Welcome does not equal naivete. On the refugee crisis.

This morning alone I have participated in 4 facebook conversations about the refugee crisis in Europe. They are really important conversations, but I have to get to work, so I am going to post a few thoughts here so I can feel like I have said what I need to say and try and get some work done.
Note: when I use ‘we’ and ‘us’ I mean those of us privileged to leave in Europe and North America and the governments we have elected.
1. I do not doubt there are fraudulent refugee claimants in Europe and all over the world. When we keep our borders closed for years until a flood comes and we open them all at once in a way that overwhelms our systems, we have left the door wide open (pun intended) for fraud. That’s our doing.
2. I will not judge all refugees on the actions of a few. Just because one group of refugees cramming themselves into leaky tents in the pouring rain stand in the mud behind barbed wire and send fully armed police away with boxes printed with a red cross on them-a sign to many of western oppression-does not mean we stop providing for or caring about all refugees.
Also, if I had just left a civil war by boat to make it to land and abandoned my family and friends and was then faced with barbed wire behind which people live in lavish safety and privilege, I may find it hard to express appropriate gratitude. I won’t judge all refugees because some of them, even many of them, may be “rude”.
3. Like most crisis moments, this should be opening our eyes to the fact that Syrians are not the only refugees in the world. The fact that other refugees are taking advantage of this crisis is a message to all of us that we have rejected refugees for way way too long.
4. We all have to open our borders and we have to help relieve the pressure on Syria’s border countries or we will have more conflict and refugees to deal with. Canada and many countries refused boatloads of Jews before WWII. We have capacity. Our security is enough. I was a child when we took in 70,000 Vietnamese refugees in less than 5 years. We did it. No one blew up our country. We have the security in place. We can do so much more.
If you want to hear more from me on this, here is a post I wrote two years about about the civil war in Syria when Canada was beginning our military intervention. As world powers we can stop jumping from crisis to crisis. If we voters stopped focussing on what we can get this election cycle and start demanding a stronger arc of justice, we might be just create the political will we need to end these crises.

Thank you, Terry Jones

Yes, you read that right.

No, I’m not talking about Terry Jones from Monty Python.

I am thanking Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, FL who came up with the horrendous plan of burning copies of the Qur’an on September 11 as a protest against the Park 51 project.

It starts with a Florida pastor blind with rage and ends with me being blessed to join a Muslim community for Eid al-Fitur.

On Thursday in the midst of a very hectic and random day at the church, we three priests and a friend from the United Church were talking about the media frenzy around this obscure pastor and his inflammatory (no pun intended) plans. Wouldn’t it be nice if the media focussed on a Christian community that believed in the right for all people of faith to have a place to worship? These kinds of questions are dangerous on my team, a team of ENFPs.

Within 3 hours, using up cell-phone minutes, broadband and connecting across neighbourhoods and faiths, we had a table organized at our local farmer’s market for Saturday, September 11, where we would distribute copies of the Qur’an and ask people to sign a peace wall with messages of peace and reconciliation.

Our poster for the community gathering for peace and reconciliation

In the midst of the afternoon, I put a call into the Noor Cultural Centre, a large Islamic centre in Toronto, to let them know what we were doing and to seek some advice on appropriate actions we could take. The administrator told me that everyone who could answer my questions was taking the afternoon off to prepare their homes for Eid. “Of course,” she said brightly, “You could always come for Eid and meet everyone tomorrow.”

I have had lots of experience with cross-cultural experiences, but I have to be honest, invitations to a festival or event in another culture I am NOT familiar with scares me. Thanks to my first cross-cultural experience in high school (I’ll tell you the story another time. I’ll just say a classmate made an error that sent our guest from another culture into a shouting frenzy.), I am terrified of making a mistake, having that mistake pointed out, and having to leave in shame. Particularly coming from PEI, with six registered Jewish families and probably a similar number of Muslim families. My inter-faith dialogue count = zilch!

And so, with the little bit I learned from Wikipedia and a very helpful reminder from our interfaith chaplain and parish warden to bring a head covering, I hit the train and bus on my way to Don Mills and Eglinton.

I stood in a doorway of a very crowded room while the community prayed. A lovely thing happens when you observe a Muslim community praying. You see everyone standing and praying. Then, everyone kneels and prays. Then, the adults prostrate themselves, and all these children pop up! Of course, they have been standing the whole time, you just get to see them when the adults are bent over. The kids immediately start looking around, because now they can see!

When it came time for the sermon by Imam Timothy, a row of women squeezed a little tighter so I could sit and join them. His sermon was powerful and enlightening. He preached on a beautiful passage (forgive me for not having a reference. I am unfamiliar with the Qur’an. If you know it please leave it in the comments below) about the Lord being the Lord of light and our hope in the midst of darkness. He reminded us that God pulls us up from the darkness into the light, and never the other way around. We draw each other into darkness. He reminded us that now, in the midst of the fear the community feels as September 11 looms closer, we are called not to violence, but to educate and seek common knowledge. As he expressed the reaction of his community to the actions of Terry Jones, I hung my head in shame. I was then encouraged and lifted up as he shared messages of solidarity from faith groups around the world.

