Sunday, March 30, 2014

Music Ministry and Mass Settings

At the parish where I currently hang my biretta, we use what might be called Missa Hodge-Podge. We sing a hymn in the place of what should be the Gloria, Kyrie or Trisagion. The Sanctus is Schubert's Deutsche Messe. The Pater Noter is Rimsky-Korsakov. I'd like to return the Gloria / Kyrie / Trisagion to its proper place, but that means finding an appropriate setting for a congregation of relatively small size with a relatively limited number of really strong singers.

What I'd really like to do on this front, if I had my druthers, would be to introduce a new mass setting where all of the pieces were of a piece. Unfortunately, Common Praise (the official hymn book) isn't that much help. Apart from the Merbecke setting for the traditional language rite, there doesn't seem to be a complete setting for all of the pieces. Most are missing the Lord's Prayer. The Schubert setting has a Kyrie but, oddly, no Gloria, even though I'm pretty sure it exists and that I've even heard and sung it.

There are several settings floating about elsewhere, but I'm not sufficiently familiar with them to make an assessment of how singable they are for a congregation like ours. The late Howard Buchner, Dean of Divinity through most of my time at Trinity, wrote an eminently singable Mass (which we affectionately referred to as Missa Bucho), but it has now gone out of print and seems to have become effectively unavailable.

My requirements are simple. It should be singable by a small congregation of mostly middling singers.


Modern Family Values

I've come to enjoy the situation comedy Modern Family.

At one level, the show is very traditionalist. The extended family are clearly upper middle class folk with upper middle class mores. The husbands bring home the bacon, the wives stay home to raise the kids. Except that one of the moms is one of two dads and another of the moms is a hot "trophy wife," younger than her husband's oldest daughter, So, to some extent, the very family values show turns the traditional family values schtick on its head.

If you've missed it up until now, the show revolves around the extended family of paterfamilias Jay Pritchett. Jay is married to Colombian bombshell Gloria, thus becoming step-father to young but older than his age Manny Delgado. Jay and Gloria have now had a son together, Joe. Jay's daughter Claire is married to Phil Dunphy, and they have three children: daughters Haley and Alex and son Luke. Jay's older son, Mitchell, lives with his same sex partner Cam, and they are adoptive parents to Vietnamese orphan Lily.

Even some of the non-traditional aspects of the extended family are given odd twists. Although Jay is married to a much younger woman, he is not the person who walked out on his first marriage to Claire and Mitchell's mother. She abandoned Jay to go and "find herself." And although there is at least one episode where Claire second guesses her choice to be a stay at home mom (she eventually takes a job with her father's company), Cam and Mitchell also provide opportunities to examine that choice without the gender blinkers.

The societal shift is not ignored or treated as a done deal by any means. Jay's discomfort with his Mitchell's sexuality is treated lightly but honestly, particularly in one episode where he bonds with Cam's father who has the same discomfort. For both fathers, the realization that times have changed leaves them feeling disconnected, but it is equally clear that they love their sons and want them to be happy.

The main and lasting criticism of the show, and the one with the most legs, is that all the wives are stay at home moms, or at least were initially. In this respect, although the show doesn't play the silly "who's in what role" game with Cam and Mitchell, Cam was the stay at home parent. Over the past couple of seasons, Cam and Claire worked together to flip a house, Cam landed a high school football coaching job and Claire, as mentioned above, is being positioned to take over her father's business. At the same time, Gloria periodically expresses concern that other members of the family look down on her for not having a job outside the home. How much of this is the natural evolution of the show and how much a response to criticism is anyone's guess.

The show isn't perfect by any means. The entire Pritchett clan with its many offshoots is more one percent than 99 percent. It is a family of white privilege. But then, I don't expect deep sociopolitical commentary in a sitcom - particularly an American sitcom. For an American sitcom, it is probably a more insightful commentary on American culture than anything not produced by Norman Lear.

Oh, and it's usually pretty funny.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Elevator Speech Evangelism

A number of members of the Episcopal Church have created a ... network is the best word I can think of ... called Acts8 Moment. Their central thesis is that the situation facing the Church in the present is, in many respects, remarkably similar to the situation facing the Church in Acts 8. Christians, previously comfortable in sticking with the familiar ritual of the temple were essentially forced out to engage the world. The founding blogposts can explain the concept in a little more detail.

Not this kind of elevator.
And this is only funny on the prairie
The latest Acts8 idea is for Christians to create their own Elevator Speech about their faith and their faith community. The idea (which originally comes from marketing and professional networking) is to have a brief explanation of who you are and what you are about that can be delivered in the time between getting on an elevator with someone and the point where the door opens again and one of you exits. The elevator doesn't need to cover everything, but it should cover the essentials and give the listener some sense of why they might want to pursue things further. Some say the speech should be no more than 250 words. I think 250 assumes a much taller building than most of the ones we have here in Regina.

Acts8 Moment is inviting Episcopalians and Anglicans to participate in a blogforce effort which will result in dozens or hundreds of blogged elevator speeches being aggregated at the Acts8 Moment website. If you want to participate, follow the instructions at the link. (Essentially, include the Acts8 BLOGFORCE code in your post - I don't know why the result is so munged up at the bottom of this post - and send them an email including both the text of your pitch and a permanent link to your post.)

Of course, our elevator speech changes in response to the situation and changes as we go further in our faith journey. In that sense, it is a transitory thing, existing only for the moment it is uttered.

So here is my elevator speech at this moment. What's yours?
I am an Anglican. I belong to a community of faith that invites and welcomes all people on a journey to meet and to follow the Risen Jesus. Whoever you are, wherever you've come from, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome to journey with us.
We worship a God who loved us enough to become one of us, to live in solidarity with us, to experience the joys and the sorrows of our human existence in order to reconcile us to God and to each other. We come to know him in our fellowship and in the breaking of bread. Our worship is rooted in the ancient tradition of the Christian Church, yet we are fully engaged in the modern world. 
Our God washes us clean in baptism. Our God feeds us with his body at communion. Our God loves us. Our God loves you. 
May you know God's love as you continue on your journey today.

Friday, March 28, 2014


I spent part of this evening with a small group assigned to work on a Mission Action Plan for our parish. There are a number of different ideas about how to approach a Mission Action Plan, or MAP. But the acronym itself implies a journey. Since our parish shares a patron with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, traditional pilgrimage destination for Christians over many centuries, the idea of pilgrimage or journey has shaped our discussions significantly.

The idea of the Christian Life as a journey is very ancient. Many early Christians called their new faith The Way for precisely that reason. As we mature in our faith, we journey into a deeper and more profound relationship with Jesus.

