Drop-in Office is being suspended while the building is closed. I am available for phone visits, or if you want virtual visits on Zoom, Facetime, or Facebook Messenger Chat. If you want to talk, just reach out to me at 289-383-1036 and we will make arrangements. Rev. Dana

January 20, 2022

Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the United States, and while we as Canadians do not mark the day officially, it is an opportunity to pause and reflect. Over the last eighteen months the divisions in our society have become increasingly apparent, and there has been a genuine desire to begin to address it. The Social Justice and Advocacy Motion at our last annual vestry meeting encouraged us about to talk about and begin to address anti-racism and anti-bias, especially against the black community. As a parish we made the commitment to invite a speaker and host a follow-up conversation, which has led to further conversations and personal reflection. We also acknowledged that this is a challenging topic for many of us because it requires an openness and self-reflection about how our worldview has been shaped and the bias that we may hold.  This can be uncomfortable, because we sometimes do not like what we see, what we realize about how we see the world and others. The conversations I have been part of, both in small groups and with individuals this past year, have also been heartening because I hear willingness and genuine desire to recognize and where necessary change our perspectives. 

In a podcast I listened to this week Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, and CEO of the centre bearing his name, talked about the theme for the 2022 MLK Day observance ‘It Starts with Me: Shifting Priorities to Create the Beloved Community.’ This theme caught my attention because first, it echoes what came out of our discussions, that addressing racism and bias begins within each of us. While many want to and are working toward societal changes, it really begins with our self-reflection and self-realization, the acknowledgement that each of us has our own bias or lens through which we see and interact with the world around us. Secondly, the idea of creating beloved community is at the heart of who we are and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. Being and creating communities, bridging the differences that exist between us, as we celebrate the image of God imprinted on every human being. 

Jesus’ life was an example of diversifying your community, of bringing together people who might not naturally come together. Jesus was often criticized for his inclusiveness, for the people he spent time with and the way he treated them. In his case he reached across ethnic and religious boundaries to those beyond the Jewish world, he reached out to those who were marginalized by disease, life circumstances and life choices, those seen as sinful or unclean. And what we sometimes miss, is that he also reached out to those who were powerful like Pharisees and leaders of the synagogue. Jesus’ circle was an example of a diverse and beloved community. 

Paul picks up this theme of unity in diversity in some of his letters. Particularly, for example his first letter to the Corinthians in which he uses the image of the body to talk about the different parts of community, and how each is essential to well-being and functioning of the whole. Paul says, “for just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12).  Corinth was a very diverse place, and that meant that often one group would look down on, or set themselves against another. In many ways, Corinth is a microcosm of our world today, in which we increasingly interact with people who are different from us whether that is race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or a multitude of characteristics by which we identify ourselves and categorize others. 

While we are part of diverse communities, our own circles, those we choose to associate with may be less diverse. There is a natural tendency to gravitate to those who are like us, who look like, and think like us, who have similar beliefs and perspectives, with similar life experiences, hobbies and interests. As well, the news that we choose to watch and read, tends to reflect and even re-inforce our existing perceptions and views. The posts that we see on social media, coming from friends and from those we follow, who also tend to re-inforce our existing perspectives. This is not a criticism, but a reality for most of us, because to constantly be challenged is draining mentally and psychologically, and can in fact lead to a negative self-image. 

The key, I think, is finding the balance where we are being challenged but also have safe places and people with whom to reflect. I liken it to exercise, it is good when you feel the ache of muscles that have been pushed, it is not good when your muscles hurt so bad you can barely move. A starting point can be to expose ourselves to different perspectives and voices, ones that give us insight to the experience of others, especially those who have or have had very different life experiences from our own.

Ellen Cotton, our webmaster has created a post on our website about ways to diversify your feed (what you see and interact with on Social Media), in this case, by following social media accounts from our own community that regularly post anti-racism content. 

In a world where the differences too often lead to divisions and strife, we are called to build bridges of understanding, bridges that help us to appreciate the richness of our community, and gifts that we each bring to community. Being in relationship, especially with those who hold differing opinions and perspectives is not easy, but it is faithful to the one who calls us to be his beloved, God in whose image every person on earth was made. 

