CATHEDRAL

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I am your brother…. 

Earlier this month my wife Nancy and I attended the Writer’s Festival in Woody Point, NL. We are there almost every year and we love it. There is just no better opportunity to listen to and even in engage in conversation with some of the most prolific and brilliant writers of our age. This year there was the opportunity to meet and interact with Annie Proulx, Lynden McIntyre and poet extraordinaire Dennis Lee. To say nothing of the opportunity to listen to the irrepressible Mary Walsh, NL’s most potent comedian. And there is music.

 On Saturday morning there is the opportunity to do the Walk in the Wild. It cost nothing and is a gorgeous hike on the Lomond Trail in beautiful Gros Morne National Park. At various intervals along the way the crowd stops and an author speaks or reads and a musician plays and sings. I love this part and was looking forward to the reading by Lisa Moore and the stories from Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron McLean. It was the music that provided the grace moment though. Tim Baker, the lead vocalist for Hey Rosetta was the featured guest and one of the songs he performed was the The Red Song. In his introduction to the song Baker told us that the dreamer Joseph in the middle lyrics was in fact the Joseph of Genesis chapters 36-50 and he did a great job of summarizing Joseph’s story to the crowd gathered. I always marvel at the power of these Old Testament stories to inform and empower. 

The story of Joseph is one of those recurring themes in popular culture. In the late sixties, the Country and Western Artist Dolly Parton used the story to write what she still calls her favourite song, The Coat of Many Colours. In the early seventies Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated to produce the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. This musical made it to Broadway in the eighties and it remains a very popular show. Later in the day I was able to share a table with Tim Baker at a Des Walsh poetry reading. The picture above is from that event. I initiated a conversation with him about the story of Joseph and told him I was a priest. I also told him that remarkably in the past few weeks and in the week of the Writer’s Festival the Old Testament readings in the Common Lectionary were the story of Joseph.

 I am going to resist telling you the story in this blog, instead encouraging you to read it for yourself. Suffice to say though the story is about family rivalry and the power of forgiveness. It is also about God’s ability to do good even in the midst of human evil and selfishness. This is a message that our world desperately needs. 

 It is also a political story about two nations, who were traditional enemies, discovering the value of working cooperatively to their mutual benefit. This is a message that Donald Trump desperately needs to hear. The past week has clearly revealed that putting America First and pulling out of the Paris Accord is in fact putting America in peril. Further our global economy is so intertwined that any attempt to solicit advantage for one nation will lead to needless suffering for all.

 In Genesis 45:6, the powerful Egyptian Overlord, Zaphenathpaneah says to a family of Israelite refugees: I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. Do not grieve, do not reproach yourselves for having sold me. God sent me before you to preserve life. We are all brothers and sisters. This fragile Earth, our Island home, needs us to work collaboratively.

        The things I learned from Sgt Rock and Easy Company 

When I was a child I loved comic books. I was not a big fan of those Marvel or DC superheroes. Rather I preferred the old westerns, The Lone Ranger, Billy the Kid and The Apache Kid. I also liked the war comics and particularly enjoyed Sergeant Rock and Easy Company.

 Lots of my friends enjoyed Spider Man and Superman but in a strange kind of way I found them a little too superficial. Sometimes as I have grown into an adult and I remember myself as I child I have to concede that I was a strange little kid. For me the superhero comics presented life in a very nuanced way. There were heroes and there were villains. And if you were not on the side of the heroes then you were a villain.

 In a weird kind of way there was a more complex world being presented in the western and war comics of my age. Sgt Rock’s Easy Company had a black soldier, Jackie Johnson, in a time when the US Army was racially segregated. Little Sure Shot was an Apache Soldier. Four Eyes was an exceptional glasses-wearing sniper. The perfect hero for those of us who were often referred to by that name. The storyline was also grayer. For sure the Nazi history was demonized as it ought to have been but I also remember an episode where Rock cries when he realizes that the Nazis he was killing were in fact young boys.

 In the same way western comics presented Indigenous Americans far less one-dimensionally and far more favourable than even the news media was at that time. Informed readers like myself knew that The Billy the Kid comic was loosely based on the life of teen mass murderer, William H. Bonney, but the comic was an attempt to present a character with a likable personality and a strong moral code. It was in many ways a story of redemption and forgiveness. 

 Some days in the past few weeks I am left believing that I am living in a very bad comic book. We have leaders of countries threatening one another with nuclear war. Even dependable superpowers all of a sudden have leaders whose contributions to the conversation look like they might more properly belong in a dialogue bubble in a comic book: “Cesspools of evil” (Kim Jung Un) “ Fire and Fury” (Donald Trump). Once again in our world we have pear-shaped politicians ready to slaughter their young and destroy hard-earned peace in our world.

 The United States of America is a democracy and their President is legitimately chosen. Clearly, though, he needs a little tutoring from Sgt Rock and the Apache Kid. You do not fall into the trap of becoming what you claim to be fighting against.

 We Christians believe that peace is important. There are many reason for this but chief among them is that it was the gift that the resurrected Jesus first offered to the disciples. Clearly though he envisioned times like these. That is why Jesus said: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

                         Canada and its 150th birthday

 I awoke this morning to the news that Indigenous protestors were being arrested in Ottawa. It appears that overnight they had erected a teepee and in their words were reoccupying Parliament Hill. In the midst of all the celebration around Canada’s 150th birthday the voices of our Indigenous people remind us that their history in this land is much longer. Further many of them feel that this experiment which is Canada has left them behind with disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration and youth suicide. Given these circumstances, is it appropriate to be hosting a celebration?

