Holy Communion?

Sometime in the middle of March, pastors, priests, imams, rabbis and other worship leaders of every sort were driven to think about how their communities might or might not worship during the growing pandemic and the termination of real-time communal worship as we knew it.

For Christian worship leaders, the impending celebration of Easter, together with the special liturgies and devotions of the Great Three Days and Holy week —all for which a whole lot of preparation had already taken place— added a significant layer of anxiety. The main event of the Christian liturgical year —or so many would hold— was going up in flames. Within a very few days, worship, in many quarters, went online in all sorts of imaginative and innovative ways. Choirs gathered in disparate corners of cyberspace, pastors proclaimed to open mics and empty rooms, and worship leaders led from electronically connected homes and stations afar. If a distance-worship innovation were technically feasible, it probably happened somewhere or in several or many somewheres in recent weeks.

One of the innovations —at least for Lutherans— was the practice of a sort of distance Holy Communion wherein a presider in one place led a liturgy for worshippers, cup and loaf to hand, in other places linked by Zoom or Facebook or similar technology.

Once upon a time, I served the church as ELCIC worship officer (staff-person for worship) and latterly as our ecumenical officer and so, even in retirement, I got drawn into conversations about whether the practice were licit or valid or choose your word. It was thought that I might have an opinion. “What did I think?” My response evolved as the Sundays of Easter unfolded. What I have come to, so far, however, is this. Two things:

Thing One. I am not comfortable worshipping online. I tried various offerings but found myself fidgety. Interestingly, I do online devotions all the time. Worship, however, is something else. And it’s not a theological issue per se, although that is likely a part of it. It is about such things as human touch, aesthetics, ritual clarity, distractions, rhythm, ritual contract, sensory awareness and a whole number of other considerations. But they are, to be clear, idiosyncratic. They may be shared by others, in whole or in part, or not.

Of course, Christians have been adapting or not adapting to new technologies for a long time. The relatively recent introduction of the printing press, and therefore of printed books, comes to mind. The much later introductions of pew editions and songbooks and worship bulletins of all sorts are examples of fairly-recent tech. And not everyone is on page about the liturgical use of these technologies some few years or decades or centuries in!

In all of this, the LBW push, in the late 1970’s, to have our churches offer Holy Communion on every Lord’s Day (as our Lutheran Confessions make clear to all and any who think otherwise) had the unintended consequence of creating people who, four decades and more on, actually want a weekly rhythm of word and sacrament. So we miss it. Go figure.

Anyway, Thing One is something about my comfort. I am not comfortable worshipping online. This is not a theological position but it is who I am. A corollary is that I recognize that some people are comfortable worshipping online whether as a matter of course or of special circumstances (like COVID-19).

Thing Two is about the main event, the full experience of word and sacrament in the assembly of believers. I am coming to think that our present expression of doing what Jesus commanded is terribly inadequate. Atrophied. Reductionist and reduced. Minimalist. A wafer and a sip, whether in person or online, is an inadequate response to Jesus’ commandment. Similarly, baptism with water from a tea-cup on a pedestal (as Paul Bosch has said quoting someone else) is an inadequate expression of the images and language associated with baptism. This new-to-me esthetic, this apprehension of reality, has been coming alive for me for many years but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it home with a clarity I had not known before or anticipated.

Aside: Our present Sunday liturgy is an experience for the converted. It is largely word-centric, inscrutable and sometimes meaningless to the seeker and the uninitiate. We speak in code words like feast, satisfy, etc. which mean exactly the opposite of what one would expect in any other realm. Moreover, our liturgy only make some sense if you know the vocabulary and codes and have a stomach for a lot of odd turns-of-phrase, metaphor irony and hyperbole. (I do.) My point: if a real meal were served, strangers and seekers could be brought aboard simply by virtue of a human instinct for hospitality and inclusion. I believe I’d like that. I would be happy to cook.

