Monday, December 29, 2008

Do they have a coffee pot?

Paul Handley, the editor of the Church Times, has penned and article in the Guardian with the unoptimistic lead, The Anglican Communion will finally split in 2009.

There are a few points where I think his analysis is off the mark. For instance, I have previously estimated that the recent reorganization of North American schismatics will have difficulty getting broad support among the primates of the Communion. I have also written about how the primates, collectively, aren't really held in the high esteem some of them think they deserve.

In any event, the fad for North American Anglicans to pretend that they are now part of Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria or the southernest bits of South America, and their recent move to organize themselves into a separate denomination (which is NOT, despite their protestations, a part of the Anglican Communion) has put me in mind of an old saying out of Alcoholics Anonymous.

All you need to start a new meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot.

The modern Anglican equipment seems to be a resentment and a pointy hat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

And the keys to his city belong to the poor

Several years ago - nearly 20, in fact - I appeared as Melchior in an amateur production of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

The previous year, the local Lutheran pastor, the local United Church minister and ours truly had appeared as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come in a musical version of A Christmas Carol.  We returned (well, a new United Church minister) as the three kings in Amahl.  Our voice coach took to referring to us as the Righteous Brothers.

Giancarlo Menotti's opera tells the story of a woman and her crippled son who are visited by the magi en route to Bethlehem.  It was originally written for a Christmas broadcast on NBC in the 1950s, and rebroadcast annually for several years thereafter.  My only knowledge of the piece comes from this amateur performance in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan lo these many years ago. 

Melchior's most important aria is a profound comment on the nature of Christ's kingship.  Two decades on, I can still sing the piece by heart.

This isn't me.  The only extant video of our performance a) isn't on YouTube and b) isn't very good.  (I'm not convinced I was that good anyway.)  To set the scene, the impoverished widow has talked herself into stealing a small amount of the gold, and has been caught by one of the kings' attendants.  The young Amahl is defending his mother:  

Don't you dare!  
Don't you dare!  
Don't you dare, ugly man, hurt my mother!  
Don't you dare!  
Don't you dare!

Oh woman, you may keep the gold.
The child we seek doesn't need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no sceptre.
His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning, he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life,
and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

Hat tip to Marshall at Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside for reminding me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Searching for the Christ Child - Reprise

The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest.

It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin.

It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass. Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet. The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.

Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife.

It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together.


We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The God Forsaken God

We held our Blue Christmas service last evening. Fewer people than I'd hoped, more people than I'd feared. Of course, it was just as cold as it had been in the morning (see below) - possibly colder.

There was one person who wasn't previously connected to the parish (that we know of). She and I spoke briefly at the end, though she chose not to stay for tea. She did ask about Christmas Eve services, and was provided a copy of the parish newsletter.

The service seemed to go well. And I'm told the sermon was good. (I thought I'd started going round in circles round about the middle.) Despite the anxieties of the organist and the one warden, the music seemed to work - even Of the Father's Love Begotten.

My sermon did attempt to bring together the elements of the service - emphasizing the Incarnation as an expression of God's love for us and of God's solidarity with us. And I dwelt a bit on what, for me, is the most profound proclamation of the Incarnation: the vignette of Christ's cry of agony from the Cross, the jarring image of the God forsaken God.

For those who might be interested, the liturgy is reproduced below. Apart from the opening discourse, everything is drawn from the Book of Alternative Services.

Blue Christmas
A service for those experiencing loss,
loneliness or despair at Christmas

The gathering of the community

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.
And also with you.

Dear friends,
Christians, following the example of Jesus,
have always had a particular ministry
to walk with those who suffer.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah
as the suffering servant.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus
did not grasp his equality with God,
but chose to empty himself,
and to die on the cross for our salvation.
In Matthew’s gospel, we are enjoined
to feed the hungry,
to give drink to the thirsty,
to clothe the naked,
to visit the sick and those in prison,
for in ministering to those in need,
we are serving Christ himself.
Each of us has come here this evening,
bearing our own hurts.
We may be immersed in our own suffering,
We may be devastated by our own loss.
We may feel that we are alone,
abandoned by our friends,
deserted by our families.
We may even feel that we are forsaken by God.
It can be difficult for us to remember
that Christ is always with us.

But we are here tonight
because the God who came to us as a little child,
who dwelt among us,
who died for us,
who, in dying, experienced for himself
the devastating feeling of God forsakenness,
who rose triumphant from the grave,
who sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
would not forsake us in our deepest need.
We have come searching for solace
in the presence of God.

