Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Dark Side of Christmas

We are in Advent and the proper celebration of Advent as preparation for Christmas is one of my hot buttons.  However, I want to talk about Christmas this week and acknowledging there is a dark side to the wonderful light that came into the world in that stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  Perhaps I can resolve this apparent dissonance by proposing that we need to recognize the darkness is an appropriate way of preparing for the light of Christ.

Two events recently prompted me to consider the darkness that is part of the Christmas message.  First, I was invited to be the guest musician (guitarist) for my former congregation, St. James Anglican Church in Parkhill for the community Christmas concert which was held December 1st.  One of the pieces I chose for our congregational choir was The Coventry Carol.  I chose it in part because it is a beautiful carol that I have long loved to sing.  Also, it was one that I could manage to play on the guitar―an important consideration I have discovered in my not entirely brilliant career playing church music on guitar.

One of the things that I did not consider when choosing it is the nature of the carol.  For those of you who are not familiar with it here are the lyrics:
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child.   By by, lully, lullay,
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we sing
By by, lully lullay?
Herod, the king
In his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight,
All young children to slay
That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

The carol tells the account of the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ ordered by King Herod after he was informed by the Three Wise Men that they were seeking the birth place of the new king of the Jews.  Herod, of course, saw this as a threat to his throne and acted in a completely understandable way for a despot and tried his best to eliminate any possibility of a usurper to his power. 

Of course, we know that he didn’t succeed as Joseph, the Christ child’s step father was warned in a dream of Herod’s intent and the Holy Family fled to Egypt following the biblical precedent of the first Joseph going to that land.  However, that did not prevent the carrying out of King Herod’s proclamation; “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.”

This is a very dark act and a very dark time of the families who did not receive the warning from God or, if they did, decided not to pay attention to the warning. 

The other impetus to this exploration of darkness that I received was watching the wonderful version of the Christmas Carol staring Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  It was presented on Turner Classic Movies a few nights ago.  It is, to my mind the quintessential movie version of the Dickens classic.  No one has portrayed Scrooge better before and I doubt ever will.  In the introduction, the host noted that the release was held up because of the dark nature of the film.  As noted in Wikipedia, “the film was originally slated to be shown at New York City's Radio City Music Hall as part of their Christmas attraction it was determined that the film was too grim and somber and did not possess enough family entertainment value to warrant an engagement at the Music Hall.”

There is no doubt that the film version and the original story is rather grim and paints a dark side of human kind, at least in Victorian England which Dickens was a genius at portraying.  The ghost of Christmas future is not warm and friendly by any means. 

It is, I believe, important that we do not sentimentalize Christmas as it is so easy to do.  This is particularly true of what I call the cultural Christmas which is all around us with Christmas songs (I won’t call them carols) being played in the malls and the gifts of the Wise Men being transformed into a frenzy of materialism (I guess I am channeling a bit of Scrooge’s bah humbug here).

However, let me close with a quote from the wonderful Good News of the Gospel of John which is the Gospel of the light that came into the world at Christmas:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I hope that the light of the Christ will shine for you in the darkness of this world.  Let us remember this Christmas that it is a time to be Merry but also that the forces of darkness are still very much in and of this world.

A blessed and merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Same Sex Marriage part 3


The last two weeks I have been writing about same-sex marriage.  I want to give my final thoughts, at least for the foreseeable future, this week. 

As I have noted, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that most people I have discussed this with, who hold strong views on the issue, do so not because of animosity or hatred against others.  It is because they firmly believe that they are being faithful to a position which is based in their understanding of what is right for themselves, others and society.  Many on each side have their belief grounded in their understanding of scripture as God’s word and God’s created order.

As I noted, I believe in the movement in our culture and in our church which is moving towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage.  I believe this is a correct understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in God’s world to enable people who have been isolated, reviled and cast into outer darkness by society and the church for many years, to live in loving union and relationships as we are intended to by God. 

I also realize that there is no guarantee that I or others can have the absolute assurance that we understand without question where the Holy Spirit is calling us and the church today.  We are called to discern where the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives and in the world through reflection, prayer and thought. 

One of the arguments by those opposing the movement to same-sex marriage within the Anglican Church and other denominations, is that the church is being influenced and led astray, giving into pressures by the culture.  However, it must be acknowledged that there has been, throughout the history of the Christian Church, an interplay between culture and the doctrine of the church.  If this were not so the Christian Church would have remained a religion that required observance of the purity laws of Judaism and required all members to convert and to be circumcised. 