After the service I managed to carve out a space in the crowd to meet the president and imam. They were heartened and encouraged by our plans, and invited us to further dialogue and celebration. It was an Eid Sa’eed indeed!

So, Pastor Jones, thank you.

  • Thank you for opening my eyes to the very real and frightening side of the Islamophobia that is slithering into North American culture
  • Thank you for firing up the creative juices of my team. The more we work together on projects we are passionate about the better team we become, and better pastors to our people
  • Thank you for opening a door for me to engage my youth in a dialogue about faith and justice
  • Thank you for starting a chain of events that brought me to my first Eid. I am very grateful for today and it is all thanks to you

Terry Jones, Salaam alaikum.

Hearing the prophetic voice

My sermon for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary which, my 13 year old critic tells me, was really good. Glad I got the voice right =)

But before you read my ruminations, since I am preaching about the prophetic voice of youth today, I want to share a post from one of my favourite tweeps and bloggers, @thunderclap, over at as you like it. We met at General Synod and I have appreciated her profound. political and witty thoughts. This is her reflection on the 9/11 Site Mosque Controversy.

And here is my offering for today:

Year C
Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
August 15, 2008
HE: Trinity Aurora
Focus text: Luke 1:44-56

One of the most profound, poetic and challenging prophecies in our Scriptures comes from the mouth of a young girl. She was pregnant. She wasn’t married, but she was engaged, and her fiancé was not the father of her child.

Her name is Mary.

As we hear the words of our gospel today, a song that is commonly known as the Magnificat, Mary is nothing like we would imagine a young teenage mother. I say imagine deliberately. If this were any other teenage girl, we would imagine she would be terrified. We imagine a teenager would rebel or scream “Rape” at the angel Gabriel. We imagine she would skulk away to have the baby then put her or him up for adoption, or not carry the baby to term at all.

Instead, she takes off, alone, confident, across the hill country to share her news with her cousin, Elizabeth, and then proclaims these words to Elizabeth and Zachariah. Her words are full of love, power, confidence, authority and strength.

And we imagine how Joseph, a teenage boy, would react at the news that his beloved was pregnant. He would be furious. We imagine his parents would keep him from seeing Mary ever again. We imagine he would be terrified, too, and would just drop Mary and find another bride, denying the baby was his.

Luke doesn’t tell us a great deal of what lies on their hearts, but their actions speak for themselves. Joseph and Mary are spiritually mature and remain faithful to God and to one another. They become parents to a child neither knows, and they raise him as their son.

We think that these are remarkable young people. Actually, they aren’t. They are young, and what they do is generous and faithful and admirable, but they aren’t remarkable. They are probably 8 out of the 10 kids that I have met in my ministry, whether they come to Church or not.

Take a moment and imagine a prophet. What are the qualities of a prophet? Passion, wisdom, articulate, poetic, transforming, life changing.

We imagine the prophets of the Bible as near the end of their lives, looking back to gain wisdom from their experience, but most of the prophets of the Bible are young, passionate and spiritually mature who have gained their wisdom through prayer and a forward looking perspective on what is happening in the present. Miriam, Solomon, David, Samuel, Elisha, Joshua, Jonah, most of the disciples, Paul, Timothy and Phillip, and others are young women and men, probably called by God before or at the age they would marry. They were teenagers and young adults.

The wisdom of ages reflects back on our history to learn lessons for the present. The prophetic wisdom, the wisdom of youth, observes our present and looks forward into our future. This makes sense, because the future belongs to them.

A prophecy is not the same as a fortune. It can be many things, but it is very much grounded in the present. It could be a warning, or a declaration of victory. A prophecy communicates the love and grace and will of God. The Magnificat is proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes that Mary is “no politician, no revolutionary; she simply wants to sing a happy song, but all of a sudden she has become an articulate radical, an astonished prophet singing about a world in which the last have become first and the first, last”.

In a world and economy like ours, these are threatening words. We are the powerful who will be thrown from our thrones. We hold the top 1-2% of the world’s wealth. According to Mary, the salvation the little one in her womb will bring means we will lose so much that we treasure, and that those who have little will hold power over us. This salvation is not for individuals, to claim in their own hearts, but for a whole world.

Because this makes us squirm a little, we are tempted to dismiss passionate, divisive words such as these as the idealistic words of a young girl who has not even held down a job and is still living with her parents. We live in a world where our value is directly tied to our ability to contribute economically to our society. If you haven’t held down a job, or are still living with your parents, or have moved back in with your children in your older age, or live on social assistance, we will listen politely, but more often than not will find a different way than yours. Children and youth face that attitude every day.

And yet, these are who God has called throughout our history to prophesy to the world, to tell us how we are reflecting God’s will for God’s people, to correct us, to bring us hope and share God’s grace. They have been called before they are 18, before they are confirmed, even before they are baptized, to minister and prophesy to us, God’s people.

The next time you are blessed to hear the prophetic voice, I hope it will be from someone far younger than me, but I want to share with you some of what I have been privileged to hear as I have walked alongside children and youth.

Concern for God’s creation is HUGE. We are handing a mess to our next generation, and they are crying to us to change our ways. They are furious that our dependence on oil resulted in the destruction of so much of the Gulf of Mexico. They are tired of us setting targets and then breaking them with our greed. And they are right, we know it.

There is also fear as they are graduating into a fragile economy (that we created) with the great pressures and expectations we place on them to get a degree, get a good job, experience the world and buy a house. They see our short-sighted solutions of tax-cuts as self-serving and leaving less in our social safety net for their future health needs and their current education.

They are passionate about fair trade and local engagement. We may not see this because traditional institutions like Rotary, Lions and the church are seeing a decline. And yet, volunteerism is actually up, because young adults are forming less bureaucratic, less institutional ways of serving their community and their world.

We are all feeling the burden of the pressure of living economy driven lives. We sit here tired, enjoying the relaxation of summer and already starting to ramp up again for the rat race of September. Young people are seeking enough money to live lives of meaning. Two weeks ago we read about a man who was only able to enjoy his life when he had amassed a great deal of wealth. Young people are teaching us to seek joy and meaning in every stage of life.

And, believe it or not, they care about the Church. They want to belong. They want to know Jesus and believe in the Good News of the gospel. The best hope for us is young people who want to help, be part of our leadership and share their creative energy with us.

Roots Among the Rocks, the play that is coming to Trinity on the 26th, is a phenomenal opportunity to experience this prophetic voice. You are in this performance because it is your story. The actors have brought their own experiences alongside the stories of grandparents, fellow parishioners, mentors and friends, to reflect to us, our story. This play is a prophecy, the actors are prophets, and I hope you will come to experience God’s power and grace in your story.

Mary, this young, brave, passionate, confident woman, who models so many of our young people, is calling us to value the creative gifts of children and youth, especially their prophetic voice, and to look and listen for God’s voice and handiwork, not in spite of youth, but because of it. We are blessed when we walk together across ages and across generations and we honour all voices.

Open your heart and your mind to hear the challenging, powerful, caring and generous voice of the Holy Spirit as you encounter the children and youth of Trinity. They have so much to teach us. God is using them to bear Christ in our midst. Listen, for the voice of the Holy Spirit and for the direction of God, in the proclamations of our children and youth.

More sermons from the preachers at Trinity Aurora

Friday Five: Jesus and Politics

Over at a newly discovered blog, RevGalBlogPals, there is a tradition of asking bloggers five questions on Fridays. As a Canadian, I thought this set was intriguing. I’ll give ‘er a go:

Well it may or may not have escaped the notice of many that over in the UK we have been awaiting the results of the General Election…. it has been the most closely fought election for many years, and the result…a hung or balanced Parliament, with no outright winner… and it has got everybody talking…
So what do you think about the mix of faith and politics:

1. Jesus a political figure: discuss…

Definitely. Jesus was living in a time of violent political conflict, how could he not be? He encouraged the victims and spoke out against oppressive laws that preyed on the poor to increase the status and treasuries of the powerful.

2. Politics in the pulpit, yes or no and why?

Politics, yes, partisanship, no. Right now in Canada we are living with an increasingly autocratic conservative government. While I recognize that, compared to the US, this government is a bunch o’ hippies, I am increasingly struggling with speaking out against legislation, like cutting funding to our social justice arm and calling us anti-semitic, cancelling funding to women’s groups that work for safe abortions in other countries and other women’s groups “just because” it seems. While not specifically naming the political party, my partisan politics are becoming more and more publicly clear. I likely won’t know how partisan I am myself until another party takes the Parliament and starts doing similar things. Will I speak out as vocally?

3.What are your thoughts on the place of prayer in public life…

As a chaplain, I am often asked to offer grace at meals and opening “meditations”. I do it when asked and try to keep an interfaith context. I think public life could use some time and space for reflection, to give thanks, to just be silent. But politics are for preaching, not prayers.

4.Is there a political figure, Christian or otherwise that you admire for their integrity?

I like Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine. I appreciate his honest grappling with evangelism and social justice, recognizing that social justice is not solely in the realm of liberals.

5.What are your thoughts on tactical voting, e.g. would you vote for one individual/party just to keep another individual/ party from gaining power?

We are living in a minority government right now, and, as of yet, I have not voted strategically. In the last election we had an interesting system in Canada called vote swapping. In order to defeat the incumbents in government (Conservatives), members of the two leading opposition parties (Liberals and NDP) set up a system whereby a Liberal in a riding where the NDP were second in the polls would agree to vote NDP in exchange for an NDP voter in a riding where the Liberals were second in the polls would agree to vote Liberal. After four years of minority (hung) Parliament we are facing yet another election, and depending on where I am living, I may vote strategically because our current Conservatives are winning mostly due to voter apathy and too many different parties in the opposition.

Oh my. I hope that makes sense.

Bonus- is there a song which might sum this all up- if so post a video or a link…

Our current political environment is certainly not the fault of Her Royal Majesty, and I am rather fond of our Queen and our Governor General, but the Sex Pistols seem to have the right sentiment.