Thursday 4 April 2019

Being a Feminist is hard... ask our Prime Minister.

Justin Trudeau, perhaps on behalf of many of us, is discovering that being a feminist is hard. 

In 2015, our Prime Minister, on being asked why half of his Cabinet members were woman, answered, “Because it’s 2015!”   The remark was heard round the world and many of us who think ourselves progressive  woke allies for women, smiled, sat back, sighed and thought, ‘There you go… mission accomplished.”

It’s now 2019 and the famous “Because it’s 2015” is beginning to sound a little too much like the old  Virginia Slims Cigarette tag line: You’ve come a long way, baby.

To be fair, I think that Trudeau was sincere then and I think that he remains desirous of being a feminist, but as I have mentioned in a previous post, Patriarchy is a very addictive drug and it is hard to get clean and sober.   I won’t try to mainsplain feminism to anyone (look, I’m learning…) but I will say that Trudeau appears to have imagined that the best way to be a feminist is to be an ally.   The “Catch-22” of such a hope is that being an ally requires one to hold onto power so that it can be shared with the one you are supporting.   I suspect that truly being a feminist means relinquishing power and a cessation of practices that continue to provide you power at the expense of women.

The other day, while speaking to the “Daughters of the Vote” ( female representatives from every Federal Riding in Canada ) Prime Minister Trudeau said, "Nobody in here wants to have to pick who to believe between Jody Wilson-Raybould and Chrystia Freeland. Nobody wants to know that one person has to be right and another person has to be wrong between Jane Philpott or Maryam Monsef."  That’s what I would call one of the practices that keeps men in power – creating tension between women for the sake of maintaining authority and control.    As dated a technique as the “You’ve come a long way baby” tagline, it actually sounds a little more like, “I can’t be a racist, just ask my black friend.”   

I am not defending Jody Wilson-Raybould as Attorney General, she has received what I think is some valid criticism for her actions and inactions in that role well before SNC-Lavalin was on the public radar.  She may or may not have been a good Attorney General.  I think that secretly recording phone conversations provides objective evidence of nothing, but I also have no idea what options were realistically at Wilson-Raybould’s  disposal or how grave her perception of threat.  In a peculiar way, the whole SNC-Lavalin incident has not made me lose faith in our democracy, but rather it has given me some faith in it, because the whistle was blown and the spot light turned on.  Governing in a democracy is a messy business. 

But for me, that’s not the point.   If our Prime Minister wants to truly be a feminist, then it may well cost him electoral support, because in 2019 there are voters who wish that those bitches knew their place; who feel that “snowflake women” just have to grow up and understand that’s how politics works.  That’s how it HAS worked perhaps (we can debate later if it has ever actually worked), but if we’re going to do something new, then things are doing to have to work differently. 

Not that it matters what I think, but I feel that with the exception of her first address, Julie Payette has been a terrible Governor General.  When the cries went out for the Prime Minister to oust her, I thought that he would.  And I would have agreed.   I don’t know why he didn’t do it, but not doing it suggested to me that he just might be able to be a feminist and stay off the patriarchy.  Payette was clearly saying and doing things that the Prime Minister didn’t like, but he was letting her define the role without his interference. (A small token perhaps when one considers that the role has been defined by a colonial monarchy, but something.).  

I have been impressed by Trudeau’s relationship with Chrystia Freeland.  He would appear to have let her define her portfolio; supporting her as requested and largely staying out of her way as she has gone about the business of advocacy for Canada.  

Our Prime Minister appears to have taken child poverty seriously, which (for me) is a feminist concern and I have been impressed by his small move towards embracing feminist economics (recognizing that such a lens exists is leaps and bounds beyond many).  But all of these things were happening when the election was far off on the horizon… now that his electoral future is at risk, our Prime Minister seems less likely to put his ideal of feminism ahead of his desire to maintain power.  I suspect that he tells himself that with power he can be an ally, without it he will have nothing to offer.  A true feminist, in my view, is one who is willing pay the price for the principal and is prepared to tear down the system that requires allies for people to be heard.  

I'm not saying that our Prime Minister has entirely failed as a Feminist, instead I am saying, "You've come a long way baby... "  Surely that's not enough for 2019. 

Friday 15 March 2019

Some thoughts on Death and Faith (from the Jubilation Newsletter)

   This is not a typical blog post, but the Jubilation Newsletter included the following thoughts for our congregation, but somehow the format got jumbled and these words were presented as one long continuous paragraph.  I know that I can go on... but a 1000 word paragraph is a bit much.   Here are the same words, but this time with a chance to stop and breathe.

Notes from Norm
This edition of Jubilation is coming out a little later than usual. One of the reasons is that yours truly has been particularly busy in the last couple of months with funerals.  We’ve all been busy with funerals, as dear friends, pillars of our community, loved ones and companions on the journey, have died.   We know in our heads that death is part of life, and we may not be afraid or in denial, but it still takes a toll on our hearts.

When there are many deaths in a family or a community, we are often given the opportunity to share the comfort and wisdom of our faith with someone who is searching or grieving.  They look at us in the eye and ask if it’s going to be okay?  Is death the end of everything?  What does your God have to say to me in my pain or worry?

What does our faith have to offer in the face of death?  The promise of a heavenly abode if we are worthy?  A refuge in our grief?  A connection to thousands of years of tradition?  Perhaps some or all of these things resonate with you.  But I think that there is something more basic to our faith, more fundamental than the promise of Jesus’ Father’s house with many rooms; truths that can resonate with others and that we can feel deep inside our bones.   

By the time you read this, Ash Wednesday will have passed.  Some of you may have attended one of our services, or taken a moment to have ashes rubbed on your forehead  with the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” spoken to you in love.   Essentially, those words are saying “You’re going to die”   How can that possibly be said in a loving way?  

There are many teachings in our Christian faith, but for me, there are two central stories.   These stories are not the only important stories or lessons and they may not even be the most important, but they are central to our Christian faith.  The centre, not around the teachings of Jesus, but around the event of Jesus.   The first is the Christmas Story.  This story, as simple or fantastic as it may seem, asserts that Jesus is somehow both Divine and Human:  He is us, but he is also something eternal.  Some may read the Christmas story as an assertion that the one that we follow is better than any others, because he is the “Son of God”.   I don’t think that the Christmas Story is intended to prove the superiority of our Jesus, instead  I believe that the Nativity Story, the Christmas assertion is that there is more to our humanity that we know:  That God, the eternal, is with us in the human experience.   There is no aspect of our experience or existence that is “God-Free”, God is with us in the human experience.   The eternal is present in the mundane.  

On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are dust, but that dust is not simply the dirt that builds up behind the couch, it is also stardust.  It is the stuff of creation.  It is the stuff of which the baby Jesus was made.   We are made of the same stuff as the cosmos and if the Jesus is both human and divine, then we are made of the same stuff as God.   This has been important to me as I realize that the very human experience that we go through in death or in grieving the death of a loved one, is not all there is to us, we are not just mundane grief, we are also glorious.   We are not alone.

The other central story is the Easter Story.  I may not be in the majority here, but I feel very strongly that the story of the resurrection is not a story about our hero (Jesus, again) coming back from the dead to prove that he is mightier than all the others.   If that were the case, then upon emerging from the tomb, Jesus would have done a victory lap and confronted Pilate and Herod; he would have “Lorded it” over  at all those who doubted or failed to stand up with him in his time of persecution and execution.  Instead, Jesus went to those who were lost, hurt, grieving and afraid and he showed them that he had been transformed.  Transformed:  Remember how Mary failed to recognize him in the garden; how the couple on the road to Emmaus had no idea of his identity or how Thomas needed to touch the wounds to be sure that it was Jesus?   The risen, resurrected Jesus was still Jesus, but he was different – his dust was also stardust.   In the resurrection, Jesus showed us that death is not the end of anything, no matter how final and government-sanctioned it may be.  Scripture and Christian tradition insist that resurrection is not just for Jesus, but for all of us –  believers and non-believers alike.  We are all dust; we are all stardust.  

These stories reveal truths that lie deep within our hearts and bones:  that death is not the end and that it is our destiny to be one with God.  In short, God is part of us and we are part of God.  The veracity of these “truths” is not guaranteed by the historical accuracy of our scripture, instead the truth of the stories is confirmed by the feeling in our bones – we know that there is more, we just don’t know how to describe it or talk about it.

What has been particularly important to me and to others in the past couple of months is that we are transformed by our experience of death, not erased.  And the love that we share with others, does not end, it too, is transformed.    

So, I know that this isn’t my usual “Notes from Norm” not a lot smiles or chuckles, but our faith is not always about smiles and chuckles… it is about love, transformation and finding ways to trust and express those truths that we feel deep in our bones.  Love Matters.  We are not alone and we ain’t seen or experienced it all….
In love,

Thursday 7 March 2019

I'm back - what's up? Thoughts about SNC, JWR and JT

It’s been a long time since I blogged. 
A couple of professional considerations made it necessary to stop publishing my thoughts and foolishness, but those responsibilities have been honoured in once case and completed in another.  So, now I can say what I want (mostly).

