Thankfulness

I’m working on a project for the United Church of Canada that would bring Indigenous people who had survived the Residential School System together with United Church Ministers, Students and Staff (leaders and future leaders). We would listen to Elders and Storykeepers, share a meal together, and then talk about how United Churches leaders can exemplify and promote an understanding of equity in our faith communities.

I’ve received good guidance and a great deal of encouragement for this project, which I hope we will offer in the Spring of 2020 at an Indigenous retreat centre. If it goes well it will be a pilot for similar programs offered across the country. This is a way for us to respond to the recommendations of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I ran into a glitch while applying for grants for this project. The grants would, in effect, come from agencies associated with the United Church General Council Office. And I listed the General Council Office as the sponsoring Organisation to receive the grants. Turns out that wasn’t a good idea, they aren’t quite enough at arms-length, but I found out 5 days before the grant application deadline.

My only other avenue was Forest Grove United Church. We are in the early stages of discovering what it means to be a congregation of settlers who are trying to establish right relations with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. And I have received encouragement for this project from those in the church with whom I have spoken. But asking them to be a sponsoring organisation (which means receiving and disbursing and being accountable for funds) was a step beyond. And I needed an answer from our Church Council asap.

I presented it as best I could, answered several questions, and then received overwhelming support.

I am not surprised, this is a gracious and just and forward-thinking faith community. I am thankful, however, to be a minister in the midst of such people.

Comments? Questions? email Cameron, minister@forestgroveunited.com

Skunk redux

No, the dog did not get sprayed again. The other evening I was putting supper together with the helpful distraction of two grandchildren when my son called out for me. There was a slight urgency to his voice.

“Dad, how do you get a skunk out of the garage?” The first response is to wonder if there is one, and then, if so, how it got there. That doesn’t address the immediate concern.

We lived for 17 years in a small town that had its share of skunks, but nothing like the numbers we see in our neighbourhood all the time. Most of my fellow dog owners have had to bathe their pets this year (the recipe is online if you need it). And they rival raccoons in size (the skunks). Apparently they (the skunks) have poor eyesight as well, so they can’t necessarily see the gapingly wide garage door that is available for them to exit once the car is moved.

In the small town skunk removal usually involved the patience of putting cat food in a live trap, waiting to catch Pepe LePew and then gassing him with vehicle exhaust. Some chose to kill the skunk, some thought it more humane to render them unconscious and release them far from home. If the need was more urgent a garden hose on full was generally effective in chasing them out but not something you wanted to do if there was new drywall in the garage. It doesn’t take much to detonate a threatened skunk.

We debated my suggestions. A neighbour offered a leaf blower to scare it out. While he went to get it I started to think about how effective that would be in dispersing skunk tear gas in an enclosed space.

So I went to that online encyclopedia called YouTube and searched “How to get a skunk out of your garage.” There were several video examples of people attempting this, all of which ended in ads for professional pest removal companies.

My son is humane. He has new drywall in his garage.

I came out to find him, from as safe a vantage point as possible, directing a gentle stream of water to a spot beside the skunk. It took the hint and started to find its way out of the garage. Toward my son. He redirected the spray to discourage this and shortly after it ambled out of the garage and down the alley. Success. Happy ending.

You recall I mentioned my dog at the beginning.I didn’t share that story here before, but on Labour Day weekend the poor guy just got freed from his e-collar after recovery from surgery, ran outside and boom. Black and white new friend. They have no experience of each other so of course he got sprayed. The dog, not the skunk.

This is not the first dog that we’ve owned and had to bathe. If you see it happen, or see the dog shortly thereafter (you’ll be looking, they will want your attention and all your senses will be at work), you will note the bewildered look on their face. “What just happened and why did that creature do that to me?” And, “What do mean I can’t come in the house to the comfort of my dog bed?”

Skunks are an urban fact of life. So are the poor in our midst, homeless people. We tend to respond to them in the same manner. At a distance. We prefer to keep them that way. We design park benches so that they can’t lie down on them. We lock TTC entrances and bank vestibules so they can’t use them for shelter. We shunt them between shelters without a plan to help the many of them with mental health challenges.