*Follow-up to last week’s reflection: I was asked how to get a Star Word. I found a church that was offering Star Words based on choosing a number and then finding the corresponding word. I have posted the link on Facebook and you can find it here

January 13, 2022

A few years ago, in one of the clergy groups I belong to, colleagues were referring to something called “Star Words” as a part of their Epiphany celebrations. The magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts and we, who are also seeking Jesus, trust God can and does use many different signs to guide us on our journey of faith. At the beginning of a new year, people are often seeking to start the year with some intention or direction that will guide them through the year. It is one of the reasons we make New Year’s resolutions, a commitment to growth or change in the year to come. On Epiphany, “Star Words” is a display of stars, each having a word on it, and people are invited to take one. Often the stars are folded so that the words printed on them were not visible when people were choosing their star. People are asked to trust that whatever star they choose, that the word on that star was meant for them, and to prayerfully ask God to reveal how that word could help to shape or guide their year to come. It became so meaningful to some people that those who could not be present would ask others to prayerfully choose a word for them. In one forum I am part of, colleagues whose church do not do Star Words, would ask someone who did, if they could choose a star for them. The last two years when some churches were not open for in-person worship, the pastor would prayerfully choose and email those who wanted a Star Word. To me this was all very interesting, but that was as far as it went for me until this year. 

A few weeks ago, as the new year dawned, and Epiphany approached, colleagues were once again talking about Star Words. Then, last week a friend posted on Facebook, that she was offering Star Words to anyone who wanted one, all you had to do was email her. She would pray about it and then trusting computer algorithms, generate a word, and email you a picture of your word on a nice star background. Perhaps it was staring down another January with uncertainty about the future, with a rise in cases and dire warnings, but something prompted me to ask her to send me a word. A few hours later I received an email with a beautiful graphic upon which was written my Star Word, “build”. I printed it and taped it up in front of my desk in the rectory, so that each time I sit down it is right there inviting me to think and pray about how God is calling me to live into that word and how it might shape me and the year to come. I am pretty sure I’m not being called to build a new church or some other physical structure, but build can have so many different meanings. As I reflect on my word and what it may mean, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17). While I don’t know yet fully what my word will come to mean for me in the coming year, I know that it begins with prayer, to ask for God’s direction and guidance in my life and my ministry, so that whatever I do, I do it to the glory of God. 

While you may not have a Star Word, you can still ask God to place a word on your heart or in your mind to guide and direct your life this coming year. Perhaps it is a word you hear or read in scripture, or a song. If you find that God has placed a word on your life for this coming year, and you’d like to talk about it, I’d love to hear about it, whether I can help with any resources or if you simply want to talk about what it might mean. I ask for your prayers as I discern what “build” will mean for me this coming year and I promise to pray for you, that God will also place a word on your heart for this coming year. 

January 5, 2022

The beginning of a new year is often a time of great hope, a blank slate for us to write all that we experience and learn over the coming 12 months. As we begin 2022, that hope for many, has been replaced by uncertainty, fear and anxiety about what this year will bring. Just when we thought we might be emerging from the pandemic, Omicron swept in like a tidal wave, changing everything.

Not feeling very hopeful myself, I discovered a podcast from one my favourite sources, “The Language of God” by Biologos. I have written before about this organization and their podcasts that are primarily focused on the intersection of faith and science. In mid-December they released their 100th podcast. To celebrate, they reconnected with some of their former guests, focusing on the question that often was asked of the guest at the end of each episode, “what are you hopeful for?”  At a time when hope seems in limited supply, this podcast entitled “May Hope Abound,” grabbed my attention. In particular a segment on the relationship between hope and lament based on the work of Kelly Kapic, and importance of having a healthy balance of both. Kapic calls this faithful suffering, and is quoted as saying, “hope cannot be seen and felt unless brokenness and pain are recognized first.” Hope, particularly in terms of faith is grounded in acknowledging and lamenting that things are not the way they should be but believing that better is possible. As Paul says in Romans 5, “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3b-4). As followers of Jesus, we believe that God is at work in the world, redeeming brokenness of the world, leading a new creation. There is no doubt that we live in a broken world, but faith in God says it can be redeemed, wholeness is possible through the one who does the impossible. 

Following the December 26th death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a man that transcended the world of faith to be an inspiration to the world, I have been reading some of the various quotes from him. Many of these also speak of the connection between suffering and hope. Archbishop Tutu was a man who knew great suffering as a black man in South Africa during Apartheid. But he also was part of the reconciliation that followed, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Archbishop Tutu is a man who despite, or perhaps because of the suffering he faced, was filled with amazing joy. There are a couple of quotes I came across from him that speak of the link between suffering, joy and hope, that I would like to share with you:

“Discovering more joy does not save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters.”

“Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.” 

Archbishop Tutu’s hope was also linked to his belief that as God’s children we are all connected, and that as we come to recognize our interconnectedness as beloved children of God, we can change the world for the better. I have a children’s book on my shelf that he wrote called “God’s Dream” that expresses the hope of what the world could be like if we saw each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of our differences, and sought to reach out in love to each other. It is not a denial of our differences, but a celebration of them.

For me, living in the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety of our present world, I am grabbing hold of the hope expressed by Archbishop Tutu, the hope that comes from recognizing the sorrow and brokenness around us and within us, and choosing to step bravely into the storm knowing God is with us in this storm. This also means choosing to seek to be part of the healing, by loving others.

If you would like to listen to the Podcast, “Let Hope Abound” it can be found here along with the transcript and additional resources from the episode, https://biologos.org/podcast-episodes/may-hope-abound

December 29, 2021

Happy 5th day of Christmas (Wednesday December 29, as we continue to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas). At Trinity we are actually extending the season by 4 days to celebrate Epiphany on Sunday January 9 rather than January 6, and who doesn’t like more Christmas? Our celebration of Christmas can sometimes feel counter to the world around us that has been celebrating long before Christmas, and we are just starting. The Advent season that precedes Christmas is our time of preparation as a time to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus, who’s coming into the world, changes the world. With Advent having prepared our hearts, the Christmas season is a time to celebrate Jesus’ coming and the difference it makes in our lives, and in the world around us. 

As noted in my Christmas Eve sermon this year, we are invited to follow in Mary’s example to treasure and ponder in our hearts, the Christmas story and the small God moments we experience in our daily lives. One of those details in the Christmas story I have been pondering this year, is “because there was no room for them in the inn.” In our world there are many who find there is no room for them, whether physically in terms of no place to stay, or figuratively in the way they are excluded or overlooked for various reasons. Over the last two years we have become more aware of those who have previously been invisible, those whose lives have left them out in the cold, both figuratively and/or literally. 

I participated in the Coldest Night of the Year for the first time last year. It was something I had often considered before, but there always seemed some reason, some excuse, for why I just couldn’t. It was the requirement to isolate as a result of the pandemic, that helped me realize that many did not have the ability to isolate, or even quarantine if required. It was enough to move me from good intentions to action. Whether it is those who rely on the shelter system, those who couch surf from friend to friend, or those who often use public spaces like libraries, or coffee shops to keep warm, most of which were closed in the early days of COVID-19. Knowing that I have a safe place to shelter in place, while others do not, was the final push I needed. While last year’s Coldest Night of the Year was different from other years, done as individuals or family groups rather than as one larger event, it was great to be part of a team from Trinity Anglican, working together towards a common goal. Who knows what this year will bring; hopefully we will be able to participate with others this year, but if not, that is OK, We are still working together toward raising money and more importantly awareness for an important cause. 

For Advent this year I shared the Advent of Gratitude calendar that I have taken part of for a few years now. Each day reminding me of some of the blessings in my life that are easy to take for granted. I suggested that anyone who wanted to join could donate to one of the two charities that serve those where there is no “place in the inn”, Inn from the Cold in Newmarket, or David Busby Centre in Barrie. If you took part and have not made your donation yet, one suggestion is to sponsor our Trinity Bradford Cares team or one of our members. That is what I am going to do this year. The easiest way is through the team page for Coldest Night of the Year, here. If you need help or want to donate in another way, please feel free to contact me. 

As you continue to celebrate this Christmas season, may you treasure and ponder in your heart the love of God extended to all who are made in God’s image. May we seek to make room for all as we advocate for respect and dignity for all people. 

December 16, 2021

I had a moment of déjà vu as I listened to and read the news Monday morning, thinking about what the rising case number meant for me, for the church and surrounding community, and especially what they will mean for Christmas. We have all been here before. First, in March of 2020 as sports leagues were put on hiatus, and travel restrictions were enacted and then suddenly, we were in lockdown. Looking back, it is amazing how quickly most people adapted. I still cannot believe that in about 24 hours we became an online church, using my iPhone for our first virtual service. Fast forward to December 20, 2020 and case counts were again skyrocketing and regional restrictions were being implemented. We knew that tighter restrictions were coming for everyone, we just didn’t know what or when. I remember standing with the wardens, Patti and Cynthia at the Nativity Tour that evening, greeting people and feeling a bit panicked as we talked about how we could revamp Christmas if the media speculation of lockdown before Christmas was true. In the end we had a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas Eve before the lockdown took effect December 26. Listening to new reports on Monday I had a sense that things are about to change again, not a full lockdown as before, but certainly a tightening of restrictions and added protocols. I had that anxious feeling of ‘here we go again’. 

Each time we have come to this point of change though, it has been a little different. The first time we had no idea what to expect, no way of knowing how much it would change our lives. By the time December 2020 rolled around, we knew the warning signs and we knew how to pivot. It may have left us scrambling a bit, or disappointed, but for the most part we knew what to do and more importantly we knew we could. I admit Monday was hard, and I had to turn off the news, and stop reading the comments on social media. By Tuesday morning I felt more hopeful, there will likely still be changes, but I had a renewed sense that God is with us. 

God being with us is one of the key themes of Christmas after all, that God steps into the world rather than remove us from the world or stop the chaos around us. That is one of the images of Christmas for me, of God stepping into the messiness of human existence with all of our anxieties, our suffering, and chaos, and saying I’m here and together we can handle whatever may come. As I said in my Blue Christmas service, when the darkness of grief or uncertainty pushes in on us, when we feel isolated or alone, we have the promise that the light of the world has come, and the darkness cannot defeat it. 

Christmas is only about a week away, and things still feel a bit up in the air with worship planning, and personally, but I feel more grounded. I will be disappointed if we have to modify worship, but Jesus will still come and we will still be reminded of the way God turns the world upside down. I will be sad if family gatherings have to be modified, but we’ve done this before. As much as I’d like to be able to know what is coming, to be able to modify my plans, I know whatever the future holds, God can handle it, that God is already there, and knowing that I trust in God to help us all make the best of what is to come. 

December 9, 2021

We had planned our trip to Quebec City to arrive early enough on Sunday to be able to see and explore the German Christmas Market, as it was highly recommended in many of the travel planning guides. So as soon as we parked, also knowing we could not check in yet, we bundled up in our warm coats, hats and mitts, and good winter shoes, to head off into Old Quebec and find the Market. Being as we arrived at lunch time, we were also on the lookout for somewhere to eat to fuel us for an afternoon of wandering.  

The first thing we noticed was that the streets were filled with people, which after almost two years of avoiding crowds, felt strange. The closer we got to the downtown and the Market the thicker the crowds became, until we reached a narrow street with booths on one side and old buildings on the other with a quaint hotel and shops. By this time, we were both beginning to feel a bit chilled, and were looking for a warm place to have lunch before wandering the rest of the Market, as opposed to grabbing some street food and eating outside. We looked at a few places and even went into one, but it was so crowded and it was obvious there was no place to sit down, eat and most importantly to get warm. In the end we found a Subway restaurant, had some lunch and bundled back up to wander some more. We wandered the streets, browsing at a few stalls along the way, but it was not long before we were both feeling the cold once again. There were a few warming stations, propane fire pits, around which people were standing, but like everywhere else there were large crowds gathered around, so even if we wanted to we were not going to be getting too close to the fire. We soon decided that we really were not enjoying ourselves, between the cold and crowds, so we headed back to our accommodations to settle in. 

Our first adventure into the city taught us an important lesson, that we needed to bundle up very differently on this trip. First and foremost. the winter shoes we wear most of the time for walking around Bradford were out, and boots were a must. Secondly, layering was essential, from top to bottom. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Quebec City, walking over 15 km every day, even the windy Plains of Abraham that was close to our home away from home. We learned that we had to adapt to our environment. While we are used to walking in the winter, even on cold and windy days, we learned that walking in Quebec City required something different, which thankfully we were prepared for. 