The last time I blogged Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister of Canada.  We were just getting ready to fall in love with Justin Trudeau.   So, anything happen while I was gone?

I have a couple of thoughts about our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and our current (Liberal) Federal Government.  I will put a couple of things on the record before I say anything else – I did vote for this government.  I don’t know how I will vote in the next election.  I am not, in any way, an apologist for the Government, nor am I defending the Prime Minister.  I am also, not intentionally, maligning those who aspire to govern.   (We’ll see how that goes).

The current SNC-Lavalin scandal and the relationship between Justin Trudeau, the PMO and the former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould is all that people around me want to talk about – but it seems to me that they are talking about the wrong things.  I am not so sure that desiring and or suggesting that SNC-Lavalin should be subject to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement is all that far-fetched.  It may be wrong headed, but I don’t think it so unethical that it rises to the level of scandal.  It is what I would have expected our last five elected Federal Governments to pursue and certainly that I would expect to be the hopes of a Quebec MP (like our PM).   But here is the part that bothers me:  Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise of “Real Change” and many of us came to believe that this government would be different.  Justin set the bar high and brought in Indigenous MPs and 15 women to the Cabinet; he promised “government by Cabinet”. 
And we believed that things would be different.   
And some things are, but many things are not.   

It is hard to let go of habit, privilege, patriarchal and colonial culture and it feels like the PMO and the Prime Minister have stopped trying for real change.

Some time ago, I have the privilege of working on a national committee that was largely composed of Indigenous leaders.  There were only a couple of settlers around the table and we had no power to influence the way that agendas were set or business was conducted.  It is not the only time that I have been in such a position, but this one gathering was formative for me.   In the course of a meeting, one person gave a presentation and then the meeting moved on.  After a couple of minutes this person realized that there was something else that she wanted to add, but the Chair of the meeting preempted her comment and let her know that we had moved on.  
I thought nothing of it, it was no big deal.   
That night there were 12 of us at dinner together and the woman who had chaired the meeting, paused and asked for our attention.  She then proceeded to offer an apology to the person who had been silenced at the meeting.  The apology was public and came with a gift to acknowledge how seriously she had taken her discourtesy.   She explained that it was the practice her people to make a public and specific apology when a mistake had been made. 

My first thought was “Are you kidding me? – It was nothing… barely a slight; that’s the way meetings go!”  
Fortunately, my mouth remained shut and my brain and heart stayed open to witness a beautiful example of reconciliation, sincere connection and another way of working and being together. 

I don’t know Jody Wilson-Raybould’s particular traditions or indigenous culture, but I do know that it is not an old-boys club culture.  In the meeting that I just referenced, one moment of offense – and a slight one by my standards – was enough to warrant an apology and a gift.  
Can you imagine how repeated requests for the same consideration; repeated ignoring of the Attorney General’s wisdom and decision would become an incredible insult?  I can.  
Gerry Butts probably can't imagine it, he has been clear that it was just business as usual; the Prime Minister has said that he didn’t realize that Minister of Justice Wilson-Raybould was feeling under-pressure.  And that’s the point for me – he should have.  If you invite her to govern with you, you invite all of her: her culture and her gender as well as her wisdom, experience and passion. 

Our Prime Minister invited people into Government who do not belong to the Old Boys Network with the the promise that they would help to change it - but that means the the Cabinet and PMO have to also change the way they go about governing.  You don't invite women to join your cabinet if you are expecting them to act like men; you don't invite indigenous people into government if you just want them to act like colonialists.  

I appreciate that it is difficult and that mistakes are inevitable.  I know that it is the job of the opposition to jump on every mistake as if it is the great sin that disqualifies the Prime Minister and his government from governing, so I don't pay much attention to the silly holier-than-thou foaming at the mouth.
But I do pay attention to how people act when they make a mistake.
I will be watching our Prime Minister in the days, weeks and months to come...  will he learn and affect real change (even if it's not complete)?  Or will he retreat to "business as usual" and deny and obfuscate?   Time will tell and I sincerely hope that whatever we as country decide in the next election, that we won't let go of the progress that has been made (incremental and small as it may seem), simply because our leaders continue to be addicted to Patriarchal Colonial Privilege... it's a heady and destructive drug.