The pilgrimage motif also encourages us to look at evangelism differently. Instead of inviting people to come to our Church, we invite them to come on a journey with us. This radically changes the nature of the invitation.

We are ready to take the next step towards our parish MAP, and I am hopeful that our MAP will guide us on a pilgrimage which will help us to grow in faith, to share our faith and to bring glory to the God of our journey.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Leonard Hofstadter as an Icon of the Virgin Mary

At the parish where I currently hang my biretta, we have a midweek celebration of the Eucharist on Wednesdays. It has become our practice that if there is no Holy Day or other commemoration on the Church calendar (in technical terms, if it is a Feria), we will observe the nearest festival before or after. Given that we don't have a daily Eucharist, these celebrations would otherwise go unacknowledged. So, today, there being no other feast to be observed, we kept the Annunciation a day late.

In my homily, I touched on the fact that Mary took a great risk in agreeing to be a part of God's plan. Her fiance, Joseph, could (and as we read in Matthew, almost did) sever their betrothal. She could become an object of scandal. Her own family might even cast her out. She could be forced onto the streets as either a beggar or a prostitute . . . if she was lucky enough not to end her life in an honour killing. There were far more ways for this to end badly than to end well.

If Mary were a sensible girl, she'd have said, "no."

The television show The Big Bang Theory revolves around the on again, off again romance between Leonard and Penny. In the episode The Recombination Hypothesis, Leonard asks Penny out again, leading to a series of comic relationship blunders. But at the climax of the episode it is revealed that, beginning at the point where Leonard asks Penny out, everything has just been Leonard's projection of how such an invitation would likely lead to disaster.

Even so, Leonard walks across to Penny's apartment and asks her out to dinner.

Penny asks, "Have you thought this through?"

And Leonard responds, "Yes, and I think we should go anyway."

Mary may not have been a prudent girl, but she was not a foolish girl. She understood the risk she would be taking very clearly. But she was a faithful girl. If we had been there to ask, "Have you thought this through?" she would have responded "Yes, and be it unto me according to the angel's word anyway."

And thanks be to God for that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


About a week and a half ago, HMCS GLACE BAY, while taking part in a drug interdiction operation called OPERATION CARIBBE, was involved in the recovery of 2,400 kilos of cocaine. It turns out the Captain of GLACE BAY is a Naval Reservist from just down the road at Indian Head. Lieutenant-Commander Victoria DeVita is only the fourth woman in history to command a Canadian warship.

There are about 4,000 full and part time Naval Reservists across Canada, including all the core crews of the Coastal Defence Vessels like GLACE BAY.

I served 25 years in the Naval Reserve. The last part of my career was focused on the development of junior officers. I'm proud of that service, and I feel a little prouder today.

So BRAVO ZULU to GLACE BAY and her Captain. Fair winds and following seas.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is this what Jesus had in mind?

I've never actually met fellow Anglican priest-blogger Tim Chesterton in the flesh, although we did speak on the phone once. Our respective Anglicanisms have been shaped by different journeys and, while bearing a more than cursory resemblance, often look a trifle different. We disagree on some things - both current hot button issues and more esoteric matters. And he has more than once asked me a challenging question without being the least bit belligerent. But his blogposts are frequently insightful and thought provoking. I look forward to meeting him for real some day.

Oh, and he's a big fan of the Bard of Barking, so he must be a good sort deep down.

He's written a blogpost today which begins with a reflection on the Bruce Cockburn song Pacing the Cage (see below). The whole thing is worth a read, but here was the part that grabbed me:
So I find myself asking, how did a movement which began with volunteer missionaries joyfully going around the Mediterranean world at their own expense, planting churches with little structure and no buildings, end up as a huge organization that frequently needs multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns to sustain the sort of mission it believes in? How did a movement which foreswore violence end up blessing battleships and praying for success against the enemy? How did a movement which warned of the dangers of clericalism (see Matthew 23:1-12) become so totally dependent on professional ministers, (in many cases dressing them up as gorgeously as wannabe Roman bureaucrats)? 
Is this the kind of church Jesus had in mind? More to the point, am I the kind of Christian Jesus had in mind?
What say you, dear reader?

Oh, and here's the YouTube of Pacing the Cage.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"And had become a Jesuit ... but for the Revolution"

Since his election, Pope Francis has made significant process in changing the way most people view the Roman Catholic Church. While he has shied away from any meaningful alteration of doctrine (indeed, he has closed the door on any discussion of women's ordination), Francis has openly called for a different emphasis. This has made him something of a poster boy for those who which the Roman Catholic Church were something other than it is. And it has frequently led such folk to believe that Francis has changed much more than he actually has.

But more significantly, and garnering less attention, Francis has embarked on a restructuring of the Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia. Powerful arch-conservatives like the American Raymond Burke have been shifted out of positions that allowed them to influence who did or did not advance in the hierarchy. His former Argentine nickname, Mona Lisa, has been translated into the proper Italian title of da Vinci's painting, La Gioconda, referring to the enigmatic smile that makes briefers think they've convinced him while all the while he keeps his own counsel. These hierarchical shufflings have garnered some coverage, inclusing this, this and this.

Much of the analysis suggests that Francis's priority will be to decentralize power, significantly reducing the capacity of the Curia - and especially Curial careerists - to run the Church without much concern for the pastoral implications of hardline decisions.

As an Anglican, I find it more than a little ironic that, as Rome begins to inch away from authoritarian centralization, so many Anglicans seem to want to move towards it. Both GAFCON and the Anglican Covenant are attempts to radically restructure the Anglican Communion in the direction of greater centralization.

We are not A world-wide Church, nor have we ever been.  We are a family of Churches bound by aspects of shared history and by mutual affection. Just as "The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in thei Realm of England," so also the Bishop of Abuja hath no authority in Canada, nor the Bishop of Gasabo authority in the the United States. The mischief of the GAFCON folk will either fizzle or split the Communion, but ultimately any attempt to force all Anglicans (particularly those in Europe and North America) to submit to the authoritarian impulses of an Akinola or an Orombi is doomed to failure no matter the amount of post-colonial guilt.

But neither will the former Archbishop of Canterbury's more subtle attempt at centralization and curialization. Despite the organizational advantage of controlling all information coming out of Lambeth Palace, Church House and the Anglican Communion Office, Archbishop Williams could not get the Church of England to support his proposed Anglican Covenant. I am very proud to have been part of the Band of Bloggers that threw a spanner into those works.

Like many an Anglo-Catholic, I've always said we can learn from Rome. At the moment, I think we might learn that centralized authority isn't always what it's cracked up to be. I don't know that we need an Anglican Francis. We were never (deo gratias) as centralized as Rome. But we certainly do not need to rush headlong into the very sort of centralization Rome has come to find wanting.

The title of the post comes from the satirical song The Vicar of Bray, the tale of a Church of England cleric who works assiduously to support the current ecclesiastical standard during the period from the reign of Charles II to the reign of George I. During the time of James II (and VII), he supports the king's opposition to the penal laws which oppressed Roman Catholics and dissenting Protestants and he reads the king's Declaration of Indulgence, which, contrary to propaganda, would have extended religious liberty. Because James II was a Roman Catholic and "popery grew in fashion," the Vicar of Bray suggests he'd have become a Jesuit if not for the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 which overthrew the king. The line was chosen, obviously in reference to the fact that Francis is a Jesuit, not to any suggestion that I might "swim the Tiber." Though if I did, I've always had a soft spot for the Jesuits. I went to a Jesuit college in my undergraduate degree after all.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fair Elections and the Unfair Elections Act

You will recall that, back in 2000, Democrat Al Gore was declared elected by most of the major media based on exit polls suggesting that he had carried Florida. Only as the results came in did it become clear that the Florida results were far closer than the exit polling had indicated.

To this day, no honest observer can say with absolute confidence which of Al Gore or George W. Bush received the larger number of votes in Florida. At the end of the day, the election was decided by the fact that there were more Republican state officials and Republican appointed judges involved in the adjudication of the results than Democratic state officials and Democratic appointed judges.

As a Canadian, I thought the oddest thing about the entire Florida recount was that every single official and every single judge acted according to partisan interests. That applies as much for the Democrats as the Republicans. No one actually cared about finding the democratic outcome of the vote. Unlike a Canadian judicial recount by a judge legally obliged to be impartial, the American system is an entirely partisan affair at every level.

It seems our present government likes the American model, where democracy is less about who gets the most votes than about who gets to appoint the most officials.  The Harper government's Orwellianly named Fair Elections Act (dubbed by pretty much everyone else as the Unfair Elections Act) takes every lesson of the far right assault on the American electoral process and imposes it on our hitherto non-partisan process.

While certain aspects of the assault on our democracy have been well covered, such as the elimination of vouching for voters who lack the proper identification or the loophole in elections expense laws to exempt certain fundraising activities, other aspects of the bill, which insert partisan political operatives directly into the administration of elections, have gotten far less attention.

My friend Trevor McKenzie-Smith has written a piece for the Broadbent Institute outlining a few of the less covered changes. I was particularly struck by the provision that candidate agents at a polling place would not only observe the conduct of the election, but would have the right to "examine" voter identification. Frankly, this amounts to a license to harass voters who don't look like they'd be supporting the agent's party.

Lest anyone think critics of the Conservative Act are paranoid, In 1979, I personally saw people working for the Conservatives stopping voters on their way into voting places, falsely telling people they needed particular documents in order to vote. And I've seen partisan agents actively and willfully disrupt the voting process.

Working as an inside scrutineer in the 1980 federal election, I watched a Conservative Party agent loudly demanding that a Liberal Party agent be expelled from the polling place because she was below the legal voting age. The Conservative agent falsely claimed that she was not eligible to serve as a candidate's agent. While it was true that the provincial Elections Act required that candidate's agents in the polls be electors in the constituency, the federal Elections Act had no such provision at that time.

Not all partisan volunteers would act in a deliberately destructive manner, of course. But partisan volunteers are, after all, partisans. Their first concern is protecting the interests of their candidate. That is why we allow candidate agents in polling places.

But permitting a partisan agent to intervene with voters, directly and not through the offices of the (hopefully still) non-partisan election officials, is a license for voter harassment. And I have no doubt at all that these provisions are not in the bill by accident.

People died to ensure Canadians could have free and fair elections. Their sacrifice should not be set aside.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Demystifying and Demedicalizing Death and Dying

Today I attended a meeting with Timmins - James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus. It was one of those rare occasions when I was at an overtly political meeting wearing a clerical collar. Those of us in attendance (apart from Angus and one political staffer) were leaders of our various faith communities and we were there to discuss Angus's private member's bill calling for a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End of Life Care Strategy.

Despite the medical advances of the past 50 - 100 years, the human mortality rate continues to hover at about 100% and will continue to do so ... at least until Christ returns. Yet we are a society that finds it increasingly impossible to have sane and adult conversations about death and dying. I have heard (but cannot verify) the statistic that more than half of the money spent on a person's healthcare in their life time will typically occur in the last six months of their life. Much of that will be expended on very expensive interventions which will provide only incremental extensions of life, often with significant reduction in the quality of life.

Like birth, death has been moved out of the home and into the hospital for most people. And the rituals after death, which were once the preserve of the community's elders, are increasingly in the hands of professional funeral homes. But while these medical and funereal professionals can be a real help to people in managing a difficult situation, they also become a means for us to distance ourselves from the reality ... and sometimes the rituals ... of death.

Not that many generations ago, birth and death both happened at home. Rare indeed was the young person who had not been in the close vicinity of a birth, or who had not seen lifeless body of a friend or family member being prepared for burial by other family members. A few generations on, death has become a sanitized construct which the bereaved encounter only second hand.

The result is that we have a society that don't really know what to do with death, who want to deny death, and who want to avoid talking about death until after it is too late to have any meaningful interaction with the choices surrounding death. In US politics, Sarah Palin evilly took advantage of this discomfort to attack the Obamacare provision for end of life consultation with lies about rationing and "death panels." She will have to answer for that at the last day.

There are a plethora of moral issues surrounding end of life care.
  • What obligation do we have to preserve or extend life at the point that recovery is no longer a realistic possibility?
  • What degree of reduced quality of life a reasonable trade-off for what increment of extended life?
  • How do we ensure that the patient (or those authorized to make decisions for the patient) are fully engaged in end of life care decisions?
  • How do legitimate issues of the stewardship of healthcare resources inform both the advice offered by medical professionals and the decisions of those approaching the end of their life (or their agents)?
Unfortunately, these issues aren't sexy enough for the Ottawa media. The only end of life issue they want to cover is the relative side-show of assisted suicide. Yet even there, I am left to wonder to what degree advocates of assisted suicide are driven by an utter lack of confidence in our current system to allow for reasonable and responsible end of life decision making.

The participants in the meeting were generally agreed that the palliative care system in Regina works fairly well. Yet even here there is a reticence about discussing end of life care and end of life decision making until the palliative care system is already engaged. Elsewhere in Canada, and especially the farther one gets from major urban areas, the more difficult it can be to provide holistic palliative care before the stress on family caregivers has reached crisis proportions.

The funeral liturgy reminds us that "in the midst of life we are in death." Until the resurrection a the last day, that will continue to be true. We need to be able to discuss death with our family members and with our medical caregivers so that we approach that death with real dignity. 

