Thursday, December 25, 2014

Searching for the Christ Child

 A Simple Massing Priest tradition since 2007.
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.

This year there was some added adventure when the little girl designated to put the Baby Jesus in the manger made shy, but we got it done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Endorsement

Saskatchewan New Democrats have begun nominating candidates for the next provincial election. Members in the Regina Douglas Park constituency will be choosing their new candidate and next Member of the Legislature tomorrow night.

There are two very good people running for the nomination. I count both of them as my friends.

And the problem for parties nominating candidates or electing leaders is that members are often confronted with having to choose between friends.

Stephen Moore is a professor at the University of Regina, a former federal candidate in Regina Wascana and was the Chief of Staff to former leader Dwain Lingenfelter.

Nicole Sarauer is a lawyer, and the Programs Director for Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan and a Trustee with Regina Roman Catholic Separate Schools.

Either one would make a good candidate.

But in my estimation, Nicole would make the better candidate.

Nicole is bright, compelling, outgoing and brings a track record of electoral success. She represents the renewal the Saskatchewan NDP needs. She represents the voice of a new generation of activists and citizens.

I hate having to choose between friends, but in this case, the choice isn't hard.

Nicole Sarauer represents our best chance of taking back Regina Douglas Park. She and other young, dynamic candidates like her, are the key to rebuilding a Saskatchewan NDP that can contend for power.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Preemptive Escalation and the Use of Telephones

Last week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended two Liberal MPs (including his Ethics Critic) from the Liberal Caucus based on allegations of sexual harassment against two female New Democrat MPs. At first, it appeared Trudeau had acted responsibly and decisively to address a serious problem.

It then emerged that Trudeau and his people had not bothered to give the New Democrat Caucus or the two NDP MPs any advance warning of his intentions. At least one of the victims learned of Trudeau's actions from her Twitter feed.

It also came to be known that the two alleged victims had not wanted the matter to become public. The political careers and future prospects of two Liberal MPs have likely been ruined regardless of the eventual outcome, and, according to NDP sources, the two NDP MPs feel as though they have been victimized all over again.

National Post political correspondent Stephen Maher has provided perhaps the most balanced and neutral outline of the sequence of events.

Admittedly, Trudeau was in a difficult situation. Once the matter had been brought to his attention by one of the two NDP MPs, he could hardly ignore it. But did he really need to invoke the nuclear option? We don't know the details of the cases, of course, but Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert has reported that the two NDP MPs did not want the matter to become public at least in part because they did not want to ruin the careers of their two Liberal colleagues.

Most modern organizations have some sort of harassment policy in place. It is telling that the House of Commons does not. In virtually all of those policies, it directs that complaints and violations of the policy should be resolved at the lowest appropriate level. Depending on the nature of the offence, (possibly) the intention of the respondent and (in general) the attitude of the victim, not every act of harassment need be a firing offence. In some cases, a simple apology and a stern warning is sufficient. In other cases, more sanctions and possibly some sort of harassment prevention training may be required.

Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren described an incident of sexual harassment from early in her career. While the incident she describes unquestionably constitutes sexual harassment, she wasn't convinced the harasser deserved to have his career and reputation ruined.
... did I think he deserved to be frog-marched out of the building with his belongings in a cardboard box? That seemed a bit extreme.
It would appear that the NDP victims felt that publicly frog-marching the Liberal MPs out of caucus was too severe, that an educational and corrective approach was appropriate in their cases. But they were concerned that the hothouse atmosphere of Parliament Hill would escalate the matter significantly. They were sadly correct.

Trudeau and his handlers have a habit of throwing people under the bus if they become inconvenient. Martha Hall Findlay and Christine Innes have had their political careers ended (and in the latter case, her professional reputation soiled) by Liberal operatives because they were inconvenient to the leader's plans. I suppose it's oddly reassuring that he's prepared to throw male politicians under the bus, not just women.

By acting in a public way, without the consent and cooperation of the complainants, Trudeau has violated the central principles of effective harassment policies and processes. He has destroyed two careers, and he has disempowered two victims.

Part of the victim-blaming response from Trudeau apologists has been to say of the second NDP MP, "well, what did she expect?"

I don't know what she expected. But based on Hébert's column, I deduce that she expected the Liberal MP would get a stern talking to, perhaps some diversity training, maybe some internal sanctions. To say that she should have expected what happened is to argue (rather foolishly) that every incident of inappropriate behaviour is always a firing offence. In a world like that, very few of us would still have jobs.