Saturday 31 December 2016

A Confessional and Aspirational Farewell to 2016

Haven’t blogged in quite a while.  
So much going on, so little “extra” time… 
and perhaps, I haven’t really figured anything out worth sharing.   But as the year comes to a close, I figure I should say something.

Apparently, 2016 sucked.  
A lot of bad things happened.  
Yes, they did.  
But, and this is not an blanket endorsement of the Federal Government, the politics of hope and possibility still stand above the politics of fear and division in our country.  I am disappointed in our Federal Government for a number of things done and NOT done, but in a democracy I expect to be disappointed  (if I got everything that I wanted, that would likely be a dictatorship.  Run by me.  And I don’t have time to blog, let alone run a country).     So, I will be glad that the Government has admitted many mistakes (rather than deny them); I will be glad that we have an inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, we have and continue to welcome refugees and have begun some measures that will have a positive effect on our negative environmental impact.

2016 was terrible, but I am glad to hear the emerging voice of Black Lives Matter and the impact that they are having on public awareness and policy.

2016 was lousy, but I give thanks for the Water Protectors in North Dakota; their passion, resolve and a measure of victory (I don’t imagine that this is over, yet).   Non violent protests made a difference in South Korea – actually led to the impeachment of a president.  Non-violent!

The ozone layer is repairing. 
The tiger population is on the rise. 
There is peace in Colombia.
I got perform in a concert with my son and didn’t embarrass him. 
All three of my sons are excelling in the lives that they have chosen; I often find myself marveling at the great choices that they are making and I see real joy in their lives.    

Yeah, it was a lousy year, but I started a new ministry partnership with a minister who exhibits such grace and imagination, devotion and knowledge, imagination and insight that I feel like I’m just starting in ministry myself, rather than celebrating 25 years since my ordination.

It was hard year on all of those who lost loved ones, found their own abilities diminished and opportunities restricted.  According to the media, a lot of celebrities died in 2016, but so too, did mothers and fathers, children and best friends… partners and anchors.  And in the midst and wake of such loss, I have seen people shine.  I have seen love poured out to fill the spaces emptied by grief.  I have seen faith shaken and restored, rebuilt stronger and even made available to share and support others.  I have seen such light shine in the darkness, that I have had to avert my eyes.

As cultural icons have left us, I see the invitation for us to start writing our own songs, telling our own stories and shaping a future as inspiring as the past.  Culture is not meant to be a museum, new things have to be created, supported and celebrated.  I suspect that David Bowie has made me lazy and complacent, rather than just be satisfied playing my old vinyl, it might be time for Siggy Normdust.

Of course, through all of this I have ignored the elephant in the room
The great big red and blue elephant that escaped from the Republican Circus and hoodwinked a nation:   Donald Trump.  

I am not a fan.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I was not a fan of Hillary Clinton.  I found HRC to be too often dismissive of those upon whose support she relies; she is too much of a "hawk" for me to fully support. Having said that,  I would have voted for her repeatedly over Mr. Trump (if the Russians would have allowed it).    I also believe that had the DNC not been so duplicitous and manipulative with the Bernie Sanders campaign, he would have probably lost to Hillary, but his supporters would have stayed with her and swung the election.  Of course, I am also the same guy who bet friends that Donald Trump wouldn’t survive the February primaries.   So what do I know?

I know this: I learned a lot from Donald Trump. 
Watching and listening to Donald Trump, I became aware of how my humour, my tolerance and my language have contributed to a “rape culture” that appalls me. 
Seeing Trump’s bombastic example  has made me aware of my own, more subtle, contributions to an oppressive, sexist reality.   Watching him debate Hillary Clinton, I became aware of how I use my body mass to sway an argument or dominate an adversary, effectively bullying my opponent.  I honestly didn’t see it before… I recognize the language that I use that can 

But my learning is greater than that:  The election of Donald Trump has affected me at a fundamental level. I have watched a man, with very little substance, lie to the world and be rewarded for it. I have watched a bully win... even though all of the stories that shaped my youth assured me that bullies lose in the end.  Every western, every action movie, every detective story that I have read throughout my life, assured me that in the last chapter; in the final reel, Trump would lose.  Billy Jack might go to jail, but the bad guys would always lose!   It was so obvious that Trump had to lose… But he didn’t.  And this is devastating to me at an almost spiritual level.  (I am still hoping that Bruce Lee will defeat Trump in a hall of mirrors just before the inauguration). 