Adapting to the environment is important in life, as circumstances change we need to be able to figure out how to make the best of them, even to discover new paths and new adventures that we might never have considered before. As I have written before, flexibility can sometimes be a challenge for me, I like to be able to plan and have things go according to that plan, but life does not always cooperate. Like in Quebec City, I have to choose to adapt or end up sitting in my room wishing things were different. Adapting is also important when we start to talk about the ministry of the Church. One of my favourite stories from the Acts of the Apostles is Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). Paul finds himself in a city with a very different way of life than he is used to and filled with temples to various and sundry gods. He uses his keen observational skills to first figure out the best way to talk to people about Jesus, and particularly to hone in on an altar to an unknown god. He used their inquisitive nature and this altar as the connecting point from which he can share about Jesus, “do you want to know about this god you call unknown?” This leads to very fruitful conversations. Paul knew that he was in a different environment and the way he spoke and what he had said, needed to also be different from the way he had conducted himself in primarily Jewish communities. 

We don’t need to go to a foreign land to experience a different type of environment, the world is constantly shifting around us. Our challenge individually, and as a community, is to assess our community as Paul assessed Athens, to recognize where the “buttoning on” points are in our community. Where does the good news of Jesus, fit with the lives of those around us? In our current society, social justice and helping others has become very important. This fits with our call to love and serve others, and so we can join in where that is already happening and we can invite others into the projects and ministry we are doing. Adapting is part of life and it is essential in our survival as humans and it is important in our life as a faith community. 

December 2, 2021

A few weeks I ago I was part of a workshop called Foundations Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism.The workshop was designed and facilitated for the Diocese of Toronto by Co: Culture Collective. I was not looking forward to, and slightly apprehensive about what would be involved and the feelings it might raise for me. Having begun to explore anti-racism following the killing of George Floyd, I expected it would be difficult at times, that I might even find myself slightly defensive as my own perceptions and bias were challenged, but it was actually a very enlightening, while challenging experience.

The workshop used the metaphor of a tree, as we looked at the roots and trunk (foundations), the branches (structures) and the fruits (outcomes) of racism in world, country, community and ourselves. I found it particularly helpful that we began by exploring some of the different ways in which we are all bias. We were invited to reflect on our individual social identities as preparation for the workshop. The image used was of puzzle pieces that fit together to form who we are. There were 16 pieces or aspects of our identity that we were asked to identify or categorize. How we described or categorized ourselves was up to us, but we were given some examples in each that might be helpful. The exercise is partly based on a model from John’s Hopkins University of Medicine. The 16 puzzle pieces were: Race, Age, Ethnicity, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Education, Religion/Spirituality, First Language, Ability, Citizenship Status, Socio-economic Status, Family Makeup, Job, Geographical Location, Political Ideology, and then a blank for any category we felt was not listed but important to our identity. Reflecting on how we had categorized ourselves we were asked to reflect on which aspects are embraced and part of inclusion by the dominant culture around us, which lead to exclusion or rejection. Recognizing that our personal biases often form and are reinforced by our social circle we were asked to also categorize our inner circle or those who are closest to us, and compare that to our social identity. The fact is that generally those we are closest to are also those who resemble our own social identity. Recognizing that the less diversity in our social network, the less that our biases may be challenged because those around us likely have similar biases because of the similarities between our lives. I appreciated that this exercise, as with most exercises we did, were based in self-reflection, in the invitation to step outside of our own lived experienced to look at our lives and how they have been influenced and shaped by the culture around us. There was the invitation to reflect on why we see the world from our particular perspective and then to step back and think about how others see and experience the world differently.

This was only the beginning of this edifying workshop. While I may not have been looking forward to it, I did find it enlightening and left with a great deal to ponder and reflect on. There is talk, once the clergy have completed this training that some form of workshop will be offered for parishes and individuals. If it is offered, I would highly encourage you to consider taking part. In the mean time I invite you reflect on your own social identity, and to challenge yourself to find small ways of diversifying your sphere of influence so as to expand and challenge your perspectives.

The source where I first encountered this actually only created and posted a list in 2017 and 2018, so I tend to alternate between them. I have attached the version from 2017 that I will be doing this year, for those who wish to join me. I will also print copies that you can pick-up at church. It will also be available on our Facebook page. As we have done in the past few years the Outreach Committee has identified a couple of charities that we are inviting parishioners to donate to this Christmas season if they wish. This year it is Inn from the Cold and the David Busby Centre in Barrie. These are an option for where you could donate your Advent of Gratitude givings.