 I must admit that this is a more difficult question than I first realized. I could address this in many ways. First as a Newfoundlander and Labradorean my history in Canada is much shorter than 150 years. We have only been around for 68 of those 150 years. Many Canadians still do not know that for the Dominion of Newfoundland, July 1st was a day of mourning, remembering our horrific losses at the Battle of the Somme in Beaumont Hamel. We still spend our morning somberly remembering. Further, there is my heritage as a member of a family who are all part of the recently formed Qalipu band. Then there is my 4 years I spent in Haida Gwaii and my involvement with the Haida people that gave me such an appreciation of the challenges that Indigenous people have faced because of colonialism.

 I have to string that alongside my ancestors who came from England and Scotland and my 24 years that I served this country as a military chaplain. I have always been proud of how we were able to impact for good so many places in our world. I listen to some of our proudest Canadians, our recent immigrants, some of whom I am delighted to call friends. They have chosen this country and they love it, often because of the sanctuary it offers them. As one who has travelled broadly, my experience of Canada remains that it is still the best country on Earth.

 Having said all of that, I believe the approach to take on Canada Day is to celebrate what has been accomplished. I would include at the top of that list our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It permits all of us to be who we are and who we want to be. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done and we must commit ourselves to working together to provide equal opportunities to all Canadians. Until the day that all of us equally enjoy the bounty of this country then none of us truly can. 

The writer to Ecclesiastes said, For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 Clearly, July 1, 2017 represents for some of us a time to celebrate and for others a time to protest. It truly is a time for some to weep and a time for others to laugh. For me it will be a time of thankfulness because I live in a country where I have the freedom to choose my response.

Pentecost Noise 

 This past Sunday was Pentecost, the birthday of the church. We recall how those first disciples were locked away in an Upper Room; afraid. Suddenly, the room was filled with noise and the disciples encountered the spirit in those ancient symbols of God of wind and fire. (Acts 2:1-21) 

 The dsiciple’s fear evaporated and they were inspired and enthused. They left that Upper Room and took their faith to where it properly belonged. They went into the streets and among the people. They were so enthusiastic that people thought they were drunk. And in a manner of speaking they were. Their experience of the spirit and their encounters with the Risen Jesus empowered them so that they took the name Christian and they began to share a mission and message that changed the world.

In our Cathedral, Pentecost Sunday was also the Sunday when we celebrated the children and young people who worship in our community. What a joy and what a wonderful example our worshipping children are to us adults of what it means to be energetic and enthusiastic about their faith. 

There are so many positive memories of that service that reveal to me how blessed we are as a community. I still have visions of our youngest children running up the aisle to hear the children’s story. I think of our readers, one about to graduate from High School this year, still coming faithfully to take his turn as a Server. The other, who worked dilligently on his pronounciation of Pathians, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia. Imagine all he wanted was a reading with no difficult words.

I think of the young man who cantored the Psalm with his Dad and then played beautiful communion music as an accomplished musician. I remembered the anthem by two beautiful sisters, one a teenager and the other so short that only her pigtails could be seen behind the lectern, but with a voice so clear and beautiful that it hardly seemed it could belong to one so young. I think of the little boy who comes every Sunday in the arms of his parents and who is our most enthusiastic communcant, reaching out to receive the body of Christ and then grinning beause he values so greatly being included.

All week I have heard the children’s thoughtful comment at the story time and their giggling, joking and plotting together at coffee hour. How lucky I was at the door to have a little 4-year old tell me about her dance recital coming up later in the day. This is all proof that the spirit is in the church until God’s kingdom, the kingdom that is and will be, comes. The Spiirt is indeed resting on the church.

She comes sailing on the wind, her wings flashing in the sun,

On a journey just begun, she flies on.

And in the passage of her flight, her song rings out through the night,

full of laughter, full of light, she sails on.

Receive my Spirit 

 The scripture readings in the Easter season reveal some of the trials and conquests of the early church. They tell stories of great joy like the story of Cleopas and the other disciple discovering that their companion on the road to Emmaus is the resurrected Jesus. There is also the story of Thomas the Apostle being able to see and touch the resurrected Jesus and believe. 

 This Sunday we are reading the story of the martyrdom of Stephen. A very young early Christian, Stephen was stoned to death because of his Christian beliefs. In his dying Stephen is given a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God. He cries out to Jesus to receive his spirit and he embraces this vision which gives him the great power to forgive those who are putting him to death. 

 After the death of Jesus those disciples hid away in an upper room, disheartened and afraid. There are times in our lives when things can seem equally hopeless. The world is experiencing an unprecedented void of real leadership. Every newscast seems to bring even more dire news of chaotic reactive political response and environmental catastrophe. At this particular moment Canadians are feeling empathy for the people of Ontario and Quebec who are losing their homes to flooding. Once in one hundred year disasters are happening every decade as we feel the enormous impact of global warming. 

 The story of Jesus’ resurrection is a transformational story for the early disciples and the early church Stephen’s response to his dying is persuasive evidence of the power of the resurrection in the life of the early church. We are Easter people and our foundation is built on a premise that the stone that the builder rejected has become our chief cornerstone. Death will not have the last word. 

 We are reading these scripture stories in the context of the season of spring. Those of us living in this part of the northern hemisphere are witnessing the transformation of the earth. The long cold season of winter is losing its grip on us. There are signs. The birds are singing. The new buds are poking out on the branches. The lambs are dancing in the fields. Even from my office I can see the purple, white and gold of the crocuses, the first flowers. God is renewing the face of the earth. Death will never have the last word. We are Easter people.

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