In my privilege, the historical narrative has always offered me a win.  I have had the comfort of trusting in institutions:  All police officers are my friends; doctors will always do what’s best for me; the Government will protect my interests… officials will always be reasonable and once they recognize the reality of my situation (whatever it may be) they will assist me.   

The election of Donald Trump, has brought all of that crashing to the earth. 

I can’t trust the institutions that shape my life.  For me, in my privilege, this puts everything at risk: Maybe my mother doesn't really love me... maybe chocolate doesn't really taste good... it's possible that a little dab won't do me. 

For the first time in my life, I begin to understand what my brothers and sisters have been talking about so passionately.   A great many of my friends have NEVER felt that institutions were on their side; they’ve had no reason to trust the police, or the government… they’ve never felt respected or supported by the “powers that be”.   I have sympathized and understood intellectually with what women have told me about their experiences; I have appreciated and nodded with understanding when racialized friends have told me about injustice – I have responded in supportive ways, but never really got it at a gut level.  I have always been able to believe that if we fixed this bit of corruption or accepted this small compromise, it would work out – because I trust the institutions my ancestors built and that I support.   
But that’s not reality for most people…   
  and I am beginning to come to grips with that.  

Right now, it’s still a kind of numbed shock… but I can fill the gnawing inside me; the unrest.  It’s kind of like hunger or quiet rage.  It puts you on edge and makes many social or official encounters a competition where you have to push to win and always watch your back.  Holy shit… how have people lived like this for so long?  To my brothers and sisters who have lived this way for most, if not all, of their lives... I am in awe of your strength and humbled by your patience and tolerance. 

So, I suppose that I am grateful for the election of Donald Trump, because it and he have certainly made me far more aware of the breadth and depth of my own privilege; the reality of living in the 21st century like a “normal” person.  It has awakened in me an urgency and a need to support others in my life.  When I talk about support, I'm not talking about providing solutions - I'm talking about listening and following; doing the things that are directed by and of value to those who are asking for my support.  They don't need my solutions - but they can sure use my trust, strength and hope.  

The American election, Brexit and the empowering of racist voices and sentiment in my own community, has also made me aware of my need for Grace and the persuasive love of God.  In my privilege and arrogance, I kind of thought that I could (or we could) figure this all out by ourselves:   We just need to make better choices.  Today,  I am more convinced than ever that I (we) need the persuasive love that bends the arc of the universe toward justice to be active in our lives and decisions.  I, personally, need more than holy teachings,  I need a sense of presence as I stumble forward into 2017  - ready to write new songs, tell new stories, shape my life and the life of my community.   My faith assures me that I will not be left bereft…  and  in that promise,  I have hope.  Real hope.   Because I am aware and awake… I am less complacent and arrogant… and most importantly, I am not alone.

2016 may not have been a good year for many, but it has served a purpose for me… so now, let’s get on with 2017 with a little more daring, a lot more loving, a fearless hope and the knowledge that we are not alone.   Together, we will make a difference... alone, we'll mostly post on Facebook. (not that there's anything wrong with posting on Facebook).  

Tuesday 5 July 2016

What bugs me about West Hill United Church, Rev. Vosper and the United Church of Canada

Hopefully (but probably not) my final thoughts on Rev. Gretta Vosper, Westhill United Church and the joys of being United Church.   These have been challenging times from all of the above.
I will preface these remarks by noting that some of my friends and colleague will NOT agree; and some of the same may not be happy with what I am saying.  To them, I am sorry if this puts a strain on our friendship.  To others, these are simply my current thoughts and I may very well have different thoughts next week. 

I will also note that Rev. Gretta Vosper’s interview with Toronto Conference Interview Board has been concluded, but the recommendations of the Interview Team are not yet known.  It is my understanding that the report may well be concluded, so my remarks will no effect on the report in any way.  

As Rev. Vosper’s views and this specific review have played out throughout the church and the media over the past couple of years, a couple of things have bugged me and I think that I'll express them and then (finally) shut up.    

It bugs me that we think that this is such a big deal, the theology/philosophy is not particularly novel and as big a deal as we may be making this – that an Atheist minster serves a United Church of Canada congregation, or that others in the church would have the church courts act to remove her from that pulpit – the rest of the world is not all that interested.   In the face of growing intolerance, a worldwide refugee crisis, violence against the LGBTQ community, terrorist attacks, polarizing de-humanizing politics around the world and the fractured and devastated relationship that main-stream Canada has with First Peoples – an internal squabble within the United Church of Canada doesn’t really make it very high on the leader board.   Outside of church circles, in a week where Rev. Vosper is not interviewed on CBC, mention her name and most people give you a blank stare.   So, everybody, dial it down… and let’s talk like calm adults, not like children running from a burning building.  For those who maintain a more traditional Theistic faith, do you really think that this is the thing that will thwart and inhibit God’s love?