I think that we ought to be gathering, in good times, at tables where a full meal is served, the word is enfleshed, proclaimed and enacted, and with real bread and decent wine.

So that’s my Thing Two. I’m finding myself increasingly a stranger in a strange land where minimalism abounds —See communion wafer.— and the incarnational reality of God come among us in the real-worldly person of Jesus is proclaimed in rarified and spiritualised ways wherein bread isn’t really bread, communion wine is something else, and we find ourselves ever more distantly connected to our incarnate God. (I suspect a lot of people won’t go back to worship after COVID-19, a sign of the increasingly tenuous and easily disrupted relationship of God to God’s followers.)

So, for me, the big event isn’t Easter (and resurrection), so much as Christmas (and incarnation), and the best example of a Sunday meal I can think of has some combination of the attributes of a Thanksgiving Dinner (real food with family and friends, ritual and context, etc.), a Jewish seder (real food with family and friends, ritual and context, teaching, rehearsal of salvation history, etc.), and which we come by reasonably honestly, and the Sikh langar (real food for hungry neighbours, ritual and context, welcoming of the stranger, etc.) which we mostly don’t.

So that’s where I am. I desperately miss my community. I miss the Holy Communion as a gathered people and the Holy Communion as our community meal. And I would have us settle for more, when we can gather, rather than less: a big table, a grand celebration, some conversation with our pastor or leader, bread from Grain Harvest or the people next door and decent wine, perhaps from the Similkameen, Colchagua or Napa Valleys. And our worship space would look more like a banquet hall or dining room and less like a courtroom or theatre.

Holy Communion? Would this be an every-Sunday thing? Probably not. I’m not at all sure that it should be. I’m not at all sure that we should be doing a real eucharist, especially as envisioned here, every Sunday. Seasonally? At certain festivals? In churches? In neighbourhoods? We’d need to think about these things and perhaps grow into new rhythms based on trial efforts. I could live with varieties of expression of the word at the Sunday liturgy, offerings from the imaginations of the assembly of believers.

So for now. Peace and blessings.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Goodbye For Now

Friends, something shy of fifty years ago, I sat down to a Gandalf modem and a teletype machine having, the day before, schlepped several pounds of punch cards across the McGill campus to the IBM 360 bunker. I was awaiting some output and hoped that my program had been compiled overnight. It had a low system priority and so I couldn’t be sure. I had learned several computer languages including COBOL, FORTRAN and PL1 and I was now putting my knowledge to use in mathematical modelling. And so began my lifelong love affair, and sometime-near-obsession, with the realm of computers and what they have to offer.

By 1981, I was in the thrall of an early personal computer, a Kaypro II running the CPM operating system. It had a tiny little screen and was housed in a steel case. It was an hernia-inducing “portable”. With this machine, I managed a flat-file mailing list for my first parish.

In the mid-eighties, a friend and I designed a congregational RDMS (relational database management system) program called Paraclete. It was ahead of its time in a world which was still driven by DOS and in which a first stable version of Windows (3.1) did not yet exist. In the years that followed, a succession of boxes came to extend my world in a number of directions such that, in 1995, friends and I built our first of several websites, including Lift Up Your Hearts (worship and spirituality connections and resources) and a proof of concept version of the ELCIC website. Most church folk, however, still didn’t do e-mail.

Meiderlin’s Children was one of my most gratifying efforts. Never heard of it? It was the name of a largely clandestine group, the members of which were working for the full-inclusion of gay people in the life of the church. It was a safe space when many church places and spaces were not. It flew under the radar as a distributed social medium without physical analogue. It was a locus for strategy and succour and it was online. Moreover, there was a companion document repository which served allies for many years.