I believe that Jesus showed in many of his interactions with people and his offer of salvation was to give preference to being in relationship with one another in love rather than an adherence to law.  He believed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  In a similar way people should be supported in committed, loving relationships which can offer people the opportunity to live out more fully who God intends them to be rather than living as outcasts who are condemned because of, in my belief, a mistaken understanding of the law as an expression of God will.

I know from friends and acquaintances, the pain and deep hurt and damage that is caused by people being unaccepted, reviled and disowned by family, society and church, not because of anything they have done but because of who they have been from birth, if not before. 

I recognize that part of the objection to same-sex marriage is that this will change the fundamental meaning of marriage which is and should remain between one man and one woman.  I respect that position but I do not agree with it.  I believe that the church should move to affirm same-sex marriage just as it has other issues including ordination of women and the abolition of slavery.  These have been supported and affirmed in the past based on scriptural understanding which informed and supported the cultural norm.  Same-sex marriage should be understood in the same way.
I want to end this reflection with the hope and prayer that regardless of future decisions by the Anglican Church, its congregations and its members, we can, in the words of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

The Great Commandment by our lord and Saviour is that we love one another as he loves us.  Let us do that knowing that it will not be easy or perfect. 


Blessings on your journey.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Same-Sex marriage part 2

Last week I ventured into a topic that could be considered one of the “where angels fear to tread” areas―same-sex marriage.  I reflected on the meeting at our church regarding the on-going process to consider changes in the Marriage Canon on the Anglican Church of Canada which would allow marriage between two people of the same sex.

This week I want to continue to consider the issue which has so dominated the energy of the Anglican Church in recent years.  It seems that we have been considering, discussing and, yes arguing and disagreeing, about this issue interminably.  However, it has only been in the recent past in terms of the existence of the Anglican Church.  It is only the recent version of many issues which seem to have consumed the church in the modern and not so modern era. The most recent before this was the ordination of women which seems to have been the dominant issue which consumed the church in similar ways prior to same-sex marriage.  OF course, there have been numerous other issues such as changes to the prayer book as well.  Many of you are aware that same-sex marriage has been front and centre in many mainstream denominations in North America and beyond in these turbulent times as well.  Wherever it is discussed it is one which people take strong stands on both or all sides of the issue.  It brings our the best and the worst in people.  I do not enter this arena without some trepidation.

As I noted last week, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I want to briefly touch on some of the issues knowing full well that I cannot do justice to any serious consideration of an issue which is so complex. 

The first, and probably most serious, consideration is based on scripture.  What does scripture say and how do we understand what scripture is saying to us today?  For people who use scripture to support their opposition to same-sex relationships and marriage, scripture passages in both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and New Testament are cited.   Beginning appropriately at Genesis, the off-putting cliché is often used that “God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve” to justify their position.  Although the first parents were not married in any ceremony in the story they were created and placed in the earthly paradise by God to be together.  It is unclear whether they had any kind of sex-life in their relationship until they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the wisdom of good and evil and their eyes were opened and realized they were naked and were ashamed.  They did not have any progeny until after they were expelled form the Garden―first Cain followed by Able.  And we know how successful the relationship between the first brothers was.

Many forms of marriage and sexual congress are presented in the bible from the beginning with polygamy being common including to an extreme extent such as King Solomon having 700 official wives and 300 concubines.  There were also cases of the Abraham and the other patriarchs using servants to bear children to ensue the successive generations which was an absolute good in those days.  This was apparently with the approval of God as there was no opposition from on high expressed.  The modern nuclear family is a latter development of the form marriage has taken through biblical history and beyond. 

Another account which is prominently raised in the same-sex issue is the story of the destruction of the city of Sodom.  The story of Sodom is used as an example of the sin of homosexuality.  In the account two angels visit Lot in Sodom.  While they are there the men of the city come to Lot’s house and demand he bring out the visitors so that “we may know them” ―clearly, in the somewhat archaic language, they wanted to commit homosexual rape against the visitors.  God destroys the city as an apparent punishment for this attempted evil act.   It is interesting that it is not the fact that it was a case of attempted rape rather than the same-sex nature of the attempt.  It is also interesting that that Lot, who is presented as a godly man, offers his two virgin daughters to the mob so they will not inflict this act on his visitors, not exactly family values we should hold up as virtuous:
Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’
The alternative understanding of this passage is that the sin for which Sodom was destroyed was the lack of hospitality they showed to the two visitors (who happened to be angels―messengers from God). 