I've been a victim of harassment in my working life - more than once. It wasn't sexual harassment, but it was certainly harassment. In the early 1990s, I had two superiors actively poisoning my workplace. One of the few mercies was that the two despised each other and so never managed to cooperate. My one attempt to make a formal complaint was sidelined by one of the harassers. For a period of several months, every time I arrived at that workplace I would head to the washroom to throw up. One of the worst aspects of that experience was the sense that I had no control. I was powerless. I felt as though I had no agency as events ran their course.

I don't know what it's like to be sexually harassed, but I can't imagine that sense of powerlessness is any less. I have no difficulty understanding why the two NDP MPs would feel like victims all over again. Trudeau denied them any say in the outcome, denied them any agency.

But the thing that completely mystifies me is this: is there no one in Justin Trudeau's office that knows how to operate a telephone?

I'm sure they have telephones in Ottawa, even on Parliament Hill.

It's not all that hard to operate one. Press a series of numbers and the telephone makes a sound signifying that another telephone elsewhere is alerting it's minder to an incoming communication.

How hard would it have been for Justin Trudeau or his minions to telephone two MPs from another party, to explain why he felt it necessary to escalate the matter beyond what even the victims felt was appropriate, to explain why he felt it was necessary to impose the escalated sanctions in a public way, and to advise when the matter would be announced?

He still would have been denying autonomy and agency to the victims, but at least they wouldn't have found out about it on Twitter.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Pope and Mrs. Beamish

The past week or so has seen an unusual amount of ink and electrons spilled over a new circular from the Vatican regarding the proper way of passing the Peace during the Eucharist. Specifically, the circular identified four abuses that are to be avoided (and, if already happening, discontinued):
  • the use of a "song of peace";
  • the congregation leaving their seats to exchange the Peace with those not immediately near them;
  • the presiding celebrant leaving the altar (sanctuary?) to exchange the Peace with some members of the congregation; and
  • the use of the Peace as an opportunity to offer congratulations, condolences etc.
The circular can be found here.

Perhaps the first thing to note is that the Peace, in the Roman rite, is not in the same place as it is for most Canadian Anglicans accustomed to worshiping with the Book of Alternative Services. In the Roman rite, as in the Book of Common Prayer, the Peace occurs after the Eucharistic prayer and immediately prior to the distribution of the Holy Communion to the faithful. Recent Anglican liturgical reforms have tended to conform to the Ambrosian rite and to place the Peace immediately before the Offertory. This is consistent with Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus says,
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5: 23 - 24
The rationale for the Peace - and the placing of the Peace - is different in the Roman rite:
Its point of reference is found in the Eucharistic contemplation of the Paschal mystery as the "Paschal kiss" of the Risen Christ present on the altar.
This is not to suggest that one placement and understanding is superior to the other. But it is clear that the two different understandings logically lead to different approaches. The Roman placement demands a more solemn and contemplative atmosphere than the Ambrosian placement familiar to most modern Anglicans.

The Vatican direction for priest and people to remain in their places, to my mind, makes perfect sense in the Roman rite. I'm not convinced they make much sense in the Ambrosian placement. Indeed, if I am to take Jesus's words seriously, I may well have to go out from the sanctuary to reconcile with my brother or my sister.

That said, I think one of the abuses mentioned in the Vatican's circular applies to the Peace in its Ambrosian placement as well. The Peace is not particularly a time for chit chat, visiting, congratulations and catching up. It's not particularly a time for condolences either, although the intentional human contact and the invoking of Christ's peace may well have a particular poignancy and meaning for the recently bereaved.

I also think the circular misses one very serious (though usually unconscious) abuse of the Peace - ignoring the stranger while seeking out one's friends. Indeed, if we take another part of Matthew's Gospel seriously, we should be making a particular point of sharing the sign of Christ's peace with the stranger.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me / did not welcome me. Matthew 25: 31 - 46
One of the best explanations and instructions for the Peace is from my New Zealand colleague Bosco Peters:
The Peace forms the hinge between the Ministry of the Word and Prayer (which we have inherited from the Synagogue), and the Ministry of the Sacrament (which we have inherited from Jesus and through him from the meals celebrated in Jewish homes). It is found at this point of the service in the earliest liturgies. A sign of peace can act out our love for our brother and sister (1 John 4:20) and the peace we wish to make before we present our gift at the altar (Matthew 5:23-24). It is especially a sharing of the peace given by the risen Christ (John 20:19,21,26). 
With hands extended wide the presider says, "The peace of Christ be always with you." On occasion an introductory sentence might link the Peace to the celebration of the day. Another option is to slightly adapt the words to the occasion. For example, during the Easter Season, the greeting could be, "The Peace of the Risen Christ be always with you." 
The people's response can be followed by "Let us offer one another a sign of (this/Christ's) Peace." Giving specific instructions on what form this "sign" should take is best avoided. For some this is an important moment of human contact in the midst of a lonely week. For others physical contact may be threatening rather than speaking of Christ's peace.  
Teaching which encourages sensitivity is appropriate. The Peace is part of worship, it is a liturgical action. To seek out our friends and ignore the stranger or visitor or the one with whom we really need to seek reconciliation is to miss the point of the Peace. The Peace anticipates the coming kingdom, it is not a foretaste of the morning tea after church! To put this in another way, it is the Peace which should shape the atmosphere of morning tea after church, rather than the atmosphere of an ordinary New Zealand morning tea being that which shapes the way we relate at the Peace. 
The period of the Peace can be ended either by using the sentences "E te whanau, we are the body of Christ ..." (page 419), or by beginning a hymn, or by beginning to prepare the table.
And by way of closing, here's everyone's favourite video about the controversies of the Peace. Peace to you, Mrs. Beamish.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Seal of Confession

Earlier this month, the Anglican Church of Australia altered its canons (church laws) to permit clergy to reveal the contents of a penitent's confession if it included a serious crime which had not already been reported to the police. This overturned the long established (arguably centuries old) Seal of the Confession whereby the person hearing a confession (normally a priest or bishop) was not to disclose the content of the penitent's confession under any circumstances. Apparently there was already provision in the Australian canons for a confessor to reveal information with the consent of the penitent, though that would already be a departure from catholic norms.  Coverage of the story can be found here and here. One of the principal campaigners for the measure offers his apologia here. New Zealand priest Bosco Peters offers some good analysis here.

The motivation for the measure, understandably, is related to the scandal of sexual abuse - and in particular sexual abuse by clergy. And the scandal of abuse has, in many cases, been aggravated by inaction or evasion on the part of church authorities when abuse has been revealed. There is no defence to be offered for either the abuse itself or for the negligence and complicity of those who ignored or covered it up.

But the moral failure of church authorities is quite independent of the issue of the Seal of Confession. It was not through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that church authorities were discovering cases of abuse, but from the reports of victims and their parents or other advocates. The Seal of Confession, intact or otherwise, had no bearing on the failure of those in authority to address the issue.

In most Canadian jurisdictions, the laws makes it compulsory to report cases or suspected cases of the sexual, physical or emotional abuse of children. In some jurisdictions, including here in Saskatchewan, the Seal of Confession is expressly and specifically singled out as not constituting an exception to this requirement. If one hears a confession about the abuse of a child, the obligations to the church and to the state are in clear and unequivocal conflict.

That said, a priest still has some capacity to effect a positive outcome. We are not obliged to pronounce absolution if we are not persuaded that the penitent is, in fact, penitent. The most effective and reliable sign of true repentance would be for the penitent to make another confession ... to the civil authorities.  In any event, in an Anglican context - where our discipline around Confession is that "all may, some should, none must" - it strikes me unlikely that a person would disclose any serious sin, including child abuse, unless there was sincere repentance.

I think Fr Bosco is correct. The most likely outcome of this sort of change is that those guilty of such grave sins - and possibly of sins far less grave - will be less likely to avail themselves of the sacrament. Instead, they will simply continue to struggle on their own (assuming they really are penitent), and will be more likely to repeat the offence.

Indeed, one could argue that a blanket reporting requirement may actually keep some abusers from seeking any sort of help to address their behaviour. I have two pieces of anecdotal evidence to support this.

Some 25 years ago, I had dealings with several men who were at various points in the legal system after having sexually abused their children. In two of the cases, the abuse had gone on over a long period of time. In both of those cases, the men had come to understand that their behaviour was wrong and had also realized that they needed help.

Both of the men sought out professional help through a public agency. After their initial intake session, they were asked to wait in a room while the counselors, in accordance with the law, contacted the police. Both men were arrested, charged and convicted. By the time I had met them, both had completed their initial sentences but were still in the parole system. I did not have a confessor - penitent relationship with either man.

Neither man questioned the fairness of what had happened to him. Both agreed that the counselling they had been able to access through the corrections system made them less likely to reoffend. Both felt they had gotten a punishment commensurate with their crime.

But both of them were honest enough to acknowledge that, had they known of the compulsory reporting requirement, they likely would not have sought help. And both believed that it was at least possible, and probably likely that, had they not sought help, the abuse would have continued.

This is not an easy question, and I certainly see that a person of good faith might come to another conclusion. But I am far from persuaded that removing the Seal of Confession will do anything substantive to enhance the safety of children. It will, however, discourage many people - and not only those guilty of so grave a sin - from accessing a means of grace to the detriment of their souls.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Peace by Peace

When I was 18, I held a Nobel Prize.

I was in New York when I met Mairead Corrigan (now Maguire) and Betty Williams, co-founders of the group Peace People in Northern Ireland.

It was less than two years earlier that Corrigan Maguire's sister, niece and two nephews were struck by a car driven by wounded Provisional IRA terrorist Danny Lennon who had been shot by British troops. The young girl and one of the boys died at the scene. the younger boy the following day. The children's mother was eventually driven to suicide by the events of that day. Williams had witnessed the event and was moved to begin a petition across sectarian lines calling for an end to the violence. The two women became "the joint leaders of a virtually spontaneous mass movement."

I thought of these two unlikely Nobel Laureates when I read this story about the families of murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel and murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir comforting each other in their loss.

The witness of Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams helped bring an end to The Troubles. May the witness of Rachel Fraenkel and Hussein Abu Khdeir have a similar outcome.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Way

The parish where I hang my biretta has St. James the Apostle as its patron. St. James is also the patron of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Compostella, Spain, the terminus of the ancient yet still very popular pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. As our parish leadership has worked over the past while to develop a Mission Action Plan for the parish, we have looked often to the image of pilgrimage as an icon and model of the Christian life.

It is this connection that recently led me to look for the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen. Adapted for the screen and produced by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez, it is the story of a man who travels to France to identify and reclaim the body of his son who died in a storm on his first day on the Camino. He decides to complete the journey his son began.

I am increasingly intrigued by the idea of pilgrimage both as spiritual devotion and spiritual pilgrimage. The earliest Christians referred to our faith as The Way. Roads and journey's occur again and again in the salvation history. Deuteronomy calls on us to acknowledge a wandering Aramean as our ancestor. Joseph journeys to Egypt and, generations later, the Hebrews journey back to the land of promise. The story of Jesus begins with a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and much of the story of his ministry is set on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem, culminating in the Way of the Cross. 

Starting with the Camino may be a little presumptuous. Perhaps some smaller scale pilgrimages are a place to begin. But to be a Christian is to be a pilgrim. And like any journey, that pilgrimage begins with a step.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Next and First Member of Parliament for Regina Lewvan

It was a beautiful day to be outside, mostly. But instead I was inside in a crowded room in Regina participating in grassroots democracy. When it was all over, the Regina Lewvan New Democrats nominated economist Erin Weir as our candidate in the next federal election.

I've known Erin since he was a young man in high school, so I guess I'm beginning to show my age. Erin is better known in recent years as a frequent sparring partner for far right CBC talking head Kevin O'Leary. After the Chairman of Goldman Sachs said that the Occupy movement was right on income inequality, someone on Twitter opined that O'Leary's head might explode. Having not seen that story, I assumed the cause of the explosion would be Erin's nomination win.

And with that in mind, here's Erin appearing as part of a panel on the CBC's Lang and O'Leary Exchange.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Local initiative featured in Radio Vatican story

More than three years ago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina and the Anglican Diocese of Qu'Appelle entered into a Covenant relationship in which both partners committed to:
  • Hold a prayer service each year during Eastertide, alternating between the two cathedrals and involving planning and participation from both churches;
  • Remembering each other and the Covenant relationship in prayer, including in the intercessions at the Eucharist;
  • Working together on justice issues;
  • Meeting jointly with First Nations elders to promote healing and reconciliation; and
  • Committing to communicate with each other when issues arise which may affect the relationship.

How that Covenant is lived out in other places I'm not sure. Where I hang my biretta, it has meant a deepening of our relationship with our down the back alley neighbours at St. Cecilia's. It has also meant the creation of a weekly rotation of prayer intentions for a list of our ecumenical partners, including all of the Roman Catholic parishes within our parish boundaries as well as both Evangelical Lutheran parishes and the other member churches of the neighbourhood ecumenical group.

Bishop Don Bolen, Roman Catholic Co-Chair of the
International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission

One of the people driving the creation of this Covenant was then Monsignor Don Bolen. Don had previously worked in the Vatican at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and he had sent a draft of the proposed Covenant to his former colleagues for their comments and insights.

Don has since become the Roman Catholic Bishop of Saskatoon and more recently the Roman Catholic Co-Chair of the International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission. In that latter role, it is perfectly natural that he would be interviewed by Vatican Radio in their coverage of Archbishop of Centerbury Justin Welby's visit to Rome this weekend. But of particular note to me was that Don chose to highlight our Saskatchewan based Covenant as an example of best ecumenical practices.

Is this the big time?

The story can be found here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

RINOs, DINOs and Elephinos

There's a very old and very bad "crossing" joke:
Q: What do you get if you cross and elephant with a rhinoceros?A: Elephino.
(Really, it's funnier if you say it than if you just read it.)

In American politics of late, there is much lamenting from the outward edges of the two major parties that various other members of their respective parties are either RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) or DINOs (Democrats In Name Only). It is natural that any party's ideologues are a trifle distrusting of the party elites, and especially of those  pragmatic souls prepared to take a little water in their wine if they believe it can advance their agenda. But it is also a condemnation of those who come to a party after an exercise in party outreach and a broadening of the tent.

For Tea Party style Republicans, the RINO label covers off any mainstream (ie, nationally electable) Republican who does not hold true to a list of hardline shibboleths about abortion, equal marriage, immigration reform, firearms regulation and so forth. It can also include actual earth-dwelling Republicans who don't believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist.

The Democrats, having spent much of the 70s and 80s in the political wilderness, at least with regard to national elections, seem a little less inclined to such arbitrary litmus testing. Even so, some southern and Blue Dog Democrats have been called out as DINOs by some elements of the Democratic base.

In Canada, we see some of the same tendencies, albeit mostly within the New Democratic Party. Witness the recent Ontario case where 34 people who claimed to be NDP supporters (and some of whom may actually be NDP members) deliberately attempted to sabotage the ONDP campaign with a leaked letter attacking the leader for departing from certain arbitrary orthodoxies. I blogged about it here.

What makes the Canadian version of this tendency a trifle different is that it is the critics who seem to have the loyalty problem. Indeed, for the past 25 years or so, every federal NDP campaign and every Ontario NDP campaign has been subjected to this kind of sabotage. And in every case, it has been crystal clear that the saboteurs efforts were intended to derail the NDP campaign and to buoy up an often-flagging Liberal Party.

There were two major variations on the attack narrative. Well, the first two parts of the narrative were pretty constant. It was only the third part which varied, depending on whether the NDP campaign was actually appealing to voters or was trying to appease its critics.

1. These Conservatives are dangerous wild eyed radicals who will destroy everything we hold dear. 
2. The Liberals, despite decades of breaking progressive promises once safely ensconced in power, will actually keep their promises this time. 
3a. (If the NDP was trying to appeal to real voters) The NDP is no longer ideologically pure and so progressives should vote Liberal.
3b. (If the NDP campaign was trying to appease internal critics) The NDP can't win and so progressives should vote Liberal.

While in the US model, the Gang of 34 would have been calling out Andrea Horwath as a NewDINO, it is actually the attackers to whom the In Name Only appellation applies. But since a significant number of the signiatories haven't held an NDP card in years, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe them as ELEPHINOs. The irony of the ELEPHINO attacks over the years is that the long term result was precisely the opposite of what the critics have claimed they wanted to see.

Yes, in the short term they often got the Liberal governments they wanted. (And those Liberal governments all immediately jettisoned the progressive promises they'd made in the campaign.)

Through the 90s and into the 00s, a marginalized NDP meant the Liberals had little incentive to tack left, and thus the mainstream political discourse was driven by the Reform / Alliance federally and  by the Harris Conservatives provincially. Then, in the 00s and into the current decade, as it became obvious that the party's left wing critics could never be appeased, party leaders and strategists simply stopped paying attention to them.

This is really what drove the petulant tone of the Gang of 34 letter and the increasingly angry tone of their defenders. They have rendered themselves irrelevant. And in politics, irrelevance is the last step before extinction.

Some election soon, I hope to see the last of the ELEPHINOs.

And here's a further riff on that joke.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Hazards of Swimming the Tiber

Among Anglicans, particularly Anglicans of a particular type, it is not uncommon to find periodic outbursts of Roman Fever. Given our high view of the importance of catholicity, it is not that unusual that some should pursue catholicity by moving to the institution which claims that it alone possesses such catholicity. 

Conversions to Roman Catholicism happen from time to time. Most often these are driven by pastoral considerations such as an Anglican spouse choosing to worship with their partner. I recall a retired Anglican priest who converted, not out of any theological conviction particularly, but because his children had both married and then become Roman Catholics and he wanted to worship with them and with his grandchildren. Sometimes conversions are driven by a calmly reached theological conviction, though conversions in anger due to some development in Anglicanism seem more common.

There is a tale of a certain priest in Toronto who left a note in the sacristy after the early service saying simply:
Have gone to Rome. Ask Father X to take the 11:00.
One retired Episcopal bishop made the trip to Rome only to return a few years later. He then re-reconverted. Some sort of ecclesiastical Air Miles I guess.

In a bit of geographical humour, a conversion to Rome is sometimes called Swimming the Tiber. Although conversions the other way are at least equally common, neither Swimming the Thames nor Swimming the Channel seem to have developed the same currency.

I've never been particularly tempted by the glory that was or is Rome. Even during the period when I was out of active ministry and quite alienated from my own church, I clearly knew that Rome was not for me. There were too many issues - the way in which authority was exercised being not the least of them.

There was a minor earthquake on the fringes of the Anglican world this week when Greg Griffith, a major lay soldier in the Anglican culture wars of the past several years, announced on his blog that he and his family had been received into the Roman Catholic Church. In keeping with past practice, I do not link to toxic blogsites, so even though Greg's piece on his conversion is relatively eirenic - at least by the standards of that site - you'll have too Google Stand Firm (the site) and Waypoints (the article) for yourself.

It is a trifle risky to comment on someone else's spiritual journey. This is particularly true when the other person has been engaged on the other side of a shared conflict. I want to be clear that my goal here is not to take any shots at Greg Griffith, nor in any way to imply an attitude of "good riddance."

I do want to acknowledge that feeling alienated from your own religious body - whether the faith of your childhood or the faith of your choosing (both Greg and I were converts to Anglicanism) - is a profoundly disturbing experience. I've been there. I get it. It can be soul destroying. It is for many.

I disagree with Greg on just about every point under dispute in 21st century Anglicanism. I don't agree with his views and I have serious issues with the way he has argued those views, personalized issues and raised the temperature at every opportunity. But I am still saddened to see his walk away from the shared table.

In his apologia, however, Greg makes two points which I find odd coming from one who has just been received into the Roman Catholic Church. 

First, there is his dismissive comment about Pope Francis. I get that Francis isn't the favourite of every Roman Catholic, especially those of a more conservative hue. But it nonetheless strikes me as passing strange that Greg feels the need to make dismissive comments about his new Pontiff, whom he describes as:
somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster.

Second, and more significant to me, is his stated intention to continue managing Stand Firm as a site for those still engaged in the Anglican wars. I've always been told that the most important part of leaving is to leave. Continuing to engage in Anglicanism's internal flamewars is rather like the departed partner in a broken marriage assiduously working to screw up the former spouse's subsequent relationships.

I hope Greg Griffith finds some peace in his choice to swim the Tiber. Unless he slips the hawsers mooring him alongside Anglicanism, his swim will be dangerous at the very least and he will be unlikely to make landfall on the other side.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sideline Snipers

The New Democratic Party, particularly in Ontario, has long been afflicted by sideline snipers who purport to be loyal New Democrats. Prominent Liberal Activist Basil Hargrove spent more than a decade pretending to be a New Democrat while doing everything in his power to ensure that the Ontario and federal NDP were electorally marginalized - and it took a full decade before anyone was prepared to call Hargrove out for his hypocrisy. His expulsion from the Ontario NDP in 2006 (for violating the party's constitution by supporting another party) was at least a decade overdue.