A decade on and email was in increasingly wide use and the stage was set for the now-familiar array of social media—although these, like earlier technologies, would take a while to mature and catch on. It’s hard to believe that Facebook was only born in 2004 and Twitter in 2006 and that neither was in widespread use until about 10 or 12 years ago. I signed on to Twitter when I joined the ELCIC national staff in 2010 having joined Facebook a year or two earlier. I saw these platforms as tools of the trade with Facebook having some interesting personal dimensions and each having commonalities and uniquenesses. The early Facebook and Twitter are almost unrecognizable in their present incarnations. As I write, a “new” Facebook is in “beta”, meaning you’ll get a whole new “look and feel” very soon. I’m always playing with beta versions and developers’ editions of software.

I never did join Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or anything else. Well, almost anything else. I met Barbara online over a conversation about Lantians. (She meant one thing. I meant something else. But now I love her, so it doesn’t matter.) I don’t remember the name of the platform. Also, I blog occasionally, as in this. I used to write brief pieces on Facebook but eventually the Facebook police discouraged the practice. In any event, for the last decade, Facebook and Twitter have been a significant part of my everyday life and now that will change.

Since sometime before retirement, I’ve been mulling over all sorts of truths one of which has to do with my engagement of social media. Simply put, Facebook & Twitter often take more out of me than I can healthily contribute. Moreover, I never knew there could be so much to do in retirement, even in lock-down. Our flower garden is taking off and I am now reading books which are not required reading by anyone other than me or my friend, Harold.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to give Facebook and Twitter a rest. I may stay with my blog. I may not. All such media have the capacity to be life affirming and soul enriching—or not. There is some wonderful stuff going on and some wonderful stuff being born. Faith has a big online presence, as do spirituality, politics, justice and the arts. This is stuff I care about. What I know of myself, however, is that it is hard for me to be online and not to engage the breadth of our interesting world as it is interpreted through a particular media lens. I simply don’t do well at leaving things alone. I get drawn in, and before I know it, it’s tomorrow. No petty pace for me.

So this will be my last day on Twitter and Facebook. Whether or when I might return is a mystery even to me. My family, my garden, my health and my neighbourhood need some attention. So do some relationships and friendships. Three additional factors underlie my present disposition and desire to call it a day.

Factor 1. Facebook uses a strict algorithm to curate/filter/dish-up/select those friends who will appear in my feed. Therefore, Facebook effectively decides that some of my friends will never appear. Ever. Facebook favours close geographic proximity; people with lots of common friends and who share common “likes”; and so on. But I didn’t sign on to the Internet to discover new ways of meeting the people who live next door. Rather, I want to maintain my life-long friendships with people in P.E.I. and Germany, a random Lutheran guy in Russia and a liturgy wonk in New Zealand. On the one hand, I can’t reasonably maintain the same level of intensity in all my friend-ships. On the other, I don’t want some of my friends to be consigned to the realm of outer darkness.

Factor 2. Social media are first and foremost advertising media. The rest comes at a steep price. It’s gotten so that I must pay the purveyors not to advertise their wares. I think that’s perverse.

Factor 3. In this COVID-19-infused age, there is just so much that titillates or distresses without having more served up with every page refresh along with another ad—or worse, the same ad! I dislike living in a world which can often do no more than obsess on the sensational or the distressing. (In fairness, even my faithful CBC has been overrun by COVID-19 news delivered with a CNN-like “this just in” and “in breaking news” breathlessness. Sure this news is important. But it’s not everything. Life goes on if fearfully, wonderfully and differently. COVID-19 is not an exception to life. It is life. But we miss the trees for the forest.)

Perhaps I will visit occasionally. On First Wednesdays? Seasonally? When I can’t sleep? Who knows. Sometimes I may read but not write. Or I may try to find new ways to maintain particular connections so that I not sacrifice everything. But I’m tired. This night affords me a right moment—a perfect hinge-point in time—to step back and/or move on. I am grateful for all of the companionship over many years. I have experienced great tenderness and learned many, many things.