There are many more cases in scripture where a prohibition against homosexual relations are evident.  In some cases, they cannot be put down to misinterpretation as in the case of Sodom.   They can however, be considered in other ways.  Before going there, I want to address the question regarding Jesus’ attitude towards same-sex relationship and marriage.  Much, to the disappointment of those opposed and to the relief of those supporting the issue, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus address this issue.  I can be argued that there are other issues which the church is facing that is not addressed by Jesus.  However, for one that is so important a one facing the church it can be surprizing that Jesus did not deem it necessary to address it. 
One way of considering scripture passages on the issue is to consider the world view in Jesus’ time―taking an historical critical approach to scripture as it is called by biblical scholars.  In Jesus’ time there was no concept of homosexuality so the it was not considered as a reality for people.  Although homosexuality is no longer considered an illness or a disordered condition by modern medicine, some people, especially those of some religious perspectives, do believe that it is a sinful disordered state which can be healed through prayer and even exorcism; something which is not part of God’s plan for humankind.

Central to the issue is how we understand scripture.  Is it the inerrant word of God which gives us a template or direct understanding of God’s will and a program for how to live today?  Or is it the record of the biblical people’s attempt to document their understanding of God working in their lives based on their understanding of the world.  Or somewhere along that axis of belief?
I have more to say on this issue but realize I have exceeded my unwritten rule on the length of these missives.  I will continue next week―God willing.  I want to close with the hope expressed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our primate; that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

Blessings on your journey,

Greg   

Same-Sex Marriage part 1

Last week our congregation hosted a deanery (regional meeting) to discuss the changes to the Anglican Church of Canada’s Marriage Canon.  The proposed change would allow marriage between two people of the same gender.  The proposed change is in the midst of the process in the National Church which requires approval in two successive General Synods (national meetings) which are held every three years.  The motion passed the General Synod last year and will receive the second vote in 2019.
 
The national church has directed/encourage meeting at the local level to discuss the changes and help us prepare for the next vote.  This, as I am sure almost everyone realizes, is an issue fraught with the reality that there will be a great deal of anger, hurt, and disillusionment regardless of the outcome of the next vote.  There has been much negative fallout around this issue in recent history within our Diocese, our national church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.  Individuals have decided to leave the formal church because of past actions and decisions.  In addition, parishes have chosen to leave the Canadian church and the other Anglican Churches; indeed, one Diocese in the United States decided to leave the national Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in the United States).  I am sure that individual Anglican have left the church because of the lack of change on this issue.
To be up front on my position, I have been in favour and have supported the change, first to allow the blessing of same sex-couples before the civil law allowed same sex marriage, and the marriage of same-sex couples after the change to the civil marriage law in Canada.

This issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I have prayer and reflected extensively on this issue, as I am sure many other people have. There is also fear, biases, misinformation, and yes even prejudice on both sides which can lead to people supporting either side not listening to one another and not wanting to engage with people who do not agree with them.  Many people fear the consequences of any decision that this made and what it will mean for the Anglican church in the future.

With this background, I want to reflect on the meeting that Lorna and I attended last week.  I approached the meeting with some trepidation given the potential for conflict and anger and strong emotions which this issue engenders.  The meeting was quite well attended by our parishioners with about twenty people, including the facilitators in attendance with most from our congregations.; a good representation for our small church.  I was most impressed by the process used and the participation by the participants.  We were asked to answer four questions and given one minute to respond to each.  Participants could pass on any or all of the questions; it was not a case of share or die.  The questions were:
1.       What questions do you still have about the proposed changes to the Marriage Canon?
2.       a. How will the outcome of the vote at General Synod 2019 affect you?
b.  What resources will you need form the Diocese if the motion passes or if it does not pass?
3.       Based on what you have heard form each other, what do you most want General Synod to hear from the Diocese of Huron about the proposed changes to the Marriage Canon?
The responses were varied and from many different positions.  They were heartfelt but they did not attack nor were they condescending.  I found it to be appositive experience which helped me greatly in understanding where my fellow parishioners were coming from on this most difficult issue.  I had not been aware of where most of those present were on the issue and I was surprized by some of the responses.  The organizers are to be congratulated on t what was a very helpful and positive beginning of what I hope will be further discussion.