That will require a significant cultural change. A Pan-Canadian Palliative and End of Life Care Strategy is a valuable first step.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hate Never Wins Out In The End

Fred Phelps died today.

Phelps was the founding "pastor" of Westboro Baptist Church, famous for its pickets and protests proclaiming that "God Hates Fags." He certainly did the devil's work, bringing shame to the name of Jesus and the name Christian everywhere he went.

He first rose to prominence in the public eye in 1998, when his "church" picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man from Laramie, Colorado who was assaulted, pistol whipped and crucified on a barbed wire fence because of his sexuality. Even in these early days, the startling cruelty and rage of Fred Phelps was on full display. He went on to protest any number of more or less random funerals, blasphemously proclaiming in each case that somehow his visciousness was proclaiming God's warning to the world.

He planned to bring his circus of loathing to Canada in the fall of 2008 to picket the funeral of Tim McLean, who had been gruesomely murdered by a deranged man on board a Greyhound bus. To his credit, then Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day barred Phelps and his followers from being admitted to Canada. They were a no show at the McLean funeral.

At the time, I wrote a blog post proposing that the best way to deal with a Westboro Baptist picketing was for Christians to surround them and sing: about God's love, about God's grace, about God's glory. In other words, counteract Phelps's lies about God by proclaiming the truth about God.

But now Fred Phelps is dead. At this point we don't really know what becomes of Westboro Baptist Church or if the small congregation, primarily composed of Phelps's remaining unestranged family, will continue to assault people with their ugly protests.

There was more to Fred Phelps, though, than "God Hates Fags." In the 1970s and 80s, as a lawyer, he pursued many civil rights cases on behalf of African-American Kansans who had been discriminated against by state institutions and private companies. His civil rights work was honoured by the local chapter of the NAACP. Yet the legacy of this good work is forgotten in the tidal wave of evil over the past 15 or so years.

The reaction to Phelps's death has been oddly restrained. While there has been some nasty commentary (I've seen it, even if Maple Anglican hasn't), most of the reaction has been more along the lines of Star Tek actor and gay activist George Takei, who wrote:
Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.
And later:
I take no solace or joy in this man's passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding "God Hates Freds" signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.
At Sojourners, Mark Sandlin has written a prayer for the soul of Fred Phelps which is really a prayer for all of us, and especially that we not allow "his hate to grow into a reflection in us." Go read it all.

For that is the risk. Our outrage at the evils of Fred Phelps either blinds us to or gives us cover for our own, and we become the Pharisee to his not quite so penitent Publican. That is the kicker to that parable. The very second I see myself in one of the two caharacters, I have instantly become the other.

In the rite for the Reconciliation of a Penitent (aka Confession), the last words of the priest are these:
Go in peace, and pray for me a sinner.
Whatever Fred Phelps's sin, it does me no good to use his sin as an excuse to overlook my own.

So let the death of Fred Phelps be an opportunity, not to vent our rage at his evil acts, but to give thanks for a God who is far more gracious, far more merciful and far more loving that Fred Phelps would ever have wanted him to be. Gracious, merciful and loving even to Fred Phelps.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Joseph, the Step-Father of God

My children have been blessed in their choice of step-parents. And seeing both of those step-parents in action, I have some sense of what a challenging role step-parenting is. One freely accepts the responsibilities of parenting, while recognizing that there are some unique challenges a natural parent will never face ("You're not my real mom / dad), and that several of the joys of parenting may well pass to the natural parent. It's just like parenting only harder.

St. Joseph was, of course, a step-parent. I've not usually heard the term applied to him except in jest. But the spouse of Mary the Mother of God is surely the Step-Father of God. And in the case of Jesus, "You're not my real dad" would have a little extra heft to it.

The Gospel appointed for today in the Anglican Church of Canada is Luke's account of the 12 year old Jesus in the Temple. Let's face it, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house" was essentially a very polite "You aren't my real dad."

We don't know much about Joseph from the Gospel accounts, but we do know that he accepted the role of step-father, even though it would have been very easy - perhaps far easier - for him to have rejected it, to have stuck to his plan to quietly end his betrothal to Mary. But he didn't, serving as step-father, provider and protector to Our Lord in his infancy, childhood and adolescence.

So perhaps today is a day to remember the ministry and sacrifice of step-parents, whose patron St. Joseph really ought to be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Experimenting with Prayer

One of our Lenten activities at the parish where I hang my biretta is a book study of Ian Stuchbery's Anglican classic, This is our Faith. There has been such pick up on this study opportunity that I've had to order several additional copies of the book.

This evening, we were discussing the first chapter on prayer. I shared with the group some of my recent experimentation in daily prayer. Clergy are canonically obliged to pray the daily office (ie, Morning and Evening Prayer), although with the increased flexibility of the Book of Alternative Services, there is significant room to vary individual practice to suit individual needs and rhythms.

For some time, I had been in the practice of adding the assigned evening Psalms and reading(s) to the morning office because I found the evening office was often lost in the shuffle. The problem with this model was that it made the morning office busier and more difficult to approach prayerfully while at the same time giving me perhaps too much permission to omit any disciplined evening prayer time at all.

After some discussion with my spiritual director, I've stopped piling on the readings at Matins, allowing the morning prayer time to be less busy and to require less fiddling about. I use an online resource to shape the morning office, so adding extra readings meant complicating a tool that was intended to simplify. The evening office is stripped to its bare essentials to allow for a more extensive entry into the Gospel text applying a Lectio Divina approach. The result has been more settled prayer time in both morning and evening, although there is still work to be done.

The thing is, we should not - must not - be afraid to experiment with our prayer life, especially in those times where it has become less prayerful, too busy and altogether ineffective. An approach that works for one person may not work for another, and the approach which worked successfully at one point in an individual's spiritual journey may be less well suited at a different point in the journey.

My routine of prayer still needs some work. It likely always will. But a willingness to rethink has proven immeasurable helpful.

Hello Mother. Hello Father. Here I am at Camp Clerical Forms of Address

Our diocesan website is undergoing a much needed overhaul. We hope to be launching the new site soon.

The last time we renewed the website, I was in charge of assembling the page which we titled "Communities, Congregations and Clergy." It was a never-ending source of pedantic frustration, let me tell you.

Some of the struggles, while frustrating, were easily disposed of. The people who argued we should group rural congregations by the multi-point parish of which they were a part - and moreover, by the name assigned to the multi-point parish - were summarily dismissed. If someone is looking to see about an Anglican Church in Esterhazy, they aren't going to google "New Sumner Parish" or "Pelly Deanery." That would be silly. They're going to google "Anglican, Esterhazy." And if they find our page, the logical order to list churches was by city or town (or in the case of truly rural churches, district).

There were, however, questions that weren't quite so easily resolved. Like what we call clergy.

We had clergy who adamantly did not want to be listed as "the Reverend John Smith." For some it was a matter of churchmanship and catholic identity. For others it was a desire to avoid that grammatical blasphemy "Reverend Smith." (I don't care what you think you learned as a child. "Reverend Smith" is never, ever, ever grammatically correct or appropriate. Never. Ever.)

On the other hand, there were only a very few who would look to the traditional high church model of "Father John Smith." Few of the men .. and none of the women. I know of ordained Anglican women who use "Mother" quite comfortably, but so far as I can tell there's not a one of them in this diocese.

Some object to the use of "Father / Mother" on the grounds that it infantilizes the laity. Personally, I don't buy that. Poor clergy leadership can infantilize the laity whatever the priest is called. And "Father Knows Best" clergy are not necessarily high church, not necessarily conservative and not necessarily men.

I prefer to be called by my first name in most contexts. If that seems inappropriate, I'd opt for "Father Malcolm," "Father French" or "Father Malcolm French." It's half churchmanship and half loathing for the misuse of "Reverend."

I suppose on the website we could have imposed a standard that made some people unhappy. Or we could have imposed no standard at all and simply asked everyone how they'd like to be listed. Neither of those seemed quite the right solution.

What I ended up doing was simply using people's names, followed by their order. "John Smith, Deacon." "Mary Jones, Priest." "John Doe, Bishop."  It worked ... and it avoided a fight.

Apparently in Poland, a secular priest (that is, a priest who isn't part of a religious order) is addressed as "Priest John Smith" (or whatever the Polish equivalent of John Smith would be). Certainly we are used to addressing bishops as "Bishop John" or "Bishop Doe" or "Bishop John Doe." The same with deacons and archdeacons and canons and deans. At our meetings, it's all "Bishop Rob" and "Dean Mike" and "Archdeacon Mary Ann."

So here is my modest proposal to stop the argument over clerical nomenclature. Henceforth I propose that priests be called "Priest."


Priest Malcolm.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Late on the Eve of St. Patrick

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day.

The holiday miscellanea surrounding the feast day of the Apostle to the Irish are largely North American inventions. There is no history of green beer or drunken shenanigans associated with the day. Indeed, until a generation ago, Irish pubs were closed in honour of the religious observance.

In North America, by contrast, the Romano-British Patrick is largely ignored in an orgiastic celebration of some fantasy of Irishness. In a society where Easter is about bunnies and Christmas about an obese elf, this is hardly surprising.

Yet there is a saintly story to be told about the escaped slave who returned to bring the Good News to his former masters. There is even a widely available autobiographical text generally thought to be authentic. While there are legends, there is also a great degree of fairly well-established truth.

I won't be wearing green, nor will I be chugging green beer. But I will take a moment to consider the saint whose death in 461 is the reason for the feast day.

I leave you with a short hagiography of Patrick by the late Professor Stephen Reynolds from the book For All the Saints, and with a video of the famous hymn attributed to the saint himself.

Patrick 17 March
Missionary Bishop in Ireland, 461 — Memorial 
Today we honour Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the northern tribes of that country in the early fifth century. 
A native of Cornwall or Devon, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates who sold him into slavery in their homeland. Six years later he fled his Irish masters, returned to Britain, and was eventually ordained to the priesthood. He had a vision that he would return to the land of his former captivity, and around the year 438 the vision came true. He was made a bishop and given charge over the mission to the Irish. 
Despite his chronic sense of personal unworthiness, Patrick proved to be an effective organizer, and his mission quickly evolved into a vibrant institution. He also encouraged the growth of Irish monasticism, and within a few generations of his death monks and nuns had replaced warriors as the heroes of the Irish people. 
The great hymn called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” was probably not composed by him, but it does reflect the kind of Christian spirituality which he planted in the heart of the Irish nation — a deeply penitential, but still more deeply alive to the sustaining presence of Jesus Christ. 
O God, we thank you for Patrick,
whom you took into your service,
to bring within the freedom of your household
those who once enslaved him.
Encourage us through his example,
that we may know your power made perfect in our weakness,
and delight in serving others
for the sake of him who became servant of all,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Anglican Communion Hasn't Failed

Recently, Church of England priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser wrote about the advent of equal marriage in England and Wales and what it means for the Church of England. He touches on the historically revisionist pastoral letter from the House of Bishops, and on the inevitability that (sooner than later) some cleric of the Church of England will enter into a marriage with a spouse of the same sex.

He also points out that there likely isn't much under canon law that the bishops will be able to do about it. The Clergy Disciplne Measure can only be used for cases of misconduct, not alleged doctrinal error, and having argued at great volume that gay marriage is a matter of doctrine, the bishops will be hoist in their own procedural petard. They could notionally proceed against a cleric under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, but as the Bishop of Buckingham points out, "the maximum penalty it lays down for a first offense is a rude letter telling you not to do it again - which hopefully people getting married won't."

So far, so good.  But then Fraser concludes:
All this means that the bishops won't be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages .... When this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.

Well, I'd agree we should thank God when the Church of England is allowed to get on with being the Church of England, and the Anglican Church of Canada the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Scottish Episcopal Church the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church in the United States and elsewhere the Episcopal Church in those places and yes, even the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). Where I disagree with Fraser is in his assertion that this is connected to "the fiction that is the Anglican Communion."

The Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous churches throughout the world, bound together by aspects of shared history and by "mutual affection." Just as the "Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England" (39 Articles - Article XXXVII), so also the Bishop of Canterbury had no jurisdiction those member churches outside the Church of England. (I note there are a few dioceses in the Communion who are termed "extraprovincial to Canterbury," but these represent practical and consensual exceptions.) There is no central authority in worldwide Anglicanism. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a primacy of honour, but that is all. The Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting have whatever moral authority people chose to accord them. But there is no centralized juridical authority in the Anglican Communion. Period.

The recent disputes in the Anglican Communion over women and gays saw a pernicious attempt to change the Anglican Communion into something it was not. There were attempts to assert the binding authority of Lambeth Conference resolutions (well, one particular resolution, really - and only certain bits of it) even though such authority had been explicitly rejected - ironically by Lambeth Conference resolutions. There were attempts to claim authority for the Primates Meeting to "discipline" provinces of the Communion which had done things other provinces didn't like. And in the wake of the failure of these attempted coups d'eglise, there was an attempt to foist a centralizing Anglican Covenant on the Communion, giving power to an unrepresentative committee to impose ill-defined "relational consequences" through even vaguer disciplinary processes.