About 20 years ago, I and a number of colleagues wrote some prayers for the Consultation on Common Texts of which I was a member for ten years. These were gathered and published in Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (Fortress, 2002). Of my contributions, my favourite is this prayer for Easter. It has had a life in various publications and contexts over the last two decades. It was latterly prayed in a gathering of women pastors in Latvia. Women can no longer be ordained in Latvia and that is a terrible thing and this is a terrible time. Anyway, there are some close-variants of this prayer and I’m quoting from memory …

Living God,
long ago,
faithful women broke
the news of Jesus’ resurrection,
and our world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness might be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

Safe journey, friends. Stay in and be well. Hold tight but reach out.

All Easter blessings to you and to all whom you hold dear!

Goodbye for now.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Bubble

We are fortunate, in Canada, to have access to good government, good healthcare, and an abundance of space in which to engage in social distancing. I take heart from five bits of information.

1. The rate of testing for COVID-19 is among the best in the world. In this last week of March, it exceeds 55,000 tests for a population of 38 million or 1.5 tests per 10,000 and climbing.

2. The rate of mortality for COVID-19 is one of the lowest in the world at c. 1%. Measurement varies widely across the globe yielding an apparent range of anywhere from a fraction of one percent to ten percent.

3. There is early evidence from BC to suggest that social distancing is working. The rate of increase in the number of cases is slowing. But these are very early days.

4. Our governments at every level are taking COVID-19 seriously and have proven agile, resourceful, responsive and engaged. Our prime minister and colleagues appear to be on top of things and willing to think and rethink their response.

5. Canadian scientists are at the forefront of COVID and allied research and potential immunological and other responses.

Yes, we are in pretty good shape in Canada. However, these are terrible times in many corners of the earth. Our good fortune begs the question “How might we share what we have among those who have less, whether now or at length?”

For now, at the front end of the pandemic, some advice out of New Zealand would seem to be exactly right: “Stay in your bubble and don’t burst anyone else’s!”

Shared Grief

For some months, I have been sorting out what it is to live into my retirement. And while it is a journey Barbara and I are undertaking together, much of its design comes out of my own head. I am a driven and attentive soul. When I set my mind to something or turn my hand to something, watch out.

So, back in June, a month before the ELCIC’s triennial assembly (mid July) and two months before I retired (end of August) I began to tend to my health in a way which would have been difficult while I was still on the road and doing my job. I set a goal weight, for example, a range which I hoped to achieve over the time from June, 2019, til my long-postponed hip replacement, which was schedule for the day before yesterday (March 20, 2020) and which has now been postponed for good reason and good cause.

Today, I rose from the night to a personal weight in the mid-range of my goal. I was at 235 or so some months ago and am now between 195 and 200. Pounds, not kilos. Pounds are smaller. The idea of losing weight was not an abstraction but is tied to an emerging lifestyle. We are eating a little lower off the food chain, eating fewer carbs (because of our sinful and pound-inducing preferences and not for Keetoh-whatever), walking often, running occasional errands of mercy and doing the work of bringing our back-yard garden to life. It’s a big adventure!

My new body weight is something of a first step in what I’ve cooked up for myself. I hope, at length, to discontinue some of the drugs I’ve been on for ever while keeping those which are now essential to my functioning reasonably well. As well, in the run-up to getting my hip done, I was offered a pacemaker either before my hip surgery or at some later date. I elected for the latter but am increasingly aware it won’t be long and I’m no longer clear which will come first. There are no such clarities, these days.

Yesterday, I prepared what Barbara has come to call “Chicken à la André”. My version is loosely–very loosely–based on a recipe from a cookbook prepared at Trinity, New Hamburg, 15 or 20 years ago. It’s a Mediterranean dish composed of dark chicken meat, carrots, celery, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, prunes, raisins and cranberries, dried oregano, wine and wine-vinegar, olive oil, olives and capers. It’s different every time I make it, usually because I’ve forgotten something.