Whether you join me or not in an Advent of Gratitude I pray that this Advent you will take time to pause and reflect on how God has blessed you, to notice the small things, and to think about how you can share those blessings with others as we prepare to celebrate our greatest blessing of all, Jesus, God made human, who has come to show God’s love for us. 

November 18, 2021

On Monday evening the Barrie CTV news highlighted Dr. Katalin Kariko, one of the scientists behind the development of the mRNA vaccine technology. I found her story inspiring. She has been working on the idea of mRNA vaccines since the 1990’s, with a variety of institutions and companies, but it was far from a smooth experience. Several times her funding was denied, she was demoted or fired, as some doubted her theories around a new way of delivering vaccines. She attributes her new found success to determination, hard work and positive attitude, she learned as a child. For her financial success and notoriety were never the primary motivate, rather it is her love of science and joy she experiences in her work.  

What really caught my attention was when she said “If I had not been fired three, four times for my job, I wouldn’t be here. I had to even thank people, everyone who made my life miserable because [without them] I wouldn’t be here actually.” (CTV article November 14). That to me is an example of her positive attitude and the way she did not let setbacks deter her from pursuing her ideas. Her story reminded me that success often is a long and twisted road that involves changes in course, dead ends, and failure. Dr. Kariko’s years of work was a big part of the rapid develop of the vaccines for COVID-19, laying the ground work for the mRNA vaccines that many of us received. It would have been easy for her give up, but imagine what might have happened if she had, if she had listened to and believed all the people who said it would never work?

Her story also reminds me of a recent podcast I was listening to that emphasized life is about taking chances, being willing to learn from your experiences, both positive and negative. That success means accepting that not everything we do in life will be an immediate success, but as the saying goes, we miss 100% of the shots we do not take. We need to take our shots and see what happens, sometimes we might just make that 3-point basket or score that goal. I think that is especially important at this time, the liminal season that we are in, this time between what was and what will be, that I have written about before. Everything around has been and is being transformed by the pandemic. As we are hopefully coming out the other side, we are beginning to think about what will be, knowing that things will not return to exactly what they were. This liminal time, will be a time of experimentation, of trying things and seeing how they work, seeing how it feels. In the process we will have times we need to shift or adjust, and there will be dead ends, but that is all part of living in a liminal time. We are being called to take what we have learned and chart a new course for who we want to be, or more importantly who God is calling us to be. There will be discomfort along the way, there will be moments of grief as we let go of some of the things and ways that are no longer life-giving or viable. In the process we will discover new things and new ways of being, if we are willing to let ourselves. May we be inspired by the perseverance and positive attitude of Dr. Kariko, that we may embrace the opportunities around us that lead to discoveries we never imagined and that are life- changing. May we find new life and joy in this liminal time. 

November 11, 2021

I have had a life-long passion for history, reading about it, the courses I chose in school, listening to the stories of those who lived it and exploring historical sites whenever and wherever I travelled. I am particularly drawn to the personal stories that give a human dimension to what happened and why it happened. History is at its core the story of humanity, who we are and how our lives intersect, positively and negatively. History also can offer us important lessons and unless we learn about our history and from history, we are bound to repeat it, often to our detriment. Throughout this week history has been front and center for many of us as we prepared to mark Remembrance Day and the stories that often emerge at this time of year that, for me, are the opportunities to stop and reflect, to learn from the past. 

Last year I read a book, that while set in Germany in the years leading up to the Second World War, felt like it could have been written about the times we are living in, a time of deep divisions that keep getting deeper. One of the main characters is a young boy coming of age in Germany in the mid-1930’s. The young man is torn between two worlds, mainstream German society that would give rise to the Nazi party and the other the German Jewish community of his mentor and employer. The novel offered insight into how easily differences can become manipulated and magnified so they become divisions, the divisions grow deeper and more entrenched until “the other” is stripped of their humanity. When we strip away that bond of humanity, we lose our ability to see the child of God in front of us. While I knew the facts before, this novel gave me a new perspective into the human emotions and experience. 

As we look at history, we recognize that it is often in times of stress, such as economic uncertainty, that these divisions and de-humanizing often occurs. When our lives and way of life feels threatened it is natural to look for something or someone to blame. It has happened before and we see it happening in the world around us. Unfortunately, there are those who would take advantage of this, to attempt to gain power through popularity by providing the answer of who is to blame, pointing often to people who are different from us, whom we cannot identify with, and often those without the power to counter the accusations. By identifying the source of the problem as being other people, it becomes easier to divide people, to turn them against each other. We have seen this over and over again as popularist politicians are only too happy to point out who is the source of our problems, such as refugees and immigrants. It is both shocking and saddening for me, that some would take advantage of fear, to divide people against each other. 