I agree with Fraser that we should thank God for the end of this fiction that the Anglican Communion is some sort of imperial instrument. The defeat of the Anglican Covenant in the Church of England was a deadly blow to that mischievous ambition. And as Fraser notes, the advent of married gay clergy in several provinces of the Communion should be enough to sink the scheme permanently.

Where I disagree with Fraser is in suggesting that this is the end of the Anglican Communion - and that the idea of the Anglican Communion is a fiction.

The Anglican Communion has survived a misguided attempt to radically reform it into precisely the sort of imperial project Fraser rightly abhors. But the Anglican Communion as a family of autonomous churches bound by shared history and mutual affection has survived. And that's a good thing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Charming Bully?

The most remarkable thing happened yesterday.

Christine Innes, a senior political staffer in the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, two time federal Liberal candidate in Trinity Spadina, spouse of the last Liberal MP for Trinity Spadina, lifelong Liberal and party loyalist was banned from seeking the Liberal nomination for the upcoming Trinity Spadina byelection. Furthermore, she was banned from seeking any Liberal nomination anywhere in Canada for the next federal general election.

But the oddest part of all was that Trudeau's enforcers actually made a public announcement of Innes's banishment. I've been around politics a long time. I have never seen a party preemptively make a public issue out of the rejection of a candidate. It wasn't enough to spike Christine Innes's political ambitions. Trudeau and his minions felt the need to humiliate Christine Innes publicly.

The Trudeau brain rust tried to spin this as leadership. Unsubstantiated allegations were made against Innes's husband, former MP Tony Ianno, that he had attempted to intimidate people to support his wife's bid for renomination. Trudeau, according to the self-serving mythology, was showing leadership by putting a stop to nasty internal fights.

But a quick examination reveals some different facts.

The problem wasn't so much Christine Innes running in Trinity Spadina - a seat where the Liberals could expect to be very competitive. The problem was where she might run in the next general election.

You see, while the byelection will be on the existing constituency boundaries, the next election will be on new boundaries from the recent redistribution. In the new redistribution, the old Trinity Spadina seat will be split three ways. Of the three redistributed seats, conventional wisdom says that University Rosedale (which also will include a lot of the former Toronto Centre) will be the best prospect for the Liberals.

But a recent byelection in Toronto Centre returned former Reuters journalist and friend of the one percent Chrystia Freeland as a Liberal MP. And Chrystia Freeland, the handpicked protege of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, intends to run in University Rosedale.

Despite Trudeau's empty promise of open nominations, Trudeau and his enforcers have been very clear that Chrystia Freeland will never face a serious nomination challenge. Former Toronto Centre provincial MPP George Smitherman - who actually lived in the riding, with strong ties to the large gay community - had been widely tapped to seek the Toronto Centre federal nomination. After considerable arm-twisting, he was persuaded to stand down in favour of Freeland, who only faced two local unknowns in the eventual Potemkin Village nominating convention.

Now Christine Innes has been banned, not only from seeking the Trinity Spadina byelection nomination, but from seeking any federal Liberal nomination for the next election. And the real reason is that she was not prepared to commit that she wouldn't challenge Chrystia Freeland for the nomination in University Rosedale.

One is reminded of the allegedly missing paperwork involved in the Conservative nomination in Brandon, where backroom jiggery-pokery sabotaged a potential nomination candidate Stephen Harper didn't want. The net result was that an impenetrable Conservative fortress became a nailbiter of a contest.  It is not unreasonable to expect that Trudeau's public assault on the reputation of a previously loyal Liberal may similarly affect the Liberal Party's competitiveness in what was once deemed the safest Liberal seat in English Canada.

What we saw yesterday was a privileged male from the one percent bullying a woman who wouldn't do as she was told.

In other words, Liberal Party business as usual. Ask Sheila Copps.

Making Time for Prayer

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a friend who is a member of a religious order living in community. I mentioned that I envied him the daily rhythm of prayer. Morning Prayer happens when it's scheduled to happen. Likewise the Eucharist, Noon Prayers, Evening Prayer and Compline. One needs to discipline oneself to attend, but one does not need to carve time out of a schedule to make them happen.

I have no doubt that there are innumerable other aspects of life in community that spark no jealousy at all. But this piece leaves me longing for that structure.

As a secular priest, the Offices happen when I make the effort to make them happen. And on some days it becomes very easy to let slide. Ironically, the things that often get in the way of structured prayer are my responsibilities as a parish priest.

I'm currently experimenting with some different scheduling options, including setting evening prayer time as a period of Lectio Divina focusing on the evening Psalms and the Gospel.

What I know for certain is that when my prayer life gets off track, I get off track - and getting back on track is much more difficult that staying on track in the first place.

And I know that my peace and serenity - and my effectiveness - are contingent on the diligent maintenance of my spiritual condition.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What happened to "leave 'em wanting more"?

It was announced today that CBS (and therefore presumably CTV eventually) has renewed The Big Bang Theory for another three years. The fact that it's a three year renewal is apparently particularly remarkable, the norm being one year renewals with two year renewals in exceptional cases.

I like The Big Bang Theory. It may be my favourite show on television at the moment (since CBC, Vision and PBS are all too inept to carry Rev). Even so, I'm not convinced this is a good idea.

The show has shown a remarkable adaptability, incorporating new regular characters like Bernadette and Amy without sacrificing the essential chemistry. (Indeed, the addition of Bernadette allowed the Howard character to move beyond one dimensional creepiness.) Many of the recent episodes and story arcs have been quite good, especially those surrounding the slow evolution of the Amy - Sheldon relationship and Penny's big gamble in quitting her job to focus on her acting career.

But there have also been lame episodes where it seemed like Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady have been dialing it in. Far and away the worst was the show where the Leonard, Sheldon and Howard are encouraging young girls to pursue careers in the hard sciences while Bernadette, Amy and Penny get princess makeovers at Disneyland. The premise was idiotic. Why would you task an all male team of socially awkward scientists to come up with a plan to make science appealing to adolescent and preadolescent girls? The poor premise was made even worse by the condescending depiction of the two characters who are actual scientists (one of whom is a scientist in real life). And was anyone else creeped out by the contention that seeing your wife or girlfriend decked out as a Disney princess was supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac?

It is easy for a series to go on too long. The fifth and sixth seasons of The West Wing were getting so tedious that it led to the creation of "Please Cancel Our Show" fansites. It wasn't until the story arc for the final season that the show recovered its mojo.

I fear the same thing may happen to The Big Bang Theory. Prior to today's announcement, I'd speculated to several friends that we were in the penultimate season. I predicted that Leonard and Penny would get engaged in the season finale and that next year's story arc would be the preparations for a show finale (double?) wedding.