Yesterday, we divided the proceeds into right-sized containers, each with a thigh and something of everything else and took them, two here, three there, to people who might appreciate someone else’s fare, especially now. We didn’t enter. Barbara was the wheelman while I took the food to the doorsteps. Last evening, we ate heartily with enough left over for a meal later in the week.

We are growing into some routines. We now observe meatless Mondays, fishy Fridays, leftover anydays, Sunday celebrations (family dinners) and so on. We eat a regular banquet of vegetables and other garden produce. We also gather with others for a eucharistic feast on Sunday mornings. In recent times, this has turned into a eucharistic echo on account of the pandemic. (This morning, I watched one of our communities online. It was hard to grasp.) We grieve this loss but share that grief with many who cannot come to the table under the best of circumstances. And I make soup. Litres of it, if not gallons. Much of it goes out the door as it used to when I was in the parish.

Our regimen is designed to reflect measures of concern both for our own health and for the health of the world we enjoy. We are not doctrinaire and occasions slide forward and backward. Sometimes, we observe fishy Friday on Wednesday. And when we’re out, we don’t worry about the day or our diet and we relish whatever is served. So for now.

I want to do a little more work out back but it has turned cold again and I won’t be able to do much. It’s early, though. I still have seeds to start and feeders to fill in these early intimations of spring. Thanks for reading and all blessings in these complicated and uncertain times.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Into the Breach

A friend of mine, who composes devotions which are experienced by a following on the Internet, mentioned the expression, and idea of, “finding the threshold”, in today’s devotion, and my mind was off to wander all over the place.

I wondered, at several points, how many in our world, right now, around here, are feeling like they’re dwelling at the threshold of something–whether the world beyond their own self-isolation or something imposed upon them like the loss of employment, companionship or once-familiar places. At such thresholds, people may find themselves on one side or the other. The world is shutting down but my pension continues where a friend’s income does not. We stand on opposite sides of that threshold.

In my own small orbit, I think of people who won’t have recourse to a safe injection site in the coming days. Their vulnerability will be magnified many times over. Oh, God!

I think of the people who gather at Timmy’s for the ritual conversation rather than the coffee. Their dining room is now closed. In that regard, I think of my friend who maintains an office at the local Timmy’s, there, at the first table to the right as you come through the door. The doctor can no longer be in, not for 5 cents, not for any amount.

And I think of the many who know the church –or the mosque or temple or some other locus— to be a destination and who experience their place of sanctuary closed for business.

I had been visiting a friend of over 40 years–a generation older than I–reasonably regularly. I cancelled a scheduled rendezvous this afternoon so that he and his wife might chat about whether we could break our respective self-isolations so that I could come over, sit at the other end of the room wearing a home-made HASMAT suit, so that we could chat or watch a favourite, ancient black and white movie together. Of that threshold, I await word.

This time we’re living in, and this world we’re living in, are familiar territory to deacons who live at the edge-places and proclaim from the edge-places and urge from the edge-places. Our time is a diaconal time.

But I’m not a deacon. And most of my colleague-friends are pastors or priests. This threshold territory is unfamiliar to many of us. The work of word and sacrament, as we have know it, is interrupted and being replaced, here and there, with fairly pale imitations and approximations. How do you do communion in a Coronavirus world, where being present is a requisite? How do you do pastoral care in a way that does not itself isolate or mobilize anxiety? How do you breach the thresholds of presence? Do you? When? Why?

I have no simple answers but I do think that we’re living in an extraordinary time of real, high individual and corporate anxiety; a time which calls for hard decisions and deftness at the thresholds of life; and a time which demands a significant measure of ingenuity in each particular moment.

For all who herald, greet, suggest the way or assist at the thresholds, I am grateful.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Mantra

When I was on retreat last week, I had occasion to mention the mantra which has stood me in good stead for my recent decade of work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) where I was ecumenical and interfaith officer and supported the work of our theological working group.

I live on someone else’s land. I move in a diverse society. I have my being in Jesus.