It also bugs me that we carry on like this shouldn't be happening.  Of course it should... nothing every grows or develops without challenge or controversy.  This is the very thing that we should be doing - questioning and daring our faith to reach further than it did yesterday...
But, just because something seems new or novel, doesn't mean that it is better than that which came before.  It might be... but it deserves the same scrutiny, examination and challenge as the faith it desires to replace.  It bugs me when we carry on as if Rev. Vosper must be right because she is modern and her views were not common currency 30 years ago. 

It bugs me when theology becomes binary as if we must choose between Anselm and Vosper... as if there aren't thousands and thousands of profoundly spiritual and brilliant theologians inviting us to grow our faith and vision.  For me, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be a great place for many folks to start.

There are some wonderful people in the West Hill United Church Congregation, I have sat with them at table, enjoyed their company and consider them to be great companions on any journey – faith or otherwise.  Having said that, it bugs me that the don't seem to appreciate the actual polity of the United Church of Canada:    Gretta does not belong to them.

When they wear the T-Shirts bearing the slogan, “My United Church includes West Hill” they should be aware that nobody is suggesting that West Hill United Church should be removed from the United Church of Canada.  Nobody has a quarrel with the congregation.  There is a question as to The United Church of Canada’s responsibility in providing a leader who is appropriate for a community wishing to be included in The United Church of Canada.    When an ordained person from another congregation joins The UCC, we make sure that they are properly educated in the practices and ethos of the UCC before letting them lead a congregation; we supervise them as they prepare for Admittance into the leadership of the United Church of Canada - this is to support the minister AND to be sure that the congregation is well served.  We don’t simply accept any ordination or faith position as sufficient, we do our due diligence and strive to share and nurture the “ethos” of the United Church of Canada.   By reviewing Rev. Vosper, we are doing our due diligence, and also taking the opportunity to review our “ethos” and perhaps redefine it.  It bugs me that people assume that we are simply trying to get rid of Rev. Vosper. 

It is important to note that, in the United Church practice and polity, Rev. Vosper doesn’t work for West Hill United Church.  In practical terms it may seem so, but in reality she works for the United Church of Canada.  West Hill United Church doesn’t hire or fire any minister, they request Presbytery to place or remove the minister that they desire and Presbytery acts in the best interests of the Congregation, the broader community and The United Church of Canada.   If a congregation voted overwhelmingly to hire a rodeo clown, a firefighter or Joel Osteen to lead them, the United Church of Canada would say “No”.  The congregation, community and The United Church of Canada would not be well served – in short, just because you want to hire or keep someone, doesn’t mean that you get to – that’s not how the system works.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t change the system, only that as it stands right now, the system does not responsibly acquiesce to “but we want her to stay”

I note that Rev. Vosper and many of her supporters speak of a radical change needed in the church; almost a revolution of thought, speech and practice.  I don’t recall Luther’s supporters, at the time of the Reformation, insisting that he be allowed to remain an Augustinian Priest.  If Rev. Vosper’s assessments of the needs of the religious community are accurate then perhaps insisting that she remain in the United Church of Canada is simply denying a much needed revolution, let something new be birthed rather than constrained. It bugs me that some people seem to call for a revolution, but don't want to give up anything to have it. 

But, let me get back to the T-shirts and something that has bugged me since I first saw one.  The shirt includes another slogan:  My United Church includes Gretta Vosper”.  To this, I say, “Yes, it does!: Truthfully, my United Church does include Gretta… but it also includes Jesus, God and a variety of expressions of faith that challenge and occasionally offend my own faith.  It is Rev. Vosper who insists that the United Church NOT include that which is important, even essential, to me.  I have been at Conference AGMs and heard Rev. Vosper comment on a given motion before the whole court, “if we would just remove Jesus from the wording, West Hill United Church could vote in favour”  But if my United Church includes Gretta Vosper, why can it not also include Jesus?  It was Rev. Vosper who admonished our Moderator for praying in a time of hurt and crisis – but that prayer brought such comfort and light to a dark situation for me… if my United Church includes Gretta Vosper, why can’t it include prayer?   Why can’t it include me, with my less evolved theology and desire to stay connected to the nurturing stream of tradition?  Who is that is actually trying to narrow our view and shrink our large tent? It bugs me... 