Well, so much for that.

I don't see how the central Penny - Leonard tension can be maintained for another three years. The focus could shift even more to Amy - Sheldon developments, but even that would have a limited shelf life. I fear that Lorre, Prady, Warner Brothers and CBS may have pushed a great series beyond sustainability with this three year extension.

I hope I'm proved wrong, but I fear it will end with a Big Whimper.

You don't get to take the silverware when you leave

The ownership of church buildings is an interesting (and apparently contentious) thing.

Starting about a decade ago, various Anglican congregations in the United States and Canada began unilaterally declaring themselves no longer members of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada as the case may be. Instead they claimed that they were now affiliated with an assortment of conservative Global South Anglican Provinces whose Primates agreed with them about homosexuality. These departing congregations attempted to retain the property they had held as constituent parishes of the two de jure Anglican Provinces. Coverage of the decision can be found here, here and here.

There may be some of the resultant court cases working their way through the system in either Canada or the United States, but this week saw one of the biggest cases draw to what was always its inevitable conclusion. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear any appeal of a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that the Episcopal Church congregation was the rightful owner of the Falls Church in Virginia, and that the so-called Falls Church Anglican congregation had to return all the property and all the money.

This is a complete repudiation of the declared strategy of schism advanced by certain ecclesiastical politicians and financed in no small part by right wing extremist groups in the US.

I'm a bit of a geographical fundamentalist. I don't think central California is in the southern part of South America. I don't think any part of Virginia is in Nigeria. I am absolutely convinced that no part of Chicago is to be found in Rwanda. The phony-baloney "protection" argument offered up by certain Global South Primates is rooted in the same peculiar heresy that undergirds the absurd Flying Bishops in England: that each and every Anglican is absolutely entitled to a bishop who agrees with them. Odd that neither Mr. Keble nor Mr. Neale, nor even Mr. Pusey were aware of this entitlement.

But more to the point, Anglican polity is not and has never been congregational. The idea that a congregation may separate from an Anglican Church utterly contradicts any authentic Anglican ecclesiology. That may be perfectly fine among Baptists or Methodists. But had the courts ruled any other way, it would have been an undeniable attack on religious liberty, with the state attempting to force an heirarchical religious body to conform to a congregational polity.

The strategy did not achieve its initial objective of wresting massive amounts of property from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. This precluded it achieving its secondary objective of using the shift in property as a pretext to "replace" the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the Anglican Communion "franchise holders" in North America - which in turn was to be the pretext to sue for all the remaining TEC / ACoC property.

But the plan did achieve its overarching goal of weakening the Episcopal Church (the Canadian Church was less a target than a guilty but cash poor bystander, really). Massive amounts of money, time and energy were expended defending the two legitimate churches from these attacks.

This week's news is good, but the past decade of expensive and ultimately pointless litigation is a tragedy for which someone will eventually have to answer - at the very least in their hearts if not at the Throne of Grace.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"We would see Jesus"

I don't know if it actually happened this way, but I have heard that, on the very day the October Revolution was ignited in Russia, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was engaged in a passionate debate over the colour of liturgical vestments.

I consider myself something of a liturgist, and I can quite understand getting passionate about aspects of liturgical minutiae. (Ask my colleagues about my passionately held opinion about thumbs in the liturgy.) But for a Church that was about to embark on a seven decade long pilgrimage of persecution and captivity, the colour of vestments seems a rather esoteric distraction. 

The internal affairs of any institution are bound to seem trifling and irrelevant to outsiders - and often even to many insiders. They certainly need to be dealt with, but the process of dealing with them can make the institution itself seem an anachronism.

The Church seems to be particularly good at making a bad impression of ourselves as we deal - passionately - with matters of greater or lesser importance in our common life. Those whom Christ died to save look at us and see, not a community showing forth the love of a merciful saviour, but rather a dyspeptic band of curmudgeons raging on against what we (presumptuously) assume is the dying of the light.

We argue over structures. We argue over liturgy. We argue (at least in places) over the role of women in the life of the Church. We argue (constantly, it seems) about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folk in the life of the Church.

And all too frequently, we don't argue with much grace or charity.

It is not surprising that Tertullian's great aphorism, "See how these Christians love one another," is so frequently referenced in sarcasm. It is even less surprising that, as many studies have shown, young people with little direct Church experience perceive us (yes, all of us) as angry, hypocritical and obsessed with sex (and not in a good way). Ghandi's view is entirely understandable: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Yes, the things we contend over are important. (Well, some of them moreso than others.) But what witness does it give the world when we look like a third period bench clearing hockey brawl?

In John's Gospel, we have the story of the Greeks who approached Philip to say, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Surely the world, looking at the Body of Christ, should be able to catch at least a fleeting glimpse of Jesus.

It's not all doom and gloom, of course. I think we do show forth Jesus in much that we do: in liturgy done well, in ministry in times of crisis, in ministries to those in greatest need.

Prior to our last diocesan synod, I was asked to give a brief to new members of synod about how it worked. While we weren't expecting any particularly contentious issues to arise (the longest debate was about a resolution that looked like motherhood and apple pie to me), I made it a point to close with this piece of advice.
I encourage remember that the person who disagrees with us on whatever issue we happen to be debating at the time loves Jesus just as much as you do. And even more importantly, I encourage you to remember that Jesus loves that person just as much as he loves you.
I forget that at least as often as anyone else. But I rather suspect that all of our disagreements would be less disagreeable if we tried to do a better job of remembering it.

She Showed Them

Tonight I got to meet one of the rising stars of the federal NDP Quebec caucus, Deputy Agriculture Critic and Berthier - Maskinongé MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau.  I blogged about Ruth Ellen a couple of years ago when she was the object of a sustained sexist and classist assault by the country's Liberal elite who objected to a "cocktail waitress" (she was actually Assistant Manager of a Pub) becoming a Member of Parliament. The Liberal Party and their friends in the media clearly believe that lowly service workers should know their place.

I said at the time:
I have no idea if Ruth Ellen Brosseau will be an effective Member of Parliament or not. God knows, there is an awful lot of dead wood stacked up on the backbenches of the two establishment parties ... But right now, every sane and sensible Canadian should be cheering for Ruth Ellen Brosseau - a proud single mom who does not deserve this print and electronic lynching.
Well, almost three years on, Ruth Ellen Brosseau has come through her baptism by fire and has proven to be a highly effective Member of Parliament. She has earned the respect of her colleagues and her constituents based on hard work and determination (see here, here, here and here). The chance to serve her country as a Member of Parliament may have fallen in her lap, but she has made the most of the opportunity.