There is much more that I can address on the issue but I am going to stop here this week.  I will continue with this topic in at least the next edition 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Remembrances of Hero's PAst

I want to begin with a note of clarification from last week’s edition.  In discussing my struggles with my shoulder, I mentioned that to add insult to injury I was unable to drive my new car.  To clarify it was a reflection of not having the pleasure of driving my new car due to the condition of my shoulder.  I should have added that I was very grateful that I had Lorna to drive me to all my appointment that have had to attend for treatment.  I am able to do some of the driving now but continue to appreciate sharing it with Lorna, especially the longer trips (she does have some reservations about my driving ability at the best of times but more so now with the physical challenges).

This week I want to reflect on Remembrance Day.  I have served as the chaplain for our local chapter 341 of the Legion since I came to Parkhill as Rector of the Anglican Church.  It has been a tradition that the Anglican priest serve that function.  When I retired from parish ministry I thought I should retire from that position as well.  My resignation was not accepted so I still fulfil the chaplain’s duties on Remembrance Day.  It has always been one of the most meaningful duties I have had as a parish priest. 

Usually the services on Remembrance Day involve an assembly at the local high school in Parkhill followed by the service at the cenotaph at the eleventh hour.  There is a lunch at the Legion for members which is followed by another service at the cenotaph at Lieury, a nearby community which is not marked only by a road sign, a few houses and a playing field.     The services this year did not follow the usual pattern as Remembrance Day fell on Saturday.  Consequently, the assembly at the high school was held on Friday.  I have always been very impressed with the amount of effort that has gone into these assemblies each year.  They are often different in focus but always done with sincerity and much planning and well executed by the students.  This year’s edition was undertaken by the grade nine students with the results being heartfelt and heartwarming if not as polished as other years when senior students took the lead. 

An interesting, if rather sad note, one of the Legion members noted that when he was in grade nine at the school the grade nine cohort numbered 240.  That would probably have been in the 1970’s.  Now the total student enrollment in the school is less than 200 and has been dropping for years.  The school has had the specter of closure hanging over it for a while and will probably close in the next few years unless something changes.  That would be a significant loss to the community.

The Remembrance Day services were moving as usual.  The weather was cold but with no precipitation and all went well.  I do find the day to be moving important in the life of this community and Canada.  When the day falls on a week day the children from the elementary schools (there is a Roman Catholic school in town) attend which swell the numbers.  The were noted in their absence this year but the ceremony was well attended by the communities in both places.
The final part in the Remembrance Day events was a concert to commemorate Remembrance Day by the South Huron Community Choir under the direction of Richard Heinzle.  This choir is based in the neighbouring community of Exeter.  The concert was entitled ‘Be At Peace’ an was comprised of a variety of compositions and included pieces preformed by the hand-bells.  The guest artist was wonderful oboist Katrina Lisa Liddell.  We attended with two friends from our church in Grand Bend and it was a moving, inspiring evening.  

We will remember them.




Monday, 13 November 2017


Where is God In This?


I have been dealing with some health challenges for the last few weeks.  Not serious – al least I hope and pray.  I woke up about three weeks ago with my neck badly out of adjustment.  I was not able to get to the chiropractor until the following day and the result was my left shoulder that was very restricted in movement i.e. I couldn’t lift my shoulder above thirty degrees.  There was also a lot of discomfort and pain – especially at night which makes sleeping difficult. 
The time since has been a round of chiropractic adjustment three of four times (I am adjusted well if not well adjusted), a visit to emergency, physio twice including acupuncture, visit to the orthopedic surgeon, x-rays and an ultra sound scheduled.  O yes, and a massage for good measure, not to mention an exercise regime begun. 
There has been significant lessening of pain which I am very thankful for but not much improvement in the strength or movement of my arm. I’m sure I will recover if I am diligent in doing the exercises.  I am thankful it is my left arm as I am right handed.  So, there is much to be thankful for including all the health professionals I have been utilizing and the Canadian Health Care System (note: a single-payer system for my American friends).  One complaint is that I was not able to drive my new car, which I took delivery of last week, until yesterday; Lorna has had that pleasuretalk about adding insult to injury.
I give thanks to God for my life and health even when life throws me a curve if not a cure yet.  However, I must confess that I have not been very diligent and faithful in being open to God and seeking God in all this.  I am finding it a challenge to maintain my daily and nightly prayers and reflection and meditation.  So any neglect in that area has been on my part in all this and not God’s. 
Of course, it is not a cure that I can expect from God.  Rather, it is healing which is not what my ego wants.  My ego wants God or someone to kiss it and make it better and get back to my regular life post haste.  But healing is not the same as a cure.  Healing restores our relationship with God and perhaps even strengthens it.  That is what Jesus offers us and I give thanks for that.
Blessing on your journey whatever it may bring you,