Personally, I don’t think that Rev. Vosper is a danger to the Church or to Christian faith – I think that she enhances both, but she does it best when both sides are listening.  Right now, we're not listening: We are glaring, seething, championing and competing.  The many people who came out to support Gretta at her Interview last week, were no doubt a balm and embrace to her in her time of challenge… however, for others, it felt like intimidation and bullying.  I am quite confident that nobody involved directly in the interview had any desire to railroad Rev. Vosper or support injustice – they came trying to discern God’s will in a time of challenge; to discover together what love for the individual and community looks like in this moment.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to pray when people are glaring at you and demanding that you pray correctly?   It would have been entirely inappropriate for 50 people who want her removed from the United Church of Canada to show up with signs demanding her expulsion – we would have called that bullying and asked them to leave.  If an Ordinand brought such a group to his or her interview, it would have deemed in appropriate.   But there they were and they were afforded courtesy and kindness – because the United Church of Canada will always include West Hill United Church.   It bugs me that they wouldn't do their best to help the dedicated loving people do they job and ministry that has been assigned them. 

So… now that I’ve got all of that off my chest… I wonder how I will react when the recommendation is made public; when things unfold as they will…?  I hope that neither side will cheer, but instead lovingly and respectfully try to find a way forward that is gracious and supporting of both sides.  Through it all, I will trust and love… as I have been enabled by the one that I still desire to name as God.    

Sunday 12 June 2016

After Pulse... I'm sorry. I can't keep doing this.

At least 50 dead and another 50 injured by what is being called an act of domestic terrorism.  Over 100 members of the LGBTQ community targeted and executed by a man who may or may not have had a political or militant agenda.  I don’t know all the facts; I suspect that it will be some time before any of us do.  We will do a fair bit of posturing, pontificating and distancing.  Each of us doing our best to convince others and ourselves that we had  nothing to do with this.

But for me, it won’t work.

I have everything to do with this.

I have no sympathy for Isis or Daesh; I have no cultural, religious or political zealotry that makes me target the LGBTQ communities.

I don’t think that I exhibit or am influenced significantly by homophobia.

I would love to make this shooter out to be a crazed man bent on terror, because than I can distance myself from this crazed killer, pretend that I had nothing to do with this and so, do nothing in response. 

But I am part of this. 

I am part of this because I have let my brothers and sisters worry about themselves; take care of their own problems.  I have walked and celebrated in Pride parades, signed some petitions and worked to make my church an Affirming Ministry – but I’ve done those things for you and not for myself.   Strange, but until I do these things for selfish reasons, I suspect that I am part of the problem.  As I support my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community because I like them… love them… wish them well… I continue to marginalize them as community while I remain situated in the larger, normalizing, privileged community into which I was raised.  My love is an act of charity, not solidarity.

What happened in Florida at the Pulse Nightclub shouldn’t have happened to the LGBTQ community, it should have happened to me… but that’s not how I read the story when I first saw it.  I read about this terrible thing that happened to the LGBTQ community… not to me.  I was sad for them... but not for myself.  And that realization broke upon me like a wave.  
It's my thinking of you as "them" that helps to make you a target... you're not the "norm"; you're not "me", you are "them".   Like Jews, Gypsies, Serbians, Tutsis and so many other people that are NOT in the majority and therefore able to be separated out and targeted.  As long as we're not attacking the majority, we can wring our hands and declare how terrible it all is... but it's not our problem. 

As a Christian, I believe that the Divine became flesh to live in our midst and show us that the Divine/Human separaton is an artificial construct... and so is, "Us" and "Them".  There is only "Us" My faith also assures me that nobody can go to the cross alone.. we are all there.

I am sorry.
I am not asking for your forgiveness... this isn't about my being forgiven or excused for the past. This is about how I intend to go forward.  I will not let people do this to me... I will not let people hurt me like this and pretend that it will get better. 

To my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ communities… I love our diversity, uniqueness and different ways of being human  - but I am also sorry that I have ever allowed
 you to be “them” in my heart or my life.  You are not "them" - You are me… what happens to you, happens to me.  Those bodies that were taken out the Pulse nightclub were members of my family… they were me…. And I am sickened, hurt, devastated and outraged by what has been inflicted on my family; what has been  taken away from me… And I will not leave you to your grief.  We grieve together; we face this and change this together… Not because I have a solution or some special power that will fix this - but simply because we can’t afford to be “us” and “them” any longer: It's not working.   We are one and together let us be so strong, and so united that nobody would ever dare to target us again.