I was particularly chuffed this evening when I showed my 2011 blogpost to Ruth Ellen and she told me that she had seen it at the time and how much it meant to her that people who had never met her were prepared to defend her right to prove herself.

She's repaid us by proving herself in spades.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Real Clarity

Premier Marois has called an election in Quebec and it is entirely possible that her Parti Quebecois will win a majority. If so, it is almost certain that there will be another referendum on Quebec sovereignty. As several politicians, commentators and just regular folks have noted, this is the last hurrah for a generation of Baby Boomer souvereignists. If they cannot create a sovereign Quebec by the end of the decade, the project is done and they will have failed.

This, in turn, has renewed debate in Canada about the possible terms of a sovereignty referendum.  The Conservatives and the Liberals - particularly the Liberals - want to rest on Stephane Dion's fraudulently named Clarity Act which provides no real clarity at all, but asserts that the federal Parliament will decide after the fact if the question was sufficiently clear and the margin sufficiently large. In other words, if 99.99% of Quebec citizens voted "Oui" on an unambiguous question, the leaders of the losing side would get to decide - after the fact - that 99.99% isn't enough and that the completely unambiguous question still wasn't clear enough.  To call that "clarity," you have to be either dishonest or delusional.

With a Scottish independence referendum already scheduled for September, we have a useful contrast of approaches. The Scottish and United Kingdom governments have negotiated the phrasing of the question and the rules for the campaign. And the agreed margin for Scottish independence is 50% plus one.

The 50% plus one margin is consistent with international law. It is the agreed position of all the major provincial parties in Quebec - including the federalist Parti Liberal. It is also the official position of Canada's New Democrats.

Some particularly unscrupulous politicians (especially Justin Trudeau) have attempted to play politics with national unity by questioning the patriotism of NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. It is ironic that a politician who was flirting with separatism less than 25 months ago is presuming to question the patriotism of the only federal party leader who has actually campaigned for Canada in not one but two referendum campaigns.

Personally, I think that trying to force Quebec to remain in Canada if more than 50% plus one Quebeckers vote to leave is ultimately an untenable proposition. It is inconsistent with international law. It would sap whatever remains of Canada's moral credibility in the world. Ultimately, it turns Canada into an occupying power.

We can realistically project that anglophone and allophone Quebeckers will vote by incredibly large margins to remain a part of Canada. And it is likely that fearful anglophones and allophones - who constitute about 20% of the Quebec population - will be more motivated to vote. If the 20% of nonfrancophone Quebeckers vote "Non" in the order of 90%, then a 50% plus one "Oui" means that francophone Quebecois would have voted to leave Canada in the order of a two-thirds majority.

Does anyone seriously care to argue that we can force two-thirds of francophone Quebecois to remain in Canada without creating perpetual (and possibly violent) conflict?

At the end of the day, preserving a united Canada means defeating the souvereignists in a referendum campaign. That means winning the referendum straight up, not by a technicality and certainly not by a post-facto manipulation of the rules. The fact that the Liberals are determined to play out the Clarity Act scam suggests that they do not believe Quebeckers would vote for Canada in a fair contest.

The NDP became the first federalist party in almost a generation to deprive Quebec separatists a majority of Quebec's seats in Parliament. They did so by beating the BQ/PQ at the polls, not by rigging the rules. New Democrats believe it can be done. Personally, I don't understand why Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have so little confidence in Canada.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Holy Women

We're running a six week Lenten program every Friday at 5:45 pm, with soup to follow and then a Bible study. Some folk do Friday @ 5:45 and soup. Some do soup and Bible study. A few do all three. No one has come just for soup yet, although I suppose that would be okay too.)

Friday @ 5:45 is a brief service of contemporary worship with a focus. One year it was the Stations of the Cross from various perspectives. Last year we had a series of monologues featuring various characters from the Gospels. This year the focus is Holy Women.

Today, we heard about Perpetua and Felicity, who were martyred in the arena in Carthage in 202. Using For All the Saints as a resource, we heard the short biography by the late Professor Stephen Reynolds, and then an excerpt from The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity featuring Perpetua's own journal from the days leading up to her death. I was broadly familiar with the story, but had never heard or read anything from the original document which had led to a significant cult of these saints in the early church.

By happy coincidence, today's session happened to fall on the actual feast day of these martyrs.

Over the coming weeks, we will be hearing about:

  • Margaret of Scotland, Queen of Scots and Helper of the Poor, 1093 (March 14)
  • Julian of Norwich, Anchoress, Mystic and Spiritual Teacher, c. 1417 (March 21)
  • Teresa of Avila, Mystic, Spiritual Teacher and Reormer, 1582 (March 28)
  • Hannah Grier Coome, Founder of the Sisters of St. John the Divine, 1921 (April 4)
  • Florence Li Tim-Oi, First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion, 1992 (April 11)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ash Thursday - A Ripple in the Space-Time Continuum

Like most parochial clergy, I have ministries to some of the special care homes within the parish.  Today I presided at two eucharists in two different care homes. And since most of the participants would not have had the opportunity to participate in the traditional Ash Wednesday rite, we played a little fast and loose with the calendar and observed . . . Ash Thursday, for lack of a better word.

I'm quite accustomed to manipulating the sanctoral calendar for our parish midweek eucharist. If there is a holy day or saint's day on the day of the service, we will observe it. But if it happens to be a ferial day (ie, if there is no holy day or saint's day), I'll routinely shift a saint from elsewhere in the week. I'm perfectly comfortable with doing so because the midweek services are the only opportunity most folk in the pews will have to learn about those exemplary Christians.

I have to confess, mucking about with Ash Wednesday felt a trifle odder than observing St. Tarcisus of the Holy Eucharist on Wednesday instead of Monday. But even so, I'm convinced it was the right thing to do. Beginning Lent with ashes has important ritual and teaching value. What is a ripple in the space-time continuum next to the opportunity to help people to focus on keeping a holy Lent?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Already behind on my Lenten discipline

Having concluded that I need to be more disciplined about blogging, I decided that the thing I would "take on" for Lent would be to blog every day. Well, I haven't gone to bed yet, but technically this post is going up after Ash Wednesday is over. Sigh.

The Dean and I did Ashes 2 Go today. This is our third time taking the Ash Wednesday liturgy (or at least an excerpt of the liturgy) into the street. This year we did it at the end of the day instead of the beginning, and we did it at the south transept door of the Cathedral where there is a bus stop. Overall we found that the response of passers by was more relaxed and more positive, and we had what was probably the deepest single encounter of the several we've had over the three attempts.

That plus two full Ash Wednesday liturgies in the parish, along with several other commitments, made for a full day.  The evening version of my Ash Wednesday sermon can be heard here.