Let us pray.
O God of peace,
who taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved,
in quietness and confidence shall be our strength;
by the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence,
that we may be still and know that you are God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn 628 (O Love, how deep, how broad, how high)

The liturgy of the word

Lesson – Isaiah 53: 1-5 (Surely he has borne our griefs)

Psalm 43 (Together)

Give judgement for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.

For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you?
and why do I go so heavily
while the enemy oppresses me?

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness;
and on the harp I will give thanks to you,
O God my God.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

God of mercy, deliver those who are weighed down by fear, by loss, by loneliness or by depression. Relieve their suffering, that they may feel the joy and peace of your presence. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

Lesson – 1 John 2: 7-14 (The darkness is passing away)

Hymn 122 (In the bleak midwinter)

Remain standing for the reading of the Gospel.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,
according to John (1: 1-14 – The Word was made flesh)
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

At the conclusion of the Gospel, the reader says:

The Gospel of Christ.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Here follows a period of silent reflection. Each person has been provided with a blank card, a pen or pencil, and an envelope. During this time, those who wish may write a brief description of the care or worry which oppresses them. The envelopes will be collected and presented at the altar.

The prayers of the people

In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.


For all people in their daily life and work;
For our families, friends and neighbours, and for all those who are alone.

For this community, our country, and the world;
For all who work for justice, freedom and peace.

For the just and proper use of your creation;
For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression.

For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;
For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

For the peace and unity of the Church of God;
For all who proclaim the gospel, and all who seek the truth.

For our own needs and the needs of others.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

Hear us, Lord;
For your mercy is great.

We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

We will exalt you, O God our king;
And praise your name, for ever and ever.

We pray for all those who have died in the peace of Christ, and for those whose faith is known to you alone, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

Lord, let your loving kindness be upon them;
Who put their trust in you.

We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.


Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
in your compassion, forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things done and left undone;
and so uphold us by your Spirit
that we may live and serve you in newness of life
to the honour and glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy upon you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

The people may greet one another in the name of the Lord.

The laying on of hands and anointing

Holy scripture teaches us
that in acts of healing and restoration
our Lord Jesus and his disciples
laid hands upon the sick and anointed them.
By so doing, they made known
the healing power and presence of God.

Pray that as we follow our Lord`s example,
you may know his unfailing love.

Those who wish to be anointed may come forward.

If you choose to come forward, please indicate your name to the priest.

N, through this holy anointing
may the Lord in his love and mercy uphold you
by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When all who wish have been anointed:

As you are outwardly anointed with this oil,
so may our heavenly Father grant you
the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Of his great mercy,
may he release you from your suffering,
and restore you to wholeness and strength;
may he deliver you from all evil,
preserve you in all goodness,
and bring you to everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And now, as our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are bold to say,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The blessing

May the God of infinite goodness
scatter the darkness of sin and despair
and brighten your hearts with holiness;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you, and remain with you for ever. Amen.

Hymn 132 (Of eternal Love begotten)

The dismissal

Go forth into the world,
always conscious of the power and presence of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside - Updated

Yes, it's a dry cold, but I'll happily have it warm up any time.

It's one of those days our former bishop used to describe as "so bitter that only the aged and infirm can make it to church."

Despite that, we had a decent turnout this morning.

Tonight's Blue Christmas service was advertised in the paper (both in the church section and in a larger ad by the movie listings) and as a Facebook event. I'm hoping for a good turnout.

In the meantime:

In the film Neptune's Daughter (if I recall the plot correctly), Ricardo Montalban and Red Skelton are brothers (I know, that makes me wonder if I do remember) and Esther Williams and Betty Garrett (not the retired priest of this diocese) are sisters. While Montalban is desperately trying to seduce Williams, the roles are reversed for Skelton and Garrett. Neptune's Daughter marks the first performance of a seasonal standard, Baby, it's Cold Outside. It's actually performed twice, the semi-serious Montalban - Williams version setting the stage for the hilarious Skelton - Garrett version.

Montalban - Williams

Skelton - Garrett

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Surely he has borne our griefs

This Sunday evening, the parish will be holding a Blue Christmas service. This is a first both for this parish and for this priest.

A Blue Christmas service is intended as a ministry to those who have trouble feeling joy at this time of year - indeed, who often feel oppressed by the way the world demands they be joyful in the face of loss, loneliness or despair.

