening out of control.

Ford has always been, for lack of a better word, colourful. Despite being the wealthy son of wealthy parents, born with every advantage, he has managed to craft an image as a working class everyman. Despite there being no evidence to sustain the pretense, he has managed to craft an image as a fat-slashing, tax-cutting crusader.

The political myth of Rob Ford did not begin to unravel until rumours began to circulate of a video showing the Mayor smoking crack cocaine with known criminals, several of whom have, by now, met violent deaths. The unraveling continued and continues to this day, often exacerbated by the bizarre behaviour of the Mayor and the equally bizarre enabling behaviour of his brother, Councillor Doug Ford. A complete timeline of self-destruction of Rob Ford - or at least the public portion of it - is here.

As regular readers of my blog or my Twitter feed will know, I can be a fierce partisan. While there are officially no parties in Toronto municipal politics, it is clear that Ford and I are not of the same party affiliation.

Even so, very early in the saga I lost any interested in joining in the Ford pile on.

As I watched, the narrative swiftly veered from political downfall to personal tragedy.

Rob Ford is clearly a troubled man. There are several pieces to the puzzle, no doubt, but it is clear that Ford's relationship with both recreational drugs and with alcohol has become a destructive and high risk matter. The enabling behaviour of his brother and his other close associates only adds to the risk.

For me, this is no longer the morality play of a bullying buffoon getting his just deserts. It has become the public spectacle of a troubled man staggering down the road of personal destruction. I despise virtually everything that Rob Ford stands for, but I can take no joy in his embarrassing fall from grace. 

The Mayor of Canada's largest city is committing slow suicide - and I mean that literally, not metaphorically - under the glare of the camera lights.

It ceased to be funny months ago.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Can you judge if it works if you didn't really do it?

There is a job / career planning book called What Color is your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles. I'm not sure how long it's been around, but the author produces and new and presumably improved edition each year. It includes a number of tools, techniques and tips to help people identify the type of jab and career they want to have and how to get there.

I first encountered the book in the early 1990s. I'd just left church work and was trying to figure out what to do. A lot of the advice was helpful to me. Some not so much, though I could see how it would have been helpful to some.

But one thing I do remember from the book was a story the author told about his encounters with those who claimed his methods didn't work. He would, naturally, ask them an assortment of questions, but he eventually concluded that the vast majority of people who claimed it didn't work had left out one particular piece of the system.

Bolles gives (or at least used to give) very clear instructions on this one point. At the end of every day, you were to send a short note of thanks to anyone who had done anything that day to help you in your search. If someone gave you a lead on a company looking for workers in your desired field, you were to send them a note. If someone gave you an introduction or even just a contact inside a company, you were to send them a note. If someone gave you feedback after an unsuccessful interview so that you could make a better impression the next time, you were to send them a note.

And in virtually every case where someone claimed they system didn't work, the complainer had left out one particular piece of the system - s/he hadn't sent the thank you notes.

I was thinking of coloured parachutes and thank you notes today after reading the latest blogpost from Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Glosgow, Scotland.

Kelvin blogs at the delightfully named What's in Kelvin's Head, and today's post is on things he learned about church growth during his recent sabbatical trip to North America. You should certainly read the whole piece, and I have to say I agree with most of his nine lessons.

But what really got my attention was this comment in the lead up t the nine lessons:

The actual question that I was asked was regarding why people are giving up Mission Action Planning and looking for something else. It is indeed the case that I heard of people giving up doing Mission Action Planning. It is also the case though that lots of people in the States and Canada are still using that as a tool. The people who were giving up on it would say that they were giving up on it because it doesn’t work. The other reasons they might give would be these:
  • It can make people feel guilty
  • The risk is that it involves asking those who quite demonstrably don’t know what to do, what should be done.
  • It can often lull people into thinking that if they just do what they’ve done with a bit more effort then all shall be well when perhaps it won’t.
And I found myself thinking about all those unwritten thank you notes. Because, frankly, if Mission Action Planning has lulled you into thinking you just need to do what you've always done with a bit more effort, then you haven't actually done Mission Action Planning.

The key, I think, is in the first paragraph of the quote. Places that continue to use Mission Action Planning as a tool find it useful. People who think Mission Action Planning is a solution are missing the point entirely.

The nine lessons of Provost Holdsworth's post point to some of the potential missteps that can happen when a Mission Action Plan is being developed or implemented, particularly for the first time. But I don't think (no do I believe that Provost Holdsworth thinks) that any of them are a reason to abandon the concept of planning for mission, although he does make a good point about the downside of talking mission ad nauseum.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Elevating the Elevators

It's late and I'm tired, so I'll take the easy way out and direct you to this post at Acts8 Moment where they've aggregated the Evangelism Elevator Speeches received to date. I referred to this the other day and offered up my Elevator Speech here. Tim Chesterton from Faith, Folk and Charity has his here, but he didn't include the code so it isn't included in the aggregator.

And for your amusement, a reflection on how not to evangelize.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marois, Harper and the Eroding of Democracy

There's a provincial election campaign under way in Quebec. Although Premier Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois looked set to move from a minority to a majority government come April 7, an incompetently run campaign has turned the sovereignist party into the underdog. This was inevitable as soon as the election narrative came to be all about sovereignty.

It has to be a frustration for any political party when your raison d'etre is also your Achilles heel. But the PQ looked as though they would manage to avoid discussing the prospects of another referendum by, instead, introducing the vilest form of ethnic-baiting hate legislation Canadians have seen in more than a century. The so-called Charter of Values is such a disgusting piece of bigotry one is tempted to cast Godwin's Law aside and make the otherwise obvious comparison to the Nuremberg Laws (different only in degree) from another blood-purity obsessed demagogue. More recently, to round out the fun, there have been several reports of non-francophone Quebeckers arbitrarily being denied the right to vote, including one who is actually a Green Party candidate in the election. Long gone is the tolerant civic nationalism of Rene Levesque. Instead we have an odious political discourse which has led to a 30-fold increase in harassment of non-white and non-pur laine Quebeckers.

In the normal course of events, one might have expected to see the federal government standing up against voter suppression in a provincial election. Unfortunately Stephen Harper and his federal Conservatives have no moral authority on that file since they are knee deep in their own voter suppression strategy with their Orwellianly named Fair Elections Act.

I'm not sure who disgusts me more, Madame Marois or Mr. Harper. Both of them are blinkered absolutists who are prepared to do anything, to violate any principle, to attack any scapegoat in order to achieve their ends. Neither has the least respect for any democratic norm.

I weep for my country.

But in the midst of this weeping comes this sermon from Jeffrey Metcalfe, an Anglican priest in Quebec. While the content of his sermon is disturbing, his prophetic witness is inspiring.