I do apologize for rambling... but what happened to me early this morning, has left me in pain... and I'm not myself today.   

Sunday 22 May 2016

Saturday in the Park...

I have no patience for ridiculous traffic, and so I make it a policy to NOT go away on long weekend.  Not Labour Day, Simcoe Day, Canada Day or the glorious Victoria Day weekend, presently upon us and better known as the “May 2-4” weekend.

This weekend was no exception.  The Boo, (my better half who would rather not have an on-line identity – and may be the only person I know that cannot be found by Google) and I started out day with our planned Hair Styling at the Loft Toronto at Queen and Bathurst.  (Sylvie is a genius and an awesome woman… go there for all of your hair needs, concerns, aspirations and dreams…  just saying).  After our appointments we were released onto Queen West about 1130 and we began to walk… we walked west to Gladstone, north to Dundas, back East to Ossington, south again to Queen… stopped for branch and cocktails at County General and then slipped over to Trinity Bellwoods park where we walked some more, sat a little and become more human.

Let me back up… we walk because we like to look at people and at life.  The shops along Queen are fascinating, the people with their babies… and their dogs… and their coffees… and their smartphones… and their beards…. and their yoga pants…  It’s a cavalcade of Torontonians.  Walking through the residential areas  watching octogenarians tending to tiny perfect lawns and elaborate gardens with blinding white statuary, fountains, artificial and very real flowers – just makes me smile from deep within my very being.  The cultural integration has exceeded the vision of a Russian Orthodox Church in the midst of a Little Portugal to include Chinese, Vietnamese , Italian and Hipster (surely their culture has a distant national origin?) and it is glorious.   The Boo and I would have been satisfied with our walk had we headed home after brunch at County General. 
But instead of moving on, we decided to hang out at the park.  Not just any park – the spectacular Trinity Bellwoods Park.  Having passed through the gates we were greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of people – a woman in an insulated coat with a wool hat making her way around two women sunbathing in bikinis… dogs of every shape and size known to creation… children running and squealing; playing on slides and swings; digging in a giant mound of dirt… some vulnerable seniors from John Gibson House getting some air and enjoying the day… picnickers… a young man taking pictures for a George Brown College Photo Exhibit  (he asked, I posed… I’m no Bieber or Schumer)… young people walking (or attempting to walk) slack ropes strung between posts, there was every hue and colour imaginable, every shape and style of hair and beard (including the ever popular, forked beard).  If there is an objective scale for beauty, we saw some very beautiful people, some less beautiful folk and some down-right ugly people – but they were all radiant, glorious and attractive.   We walked and watched… we sat and watched…  and my dry parched soul become supple and moist; it grew shoots of new life and I began to be Spring.

When I am busy or shut in by winter, I have little time for the superfluous, so I tend to focus on the people that I need and the people that I know.  Most of them, tend to be like me… similar tastes, skills, looks… take a picture and you’ll note that “He looks different”; “She’s a ginger” – but, like Taylor Swift, I have a Squad (although most of them probably don’t know that they are in my Squad….  Hey, maybe I’m in Taylor’s but just don’t know it??).   A day at Trinity Bellwoods, for me, reminds me that there is more to humanity than the people that I typically prefer and to whom I usually defer: More than my squad.   There are all sorts of people out there – humanity is vast and awesome…   (but seriously, Tay-Tay, if you're reading this, I am Squad available)

Walking, sitting, soaking it in, I didn’t notice one Trump Supporter, I didn’t recognize one Wynne Detractor or Pipe-Line Protester… I saw lots of elbows flying, but no assaults were announced… I didn’t notice one Christian, Muslim, Jain, Atheist, Cavalier or Raptor…  it was just a sea (or a lake) or humanity and it made me feel connected.   I have no doubt that all of the above sub-groups and individuals noted above were in the Park with me yesterday… but it would seem that we all decided to let down our walls, fill in our moats and just be human.  Ridiculous, Glorious, Hilarious, Amazing… human.   From time to time, I need to be reminded that humanity is vast; I do not exclusively define it... and I am not alone.  Even if I want to be.   I am part of something so grand, so diverse and so joyous that the only fitting response is "Awe".    You may remember that last week it snowed and it was awful... yesterday, in the park, it was "Awe-filled" and I'm glad that I didn't miss it.