The Church has a particular ministry, a particular responsibility to such as these. After all, God in Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The God who set aside his own divine nature to share in our human experience, the baby in Bethlehem, the itinerant rabbi in Galilee, the God forsaken God who cries out in agony when he is nailed to the tree, this God reminds us that in ministering to the pain and need of others, we are ministering to him.

The principle tool we have for this ministry is our own experience of suffering and loss. We do not use this to claim the other person's pain. What is less respectful than to tell someone you know just how they feel? Rather, we simply acknowledge that we, too, have felt pain, and would like to walk in solidarity with them in theirs. Surely, after all, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Last week, Elizabeth Kaeton posted a story at her blog Telling Secrets. Go read the link, or the rest of this post won't make as much sense.

Here is the response I posted to Elizabeth's blog:

I aspire to cynicism, so it isn't often that something I read on the internet makes me cry. Shed a tear, occasionally. Choke up a little, often. But not cry.

When I was too young to remember, my parents separated and my mother and I went to live with her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Nana. Mother had spent much of her later childhood living with Nana as well, in order to escape a thoroughly unpleasant home life.

This woman was now acting the mother to her great-grandson in the 60s, as she had to her granddaughter in the 50s. Ironically, she hadn't been able to mother her own children through much of the 20s and 30s because there were few social supports for a single mother, and none at all for a single mother whose father had a bit of money. So her children had spent much of their childhood in an orphanage.

Maybe that was why, when I would visit her in the final years of her life, that much of her confusion turned on how we were related. Who was my mother? Was it Nonie? No, Nana. Nonie is my grandmother. Diane is my mother. Only to get the same question again moments later.

The last time I saw her, my mother and grandmother had brought her to Kerrobert, Saskatchewan to meet her great-great-granddaughter, who had the blessing of being a five generation baby on her mother's side as well.

Nana's confusion is apparent in the official portrait. She clearly has no idea who this little baby is, or why we are all gathered for this picture.

That was June. She died in August.

She died in August. She had died years before.

My Nana taught me about the world. She taught me about God. She taught me about politics.

At her funeral, the wife of our former Premier showed me a book she had written about the North Side Ladies CCF Club in Regina. I had never known that Nana had been its president. The book observed that, in those days, she was caring for her young great-grandson, who had since become a party activist in his own right - a fifth-generation CCFer.

I learned, at her funeral, that Nana had been something of a grassroots political leader, and that past and future Premiers had been guests in our home.

Yet what I remember most about her funeral is the guilt.The guilt that I had not visited her in nearly a year before she died.

Her confusion was so painful for me that I couldn't see or couldn't care how painful it was to her.

Elizabeth, thank you for visting this woman.

And thank you for telling the story.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Amazing Grace

In the Canadian Church, November 23 was designated as Amazing Grace Sunday. Every congregation was encouraged to sing the well known hymn - and take up a loonie / toonie collection to support the Church in northern Canada.

(For non-Canadian readers, "loonie / toonie" refers to our currency. When the dollar bill was replaced with a coin depicting a certain waterfowl, it inevitably came to be called the loonie, while the eventual two dollar coin . . well, you see how it goes.)

In any event, Amazing Grace rang out that Sunday, from Tofino to Torbay, from Kandahar, Saskatchewan to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

We're a bit technologically challenged at our parish. We did sing it. We did tape it. Stand by to stand by.

In the meantime, here is a nice video compliation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Overreaching - and a lesson for the Anglican wars

The last couple of weeks have been very interesting in the world of Canadian politics.

Prime Minister Harper, at the head of his minority Conservative government, seemed secure. Canadians had denied him a majority, but seemed quite prepared to let him carry on provided he learned to work and play well with others. Despite some bluster, all three opposition parties seemed ready to go along.

Then Prime Minister Harper demonstrated that he had not learned any lesson from twice being denied a majority by voters. His finance minister introduced a fiscal update which accomplished the impossible - uniting the three opposition parties in a bid to bring down the Harper government.

(Note for non-Canadian readers: like most parliamentary democracies, the Canadian government is required to sustain the confidence of the House of Commons. If no party has a majority, one of the leaders - usually the leader of the largest party - will be asked to form a government, but that government can only continue in office by demonstrating confidence. In other words, they have to be able to win votes on matters that are deemed to be confidence issues, including all financial bills and any resolutions that specifically refer to the House having or wanting confidence.)

Normally, if a minority government is defeated on a confidence issue, the Prime Minister visits the Governor General, who represents the Queen of Canada. On the Prime Minister's advice, the Governor General then dissolves Parliament and calls an election. (The Queen of Canada normally lives in London, where she also serves as Queen of the Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Bermuda and other random bits and pieces. Oh, and the UK. The Governor General acts on the Queen's authority and is Canada's de facto head of state.)

However, if a government falls quickly after an election, the Governor General has another option. She can investigate if there might be another person who could form an alternate government and win the confidence of the House.

Despite the foolish hysterics of constitutional illiterates, this is perfectly legal, perfectly moral and perfectly normal. It has happened several times in Canada, including the federal Parliament of 1925 - 26, the Saskatchewan Legislature of 1929 - 1935 and the Ontario Provincial Parliament of 1985 - 1987.

Mr. Harper overreached himself and singlehandedly put his government - and the stability of the Canadian economy - in jeopardy.

What a yutz.

Then it was the opposition party leaders' turn.

As the Prime Minister teetered and his ministry tottered, the media and the constitutional experts were busily educating Canadians about the possible outcome of a no confidence motion. They were very clearly making the case that a government formed by opposition members was at least a notional possibility - and an entirely legitimate one.

Not content to let events develop naturally, the three opposition leaders tried to force things. Eventually, an accord and a side agreement were produced. The Official Opposition Liberals and the social democratic New Democrats would form a coalition government, with both parties being represented in Cabinet. Because the Liberal - NDP coalition would still have fewer seats than the Harper Conservatives (114 to 143), the coalition would require the support of the 49 Bloc Quebecois MPs. This party advocates for a sovreign Quebec, separate from Canada. In a side agreement, the Bloc made a commitment to vote with the coalition on any matter deemed to be a confidence vote.

Constitutionally, it was perfectly legitimate.

Politically, it turned out to be a disaster. In one afternoon, the Liberals' hapless Dr. Stephane Dion, the New Democrats usually wily Jack Layton and the Bloc's always inscrutable Gilles Duceppe had made the brash and bullying buffoon Harper look like the victim in the minds of many reasonable but utterly ill-informed Canadians.

Now the ball was back in Mr. Harper's court. His very next move . . . was to overreach again. He and his party happily misrepresented the facts of the parliamentary system. But falsely playing the victim was not enough. They decided on a deliberate tactic of ethnic baiting, fanning the flames of anti-Quebec sentiment among English Canadians, particularly in western Canada. Never before in Canadian history has a Prime Minister set about deliberately placing national unity at risk.

Finally, still fearful of his self-inflicted fate, Stephen Harper decided to play the coward, persuading the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) this session of Parliament the very day the confidence vote was to occur. This was virtually unprecedented, prorogual usually being a means of ending a session that has completed its business. Apart from one arguably similar circumstance in the 1870s, when the corrupt Sir John A. Macdonald adjourned Parliament for several weeks to avoid a similar non-confidence motion, this had never been done before. Note that the Macdonald precedent was NOT a prorogual. (And fat lot of good it did for the old drunk. His government fell almost as soon as the House came to order again.)

The net effect of the prorogual is that the entire business of this Parliamentary session just completed was the election of a Speaker and other officers, and a motion thanking the Governor General for reading a speech.

Now, where is the lesson for the Anglican wars?

In the role of Stephen Harper, consider the GaffeProne Primates, the new pretendy province in North America and "all the usual suspects."

In the role of Mssrs. Dion, Layton and Duceppe, consider the real Anglican Provinces in North America.

And the lesson?

Well, like Mr. Harper, the usual suspects are so fond of overreaching they could practically list it as their hobbby on Facebook.

So the lesson is for ++Katharine, ++Fred and all those who really believe in Anglican comprehensiveness. Learn from Stephane, Jack and Gilles.

They violated one of Napoleon's rules of warfare.

"Never interfere when your enemy is shooting himself in the foot."

Now, for fun, I leave you with Jon Stewart's not terribly accurate satire of Canada's political crisis.

(Apparently those yutzes at CTV have a problem with letting us embed video. And they won't let us watch Jon Stewart on the Comedy Central site. Grrrrr.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Just because they amuse me

The following are a series of videos I've run across lately in my perigrinations through the blogosphere. Some have "a message," some don't. Mostly, I just liked 'em. Enjoy.

The Weather Report done to traditional Anglican Chant
(hat tips to Praeludium and Seven Whole Days)

Bertie Wooster struggles over Puttin' on the Ritz
(hat tip to Grandmére Mimi)

Old Fat Naked Women for Justice
(hat tip to Grandmére Mimi again)

Modern Scotland the Brave
(hat tip to Mad Priest)