What we’ve learned from other urban experience is that if they have a home they can call their own they begin to heal and some hold down jobs. Not all. But most of what we do is like directing a gentle spray of water at them to keep them moving and to clean up where they’ve left.

We shrug our shoulders and cite Jesus’ words “The poor we have with us always” and assume that we can’t fix everything and can’t take care of everyone. I don’t think he meant we shouldn’t try. I think he was acknowledging the size of the task and our unwillingness to help.

Comments? Questions? Contact Cameron, minister@forestgroveunited.com.

And More Apologies, and an ongoing commitment

Last week the big news in protests in Toronto was our local Climate Strike Day on September 27th. Mostly youth, tens of thousands of us stood and walked in solidarity with each other, clear that our leaders, political and the private sector, have a responsibility to us to stop the ruin of our planet. It was a hopeful and happy and sombre event.

I was there with my daughter-in-law and grandchildren and the rest of the family was there in spirit.

And I went to a second protest, a counter-protest, the next day. A group of fundamentalist Christians and White Supremacists banded together to walk up Church Street through what is known as the Gay Village to assert their rights to preach their hatred of people who aren’t white and straight. Even to preach at them, publicly.

One group confronted the protesters near their starting point at Church and The Esplanade. Another gathered at Barbara Hall Park in the heart of the Gay Village for a “Love Wins” Rally. 2-300 people gathered to hear the Mayor, Councillors and Provincial and Federal representatives and Candidates declare that while there was a place in Canada and Toronto for free speech, there was no place for hatred.

Then a group of Christian leaders took to the mic to say the same thing and to apologise to the LGBTQ2+ community for the evils inflicted on them in the past in the name of Christianity. The apologies were pointed and heart-felt. Others spoke of the privilege the church has in embracing everyone. I was invited to speak but did not offer an apology. I shared with the crowd that I was tired. Tired of fighting against those who diminish them, tired of those who seek to marginalise the gifts of everyone there, tired. And then said I’m not so tired that I will not stand between them and anyone who seeks to diminish them and marginalise them.

The event ended with the unfurling of a huge gay pride flag as celebration of everyone there. Looks pretty wonderful doesn’t it?

Comments? Questions? email Cameron, minister@forestgroveunited.com

Apologies

Apologies are simple. We acknowledge we have done something wrong. We acknowledge we have harmed someone. We promise not to do it again.

We’ve made apologies complicated. We suggest we may have done something wrong but that the person we may have harmed may carry a burden of emotional trauma (“I’m sorry you’re hurt”). We offer that we may have done something wrong but we have an acceptable, to us, reason for doing it (“I didn’t know any better”). We wonder if we really have harmed anyone (“If I did something that hurt you, then I’m sorry”). We hope that we won’t do it again.

Jesus told a story of a man who apologised for messing up his boss’s accounts and borrowing more than he could repay. He begged forgiveness. He received it and promptly went to one of his debtors and had him thrown in prison even though the man, who owed him much less, begged for forgiveness. When the first apology proved to ring untrue the boss had the one who initially received mercy thrown in prison. The story ends with both men in prison.

We listened to a big apology this past week.

It was offered by a teacher who acknowledged that he had acted out of his unconscious racism. He apologised to a larger constituency who have the power to decide whether or not he keeps his job.

It could have been a better apology.

Racialised persons face something called shadeism every day. It’s the unconscious communication that attributes positive character traits to persons with lighter skin. Children, in a Toronto District School Board study, proved to be particularly susceptible to this communication, discovering that teachers treated them differently depending on their proximate whiteness.

Imagine a teacher who can change his skin colour then go back to being a more positive shade.

A better apology might be for the teacher to arrange to return to the school where he taught and meet with the staff and students and alumni of that school and apologise to the persons of colour who were his students and peers. And promise not to perpetuate the myth that the whiter you are the better you are.

Comments? Questions? email Cameron, minister@forestgroveunited.com