The construction “live and move and have my being” is lifted from the Bible. It’s from Acts 17: 28. The Apostle Paul is visiting Athens and speaking at the Areopagus, a prominent rock outcropping, and locus of a high court, located northwest of the Acropolis. We read,

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

Paul contrasts the God he knows with the “unknown god” of the locals and, at length, he goes on to quote a poet familiar to them called Epimenides. Epimenides was a 6th Century BC Cretan philosopher, prophet and contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, who also refer to him in their writings. Epimenides is speaking of Zeus when he says “in whom we live and move and have our being”. Paul coopts the phrase and applies it to the God he knows.

I’ve always liked the construction but accord it my own meaning in my own context, thus: I live on someone else’s land. I move in a diverse society. I have my being in Jesus. It could also be framed in the plural of my Christian community, thus: We live on someone else’s land. We move in a diverse society. We have our being in Jesus.

I live on someone else’s land. This refers to my settler reality vis-à-vis the First Peoples who occupied the land I call home, locally and nationally. So the sentence is something of a confession and hints at a reality which demands a posture of humility and which includes the possibility of redress.

I move in a diverse society. I lived and worked and am now retired in a context of great human diversity: Christian diversity, religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, racial diversity, diversity of sexual personhood and identity and so on. Here, too, a posture of humility is required to navigate the breadth of the human family.

I have my being in Jesus. This is a creed. But it is a creed which doesn’t immediately contrast me with, or exclude, other Christians. It locates me for people of other faiths or of no faith and invites conversation about what “having my being” means to me. If or when invited, I can speak of being a follower of Jesus and of his central teaching to love God and to love our neighbour.

So “I live on someone else’s land, I move in a diverse society and I have my being in Jesus.”

This expression served me well as someone who worked in the church’s diplomatic corps representing the ELCIC and the head of our church, National Bishop Susan Johnson. It still serves me well as life on the Land of First Peoples, in an ever more diverse society, challenges me to discern how best to follow Jesus and to love both God and neighbour.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Reducing

Yesterday, I wrote a piece in which I employed the term “climate abuse”. This, because the Teck Resources Frontier project is much in the news as Mr. Trudeau weighs his political possibilities in order to arrive at a least-unpopular or least-injurious-to-the-Trudeau-brand-or-Liberal-fortunes resolution.

One of the terms being thrown around in the conversation has been the term “carbon neutrality”. Wikipedia offers this helpful definition: “Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal (often through carbon offsetting) or simply eliminating carbon emissions altogether (the transition to the “post-carbon economy”). It is used in the context of carbon dioxide-releasing processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture, and industrial processes.” The article goes on to say that carbon neutrality can be achieved in two ways:

Balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon removal beyond natural processes, often through carbon offsetting, or the process of removing or sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make up for emissions elsewhere …

Reducing carbon emissions (low-carbon economy) through changing energy sources and industry processes. Shifting towards the use of renewable energy (e.g. wind and solar power) has shown the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions …

One of the ideas around which people in favour of carbon neutrality differ is the notion of reducing versus balancing.

All else being equal, reducing carbon dioxide means that you do less and less damage to the climate and environment over time; and balancing carbon dioxide emissions means that you get to produce any amount of carbon dioxide in one place so long as you offset it somewhere else.

Doing the former means that less and less climate abuse is perpetrated over time. Doing the latter means that climate abuse may be perpetrated so long as you offset that abuse somewhere else.

It seems to me that an ethical posture toward climate change would have us advocate for the decline of climate abuse. Period. The idea is that you don’t get to abuse in the first place. You simply don’t get to do the climate damage in the first place.

Taking this position means a radical rethinking and restructuring of the Canadian resource extraction economy and of the Alberta economy in particular. The federal government would want to support Alberta in all of the retraining and technological innovation and formation which the new economy would inspire and require. We’d need to spend billions, but it would be worth it.

So we say “yes” to carbon neutrality and “yes” to the reduction of carbon emissions. We’d be saying “yes” to a low-carbon economy.

We say “no” to the sleight-of-hand balancing of carbon emissions. We don’t succumb to the beguiling rhetoric “Don’t look at the big hole over here; look at the pretty trees over there.”

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

Climate Abuse

Any day now, our prime minister will pronounce on the subject of the Frontier Project, a proposed oil sands mine—the largest of its kind in Canadian history—in northeastern Alberta. As I understand it, the project may be approved, not approved or approved with conditions. Recently, knowledgeable people have been opining that Trudeau may approve the project with conditions attached.

Yesterday, I saw an opinion piece, in the Guardian, the last paragraph of which reads as follows:

There’s obviously something hideous about watching the Trumps and the Putins of the world gleefully shred our future. But it’s disturbing in a different way to watch leaders pretend to care – a kind of gaslighting that can reduce you to numb nihilism. Trudeau, for all his charms, doesn’t get to have it both ways: if you can’t bring yourself to stop a brand-new tar sands mine then you’re not a climate leader.

You can read the piece for yourself here. Go ahead now, the better to understand this response.

The term “climate leader” struck me. Is Trudeau—is Canada—a climate leader or not? Climate leader or climate laggard?

In recent years, the word “climate” has come to be used in any number of two-word combinations wherein climate is the main thing around which the two-word construction is made. Thus, climate change, climate action, climate inaction, climate misinformation, climate emergency and so on. To this list, the Guardian piece by Bill McKibben, quoted above, adds climate crisis, climate leader and climate hypocrisy. Yes, climate hypocrisy!

The substance of the op-ed is that Trudeau is an hypocrite if he signs-off on the project. Yesterday, Greta Thunberg tweeted out the Guardian op-ed to great effect.

According to the CBC’s Aaron Wherry, “Amarjeet Sohi, the former federal minister of natural resources, recently suggested that Teck Frontier’s approval should be linked to a legislated limit on oilsands emissions and a plan from Alberta to help Canada get to net-zero by 2050.” Here’s Wherry’s full analysis. I’m not sure that approval with conditions is a half-loaf I’d want to eat.

Now’s the time for Trudeau to draw a line in the sand or, perhaps, tar. For the sake of the planet and for the sake of our children (and, perhaps, for the sake of Trudeau’s own legacy) the climate abuse must stop. So here’s my contribution to the “climate” list: climate abuse. (That’s in addition to climate laggard.) Climate abuse lies on a spectrum somewhere beyond climate inaction and climate neglect. Climate abuse.

Some time ago, my then-boss, Bishop Susan Johnson, invited our community to think of our planet as our near neighbour. Thus, to love our neighbour is to love not only those who inhabit our world but the world itself. Bishop Johnson challenged us to love our planet, to love our Earth.

To my mind we cannot love this planet while continuing to abuse it. Moreover, we cannot love this “fragile earth, our island home” (BCP, 1979) while contemplating and conjuring the mechanisms for new forms of lesser and greater abuse.

Mr. Trudeau, please be true to yourself and draw the line. Say “no” to the Frontier Project.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

The Poor

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor lifted up an expression from Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): Pope Francis’ First Apostolic Exhortation. Francis, said the preacher, is seeking “a church that is both poor and for the poor.”

Later in the day, Barbara and I, together with a number of friends, found ourselves enjoying a wonderful performance of Handel’s Messiah by the 18-voice Spiritus Ensemble, together with a small orchestra. In the moment, sitting in the third row in beautiful and acoustically excellent surroundings, it was hard to navigate the cognitive dissonance of a Christian preferential option for the poor.

My mind zigged and zagged, as it is wont to do.

It has been bothering me for some time that Jesus, like so many, cannot contemplate a future and a time when a preferential option might not be required. In Matthew’s Gospel —the Gospel being read ecumenically in Sunday worship over the coming months— Jesus offers the words “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” You can read it for yourself in chapter 26. We’ll hear it in church soon enough. Is it a throw away expression? …words to make a point? …rhetorical? I wonder, did Jesus actually believe that the poor would always be with him/them/us?

Is there no hope that we might be someday rid of foodbanks and soup kitchens? I don’t mean optimism. I mean the sort of Christian hope that does not disappoint. I wonder.

Sometimes I find Jesus annoying.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

The featured Wikipedia image is that of Pope Francis at Vargihna in 2013.

Hydrangeas

The other day, as it began to snow, we set the last of the daffodil bulbs into their new resting place in our garden. A few minutes more and they were covered and watered and the area finished off and made ready for winter. The last act was to empty and prepare the garden hose for a few months’ hibernation and to shut the water off from the inside. Done.

This morning, when I got up, and took a first breath, coffee in hand, on the back deck, the fresh snow betrayed the shape of things to come. Yesterday’s few hours of before-the-snow-comes work saw the end to this season’s efforts to prepare the space for next year.

For several years we waged a mighty war against just about anything that can make a lawn not-a-lawn including, but not limited to, blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children. Hmm. Just a minute. That’s another list. I conflate things in my dotage. (Those who do it earlier have no excuse.) Anyway, the list is close, save, perhaps, for the lice.

In pondering things in my heart, I came to believe that the earth was trying to tell us something. The earth is no respecter of lawns and, left to her own devices, will erase them given the opportunity. And erasure was the order of the day for our first five years in this place. Well, “No more!”, we say! By “we” I mean mostly me.

I had originally planned our garden adventure for next year. We’ve been spending money on our fixer-upper a chunk at a time each year. This was in next year’s budget. Somehow, though, as I slid into retirement a couple of months ago, it occurred to me that I wanted to sit in our garden this coming year, not two years from now. I wanted to plant a garden for retirement and not merely in retirement. I have a mental image of me sitting in a chair (a real chair), with a small café table next to me, book in hand, scotch at hand. A parasol would complete the picture. Barbara, for her part, wanted a swing.

The shape of things to come.

So I got a good deal on a swing at Canadian Tire (end of season, please get it out of here, manager’s special) and positioned it to best advantage on a hand-drawn map for our latest adventure and got to work. The back legs of the swing will need to be jacked up come spring but its place relative to everything else has been fixed.

Our son, Blake, did most of the heavy lifting in the fashioning of the skeleton stone walkways. He was a great help! But 60 or so bags of soil and soil components later—and all schlepped by me—and a herb garden, hosta bed, daylily bed, grass and allium bed, daisy & cupflower back fence border, coneflower and nursery bed, and an area or two of shrubs have all taken shape in the filigree of the stepping stone walkway. However, at this stage, the garden is still fully realized only in my head. It won’t look like much for five or six months.

Shortly after sinking the last of the daffodils, I planted the two hydrangeas which Uropa Dieter gave us following Uroma Martha’s death. He also gave us a shovel and set of pruning shears he used as a landscaper in the last re-invention of his working life. Dieter always managed to find work even if he had to conjure-up his own job. The Hydrangeas are close to the swing for Barbara and are near to where I set my chair and sit myself down in my mind’s eye.

A swing for Barbara

I am very fond of Dieter as I was/am of Martha. We met in 1980 in my first call as an ordained pastor. Thirty-nine years later we remain fast friends and I’m forever grateful that they became grandparents to our kids who were bereft of same quite young. To own a shovel, a pair of shears and a couple of hydrangeas means a lot to me. Moreover, they will be honoured and perhaps remembered whether the capacity remains within me to honour and remember or not. The earth will see to it—she of astonishing capacity to reshape herself and make her mark.

So for now.

It’s important that the people who have served so well and loved so freely in our lives be honoured. I hope to show Dieter, come spring, the spot where the hydrangeas grow near the centre of our yard. That moment will likely require two chairs and a second glass.

All blessings.

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784).