This may seem like a bit of a strange reflection as we mark Remembrance Day, but I think that one of the key ways that we can honour those who went to war, and those who have served in peacekeeping missions, is to learn from the past so as not to repeat it. Most conflicts happen when irretractable differences develop, when groups of people stop seeing each other as human, and only as the enemy or the cause of their misfortune. If we are to commit ourselves to the way of peace for which many gave their lives, we must begin by finding ways to bridge our differences, to once again see and honour God within each other. As we remember those who have gone before us, may we commit to peace and justice for ALL people, respecting the dignity of every human being. May we seek to follow in the way of Jesus, who reaches across the difference in love. 

November 3, 2021

Recently, I virtually attended the keynote address of the Diocesan Outreach Conference. The keynote speaker this year was The Rev. Gerlyn Henry, the assistant curate at St. Timothy’s North Toronto. Her talk, “Re-membering and Remaking Community” drew on the image of Ezekiel’s prophesying in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37).She talked about how community must change, to be re-formed into something new, like the vision of dry bones, in the wake of all we have experienced and learned during the pandemic. The video of her talk will be available shortly on the Diocesan YouTube channel, and I will share the link once it is available, so you can also see and hear her thoughtful and challenging message. Her talk reminded me of other conversations I have had and other presentations that I have been part of recently, that have highlighted the cracks in our society exposed by the pandemic. These conversations and presentations all point to the reasons that we do not want to, and should not return to normal, because the old normal, the status quo was not life-giving, placing many in harmful and dangerous situations.

The pandemic has brought to our attention and highlighted parts of our population who are often neglected, overlooked or forgotten. As we look back over the pandemic, we see that some segments of our society were far more likely to contract and die from COVID-19. In the early days we focused on those in Long-Term Care, and indeed a recent presentation highlighted that compared to 16 other developed countries, Canada had the highest death rate in LTC facilities. As the pandemic wore on, other segments of society were brought to our attention. In the Windsor area, there were numerous outbreaks among migrant workers, highlighting the lack of access to medical services for some within this community, compounded by language barriers, and mistrust of government systems and institutions. Those who were under-housed or homeless, including those who lived in overcrowded shelters with the inability to isolate or protect themselves. This led to more choosing to live outside in parks and other public spaces, and those for whom financial insecurity put them in even more precarious positions. All experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infections. Finally, those whose jobs did not include or allow for any sick time, so they faced the impossible choice between staying home when they should and losing wages and possibly jobs if they did, even when it came to getting vaccinated. These were all segments of the population for whom the status quo, the normal was certainly not working before and was made worse by the pandemic.

Rev. Henry had a four-part process of re-membering and remaking community beginning with the need to first remember them and our relationship and responsibility to them as part of community, as part of us, as we move toward remaking community into the way God intended. Having remembered, we need to lament, we need to cry out, because it creates space for questions about justice, about what is right and what is God’s intention. Change only happens when we begin to question why things are the way they are, and how they can change for the betterment of all, especially those disadvantaged by the status quo, which supports the practices and ways that keep people in these marginalizing and non-life-giving circumstances. As we raise the questions about what is right, we can begin to re-imagine what could be, and more importantly what God’s desire is for all humanity. Finally, we need to listen to and trust the knowledge gained from experience, in this case the experiences of those who have been most negatively impacted by COVID-19.  So, in remaking community we need to remember, lament, deconstruct what was, and trust the new knowledge that is based on the experiences of those most affected.

There is no doubt that the pandemic exposed some of the deep cracks in our society through which many have fallen and continue to fall. Having seen these cracks, we cannot un-see, we cannot ignore what has been exposed. As the pandemic begins to recede, and we look to the future, we should not be looking to returning to what was, to the status quo, but to being a better society, a community that reflects the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-45), where we seek and serve Jesus in all persons. As Jesus says, “whatever you do for the least of these do for me.” (Matthew 25:40). Normal was not working for so many, so as God’s people may we seek a new and better normal for the future. It may not, will not, be perfect, but it needs to be better.