The approach of the sideline snipers has been remarkably consistent over the years. With crocodile tears about "principles," they pretend to act from conscience in demanding that the NDP campaign from a hard left platform. Yet at the same time, the same critics actively encourage NDP supporters to vote . . .  for the Liberals. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to determine the snipers' real loyalties.

Any NDP leader who threatens (or even tries) to be electorally effective is subjected to the same attack. It happened to Howard Hampton, to Alexa McDonough and to Jack Layton. True to form, the usual suspects were out in force last week, deliberately sabotaging Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath's campaign. The Liberal aligned Toronto Star and CBC were quick to claim that the 34 signatories were "prominent" New Democrats. Certainly a few of them were, but most were not, and a few (such as Judy Rebick) have actively identified as "former New Democrats" for years. But the letter was the usual hodge-podge of hypocrisy posing as principle. They essentially demanded that Horwath and the ONDP all but stand down to give the Ontario Liberals a free hand in this election.

A National Newswatch piece by political statistician and data aggregator Alice Funke (whose Pundits' Guide website is required reading for anyone who seriously wants to understand hte political scene in Canada) pointed out the fundamental incoherence of a strategy which calls on the ONDP to embrace electoral irrelevance as a means of advancing progressive ideas. She does, however, miss one salient point - that an electorally weakened New Democratic Party inevitably allows the Liberal Party and the entire national / provincial political discourse to shift significantly to the right. Yes, marginalizing the NDP can (sometimes) help the Liberals electorally, but it also ensures that any Liberal government elected is far to the right of where it might otherwise have been if it had to contend with a serious challenger on its left flank.

Funke effectively sums up what Horwath is trying to do:
She has made a bold calculation that the strong desire for regime change in the province, coupled with a fear of the extreme programme of the Hudak PCs, creates a unique opening for a modern social democratic offer that balances fiscal responsibility with progressive working class populism; one that actually stands a chance of stopping a Hudak majority, in the very regions the provincial Liberals are now weakest.

The weirdest part of the whole story is the claim by some of the signatories that the letter was never intended to become public. The claim is either startlingly naive or plainly dishonest on the face of it. The letter was written for one purpose and one purpose only, to become public in order to sabotage the NDP campaign.

The way to defeat right wing party's with right wing agendas is to defeat right wing parties with right wing agendas, not to cede the electoral field to other right wing parties with (possibly ever so slightly less) right wing agendas.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Commonwealth of Churches

Last week, the former Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in London as part of the What I Want To Say Now series. The series was designed as an opportunity for retired bishops to say those things they felt constrained to say prior to leaving office.

I get the idea of the constraints of office. Having worn multiple hats at various points in my life, I was always aware of which hat I was wearing and when, and that in turn constrained what I might say. I don't for example, use the Sunday sermon to tell people which way to vote in an election. And when I was working in government communications, I had occasion to defend policies or decisions which I believed were mistakes.

I'm not quite so sure I get the democratic centralism of bishops in the Church of England during the debate on the Anglican Covenant. It was only as it became obvious that English diocesan synods would not approve Rowan's Folly that a very few diocesans were prepared to buck the artificial solidarity. Surely if a diocesan bishop believed the Anglican Covenant to be (to quote the anonymous Scottish bishop Bishop Butler quotes) "95% saccerine and 5% strychnine," surely they had some responsibility, as leaders in the Church, to say so.

In any event, Bishop Butler, late of Southwark, has now come out as opposed to the Anglican Covenant - but only now that it has "gone into the sand." What courage. I'm somehow reminded of Saudi Arabia declaring war on Germany in April of 1945, only after it was clear that the Allies would be victorious.

But Bishop Butler then proposes an alternative to the Anglican Covenant.
It’s been said that there’s no alternative to the covenant. That’s not so. Of course most of the Anglican Churches in the Communion were established in countries which were part of the British Empire with bishops initially sent out to serve from England. But that was not universally so, and just as the nations achieved independence with their own constitutions, so we see autonomous local Anglican provinces with their own constitutions and systems of canon law.  
And just as many of these nations, with others, have voluntarily become members of the Commonwealth symbolically focussed on the queen, but with no pretence of having authority in one another’s nations, so the Anglican provinces find the focus of their unity in the archbishop of Canterbury, but up until now with there’s been no sense of one province or archbishop trying to veto the pastoral practices of another. But that, in practice is now what’s happening over the issue of homosexuality.  
The former dean of Southwark, sadly now deceased, in a newspaper article took the analogy of the commonwealth a little further. He wrote, "We would be astonished if the government of Pakistan, for example, imagined it could dictate policy to the British parliament; similarly the archbishops of Nigeria or Sydney should not be permitted to dictate to the Church of England.” And I would want to add, and vice versa.  
In civic life, the Commonwealth has proved to be so attractive that member nations, not originally part of the British Empire have chosen to join it. Of course it has had it’s ups and down but successive prime ministers and the monarch herself have kept their nerve and the Commonwealth might well, in a dangerous world, have an even more significant part to play in years to come.  
So "what I want now to say” is that there is an alternative to an Anglican covenant; it is an Anglican commonwealth or federation, a voluntary international family of churches faithful to the Anglican tradition of thoughtful holiness and based on mutual respect, comparable in structure to the Commonwealth of nations. It might not be the new Jerusalem to which our second lesson points, but to misquote Evelyn Underhill, it might be a decent suburb of it.
Here is my only quibble with Bishop Butler's advocacy for an Anglican Communion modeled on the British Commonwealth. He doesn't seem to realize that he's describing the status quo. In fact, I've read (though cannot now find a reference to support it) that the "bonds of affection, no centralized authority" polity of the Anglican Communion was one of the inspirations to those who led the evolution from Empire to Commonwealth.

The Anglican Covenant was an attempt to radically re-engineering the Anglican Communion, to centralize authority and to abolish at a stroke centuries of provincial autonomy and autocephaly in favour of a primatial curia and a pale Lambeth papacy. Those of us who took up the struggle to defeat it are the real conservatives.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Healthy Parishes

Along with two colleagues from the diocese, I attended the National Consultation on Healthy and Vital Parishes last week in Niagara Falls. More than 70 clergy and lay leaders from both the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran Churches participated in the conference at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre, an ecumenical retreat and conference centre operated by the Roman Catholic Carmelite order.

Unlike many conferences, we were not subjected to long presentations from pre-selected experts. Instead the vast majority of the conference saw participants sharing their own experience and expertise. The consultation was extensively covered by the Anglican Journal in articles here, here and here.

Despite the hype in some quarters, I have never believed that congregational vitality was inherently linked to a particular theological perspective or liturgical style. That largely seemed to be the shared opinion of the folk I met. There was broad agreement that the key to the spiritual and (usually) numerical growth of a parish was a focus outside its own walls and a determination to engage with the community beyond their doors.

I still need time to process everything I heard, saw and experienced, but it was invigorating to engage with dozens of other Christian leaders who are ready to leave the metaphorical Egypt of Christendom behind while they step boldly into the future to which God calls us.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Technological Breakdown

I've been recording and posting sermons for the past few months. It has been interesting to see how the process of being recorded has affect my preaching and my approach to preaching.

Unfortunately, technology has reared its ugly head once or twice. Well, once. Today makes twice. And what was (according to some) an excellent sermon on the importance of framing a Rule of Life (as per page 555 in the Book of Common Prayer (Canada) has been lost to posterity.

No time to worry about that. The next big thing will be the funeral for my honorary assistant tomorrow. A difficult liturgy to be sure - but I have reason to believe the hymns may blow the roof off the place. A fitting tribute to a proud Welshman.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


It is often the throwaway line from the sermon that actually gives someone the "aha!" moment.

Today I preached on the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples travelling on the Emmaus road, with a focus on that poignant phrase one of them utters, "But we had hoped ..."

But it was the throwaway observation at the end that brought one member of the congregation his "aha!" moment.

After encountering Jesus and recognizing him in the breaking of the bread, what do the two disciples do? Now, remember, they are a full day's walk from Jerusalem and it is night time. The sensible thing to do would have been to wait until the morning, until they were rested, until it was light, until it was safe.

Instead, they rush straight back to Jerusalem because their news is so momentous.

What would happen if today's first world Christians could be moved to such a sense of urgency?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

For May Day

While I prefer Billy Bragg's lyrics, I prefer this Alistair Hulett version musically.

Happy May Day.

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.