When a bronze statue of Sir John A. MacDonald was pulled down by anti-racism protestors on August 29, it wasn’t the first time Canada’s first Prime Minister lost his head. Erected in downtown Montreal in 1895, the statue has long been a target of vandalism. In 1992 it was decapitated on the anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel. Since then it has been defaced with paint and graffiti many times.
When it comes to social and political issues, I confess that my own impulse is toward public silence. Even in the face of the ongoing, widespread protests against anti-Black racism, part of me preferred silence. Not because I am unconcerned about the reality of racism in our culture (as I have told myself). Rather, a significant part of me has felt I should just get on with faithfully relating to students and colleagues and friends who are people of colour.
Where would you put yourself on the optimism/pessimism spectrum? I suppose I land just slightly on the optimistic side, though with serious bouts of pessimism thrown in now and again. Among my friends there is at least one eternal pessimist (with an astonishing capacity to see the worst in every situation) and a few who seem born entirely to optimism (forever confident things will be just fine).
This past semester I taught a course entitled “The Theology of Disability” at McGill University in Montreal. It was an unusual semester to be teaching, given the disruptions caused by COVID-19. As of March 16, all academic activities were suspended for two weeks and, following this pause, classes shifted to an online format for the rest of the term. Earlier in the semester, however, the class experienced a disruption that was arguably more significant in terms of our subject matter.
Over the past months, a few friends have been reading Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Giving Yourself the Gift of Done – it’s a book you will find on the “motivational” or “self-help” shelf. Acuff has written Finish with the goal of helping readers get beyond their perfectionism and busyness so they can actually finish something – a book, an exercise regime or a personal project. Acuff is the kind of writer who makes you think anything is possible. Reading the book is like listening to a hilarious and wise friend tell stories over a beer.
Tis the season of the holiday coffee cup. Whether you prefer to line up at Second Cup or Starbucks, your paper cup will evoke a festive and holiday spirit. It will do so, of course, without reference to any traditional Christian teachings concerning the birth of the Messiah. At this time of year, Starbucks is often singled out by the Christmas/Christian culture warriors for its willingness to exploit the birth of Jesus while simultaneously erasing the Bethlehem narrative.
You would think that pastoral care would be a straightforward practice at this point in the church’s history. After all, we have centuries’ worth of pastoral images to work with. In Psalm 23 and the prophecy of Ezekiel we discover a God who leads his sheep into places of peaceful comfort and who accompanies them and restores them. In Jesus we have the image of a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. This is to say nothing of the writings of Paul or the myriad of modern books that expound on the ways pastors might care for their flock.
Let others declare your blessedness, and let uncertain silence be your response.
A song of blessing can only be sung in a minor key.
Blessing is rarely known in the moment; it must reveal itself through the pressures of time and the struggles of life.
A blessing that does not become a blessing of God is no blessing.
It is often more faithful to see your blessedness as an accident of the universe than an act of God.
There are a few instances of colour that stand out in my life and memory. The warm red of a steel wagon that was a childhood gift to me; the deep indigo of a Fula shirt my wife (girlfriend at the time) sent to me from West Africa; the myriad blossoms of Springtime annuals in the greenhouses of my late uncles.
You couldn’t help but notice Jean Vanier when he entered a room. This was simply on account of his size – he was a big man, standing six feet, six inches tall. So just by virtue of his physical presence, he would likely draw your gaze.
A large wooden crucifix stands toward the front of the crypt sanctuary in St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal. While the crucifix is not central within worship, it evidently receives much attention. A striking feature of the crucifix is the worn nature of Jesus’ feet – the paint is worn away and the surface smooth from the many hands that have rested there.
It wasn’t too long ago that the government of Pauline Marois introduced the Charter of Values in the legislature (Bill 60), which would have prevented public employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols.