Archive for April 2012

Healing of Soul, Community and Creation

The following item was originally published by the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and posted on the blog of Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada( ). The article was written by Monica Graham, whose e-mail address is at the bottom of this posting.
Concerns for Earth cross all faith boundaries, says outgoing moderator
Mardi Tindal, outgoing moderator of the United Chruch of Canada, will lead a retreat at Tatamagouche Centre, Sunday to Tuesday, to help people imagine new ways of caring for creation as part of living out their faith. (Staff)

Mardi Tindal, outgoing moderator of the United Chruch of Canada, will lead a retreat at Tatamagouche Centre, Sunday to Tuesday, to help people imagine new ways of caring for creation as part of living out their faith. (Staff)
 The environmental movement reflects Christian values, and needs support from Christians, says the outgoing leader of the United Church of Canada.

“I think people have a deep longing to talk about their concerns for the Earth,” moderator Mardi Tindal said in a recent telephone interview from Toronto. “They need faith spaces where they can talk.”

The strong spirituality typical among faith traditions can help the environmental movement overcome its despair at trying to heal creation, especially after the federal government’s April 17 announcement that it will reduce the environmental assessment process, Tindal said.

“They feel melancholy and unable to deal with it,” she said. “We can’t deny the truth, but we need to find a way through to deeper healing.”

During an April 29-May 1 retreat at Tatamagouche Centre, entitled Gathering with the Moderator: Soul, Community and Creation, Tindal will lead participants into imagining new ways of caring for creation as part of living out their faith. That may take the form of congregations helping youth with environmental projects or sponsoring community ecology events, reducing consumption, awakening the spiritual aspect of caring for the world or offering spiritual support for advocates of change.

“I hope they can each identify their own part in this work,” Tindal said.

The focus on connecting environmental and spiritual issues has been a trademark of her three-year term that ends in August. Concern for the Earth was instilled in her more than 35 years ago when the United Church set caring for the Earth as one of its goals, she said.

Jesus told followers to love God and love each other as much as they love themselves, a commandment that echoed an ancient instruction to the Jews, she said.

“We can’t fulfil that commandment unless we care for and act on behalf of God’s Earth,” she said. “I’m deeply committed to a right relationship with creation, in and beyond our faith community.”

The soul, community and creation are intertwined, and when one aspect is injured, all are injured, she said. Also, healing in one helps heal the others, she added.

“The personal, the communal and the global are absolutely inseparable,” she said.

Meeting with other world faith leaders at United Nations climate change conferences at Copenhagen, Denmark, and at Durban, South Africa, showed her that concern for the Earth crosses all faith boundaries.

As well, mainstream Canadian faiths publicly acknowledged their concern about the environment in the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change. Signed last fall in Ottawa before the Durban conference, the signatures of more than 30 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and aboriginal faith leaders fill three pages, along with Tindal’s.

“I wouldn’t have predicted a year before that all those signatures would be on that document,” she said, adding that the environmental crisis has become a unifying issue among faith traditions.

“Heart and soul can initiate change in the world where logic can’t,” she said.

Churches are well-placed to begin change in the world because their basic tenets, although ancient, are always contemporary enough to engage current spirituality, she said. During the Tatamagouche retreat, she hopes participants find support for a sense of hope in creation for the next generation.

“Everyone needs to live according to what they know to be true, and work together,” she said. “It always works. It’s not easy. That’s why we need each other – and in the church we have each other.”



Prayer Power

“Pray always and do not lose heart”

This morning I received the following message from KAIROS, an organization that is supported by the congregation of Newtonbrook United Church and the United Church of Canada.

Dear KAIROS Companions and Communities,  

Please find below a special reflection by KAIROS CompanionEsther Epp-Tiessen on the power of prayer and perseverance.  We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.

In peace,


“Pray always and do not lose heart”

In Luke 18:1-8 we read Jesus’ parable about a judge and a widow.  The widow has suffered some injustice, and so she goes to the judge to seek redress. The judge is not a God-fearing man and has little respect for others, so he refuses her.  But the widow is persistent and returns to him, again and again, asking for justice. Finally, the judge gives in and grants her request, not because he is compassionate, but to stop her from pestering him. Jesus’ interpretation of the story is – if such an unmerciful judge will eventually grant justice, how much more so will God grant justice to those who call on him.

Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow has much to teach those of us engaged in the work of public justice and advocacy.

1. Jesus’ parable teaches that it is good and right to seek justice where injustice has been committed.  Scripture insists that God is a God of justice; God longs to offer justice to the victims of injustice. As God’s people, we are called to be about the work of justice too.

2. The parable demonstrates that seeking justice is ultimately about people.  The focus of the parable is not the injustice committed – we do not even know what wrong was done.  The focus is on the widow, a particularly vulnerable person in her society. Justice-making is not about an abstract concept or theory, or even the latest burning issue. Recently, I helped to organize a seminar on global justice with university students from across Canada.  We talked at length about many troubling issues.  Later on, one student reflected that the most significant experience of the seminar was not the presentations and discussions, but sharing lunch with a destitute man that he met on the street.  Jesus’ parable reminds us that our advocacy for justice must be rooted in relationships with real people who are hurting.

3. The parable calls justice-seekers to persistence.  When I think of the persistence of the widow, I am reminded of a U.S. colleague of mine, Titus Peachey. Thirty years ago Titus and his partner Linda were serving with MCC in Laos.  They learned of the millions of cluster bombs dropped by U.S. bombers on Laos in the 1970s, and how the bombie fragments continued to kill and harm the Lao people years later.  Titus made cluster bombs his cause and began to work doggedly and persistently with others to eradicate cluster bombs. In 2008 an international cluster bomb convention was signed and in 2010 it came into force.  The work is not over – right now Titus is working to get the U.S. to sign on to the convention.  But much has been accomplished through the persistence of folks like Titus.

4. The parable invites justice-seekers to humility and confession. I suspect that, if we could place ourselves into the story, most of us would like to become advocates for the widow.  But I think at times we are more like the uncaring judge. Perhaps because our lives are so removed from the poor, we have lost true compassion for those who suffer. Perhaps because we think we know what justice looks like, we forget to listen to others. Perhaps because we are complicit in systems that oppress some people while enriching others, we are more of the problem than the solution.  The parable invites us to self-reflection, to humility and to confession.

5. The parable reminds us to pray always and not lose heart.  Seeking justice is a daunting task.  The inequities of our world are so staggering and the structures of oppression so entrenched, that true change seems impossible.  We grow weary, we lose heart and we are tempted to give up. A woman in a displaced persons camp in eastern Congo recently said to a colleague of mine, “We are weeping tears.  We are afraid the church will get tired of helping us.”

In such a context Jesus reminds us to pray.  When we live prayerfully we become centred on God, and we are reminded that justice-making is not about us but about God’s own persistent patient way of redemption.  As God’s children, we are called to seek justice and to act justly, but it is Godwho will ultimately redeem all creation.  When we pray always, we learn to entrust all of life to the One who is truth, compassion, mercy and justice.  When we live our lives in that prayerful spirit, we will not lose heart.

Esther Epp-Tiessen

December 2, 2010

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives310 Dupont St., #200Toronto, ONM5R-1V9

Earth Sunday, 2012

On Earth Sunday, 2012 (April 22), at Newtonbrook United Church, we remembered that we are not alone – humanity is inter-connected with all of creation. Matthew Fox tells us that: “Science today is teaching what creation mystics have always taught: the interdependence of all.”

We heard about God’s first covenant, and remembered that it was with ALL living creatures. In the ninth chapter of Genesis, verses 8 and 9, we read that: ” Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you.”

Part of the sermon referred to the fact that, through the work of “geologian” Thomas Berry, the Christian church is learning that:

“In earlier Christian ages the tradition considered that there were two revelatory sources, one the manifestation of the Divine in the natural world and the other the manifestation of the Divine in the biblical world. These needed to be interpreted in and through each other.”

That is to say, God can be found in the “scriptures” of nature, as well as in the pages of the Bible.

We also heard the words of American aboriginal leader, Chief Seattle:

Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore,

every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect

is holy in the memory and experience of my people.

Teach your children what we have taught our children,

that the Earth is our mother.

The rivers are our siblings, they quench our thirst and feed our children.

The air is precious to my people, for all things share the same breath;

the beast, the tree, humankind, they all share the same breath.

And what is humankind without the beasts?

If all the beasts were gone, we would die

from a great loneliness of spirit.


This we know. The Earth does not belong to us;

we belong to the Earth. Humankind did not weave the web of life,

we are merely a strand in it.

Whatever humankind does to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.

All things are connected.”

Adapted from Sealth (Chief Seattle), 1854

Easter, 2012

Today is Easter Monday, 2012.


It is the day after the most important celebration on the Christian calendar – EASTER!


The following text is a posting of much of yesterday’s sermon at Newtonbrook United Church in Willowdale, Ontario. In a few days, the audio version of the sermon will be available on the congregation’s website at:

+  +  +


“So they went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[1]

This is the original ending to the Gospel According to Mark.

“Terror and amazement had seized them” – is that how you feel on Easter morning?

The three women ran from the tomb as they had been “seized by terror and amazement”. Wouldn’t you?

What would happen if we all were to run from church on Easter Sunday morning, “seized by terror and amazement”?

Why did these women flee with those feelings in their hearts? Maybe it was because they realized that God is doing a new thing AND has kept God’s promise to re-make this world into the Kin-dom of God.

Jesus taught that the power of love is greater than any other power on earth. I recently read a statement that in the eastern traditions there is a phrase that “soft is stronger than hard”. As an example, just look at how water erodes concrete. In the same way, LOVE can overcome the hardest of hearts.

Carol Cayenne, a friend of mine, died in 1998. In an obituary story about this black, activist woman, who had lived in what we now call TCHC, the Toronto Star quoted Carol:

We may not be able to get the guns, the knives, and the drugs, which come so easily to our children, off the streets. We may not be able to stop the glorification of violence on television but, as ordinary men, women and children, we have the power to care. And it is the power to care, once released, that can work miracles[2].

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “A Time to Break Silence” speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967; one year later, on this date in 1968, he was assassinated. (Source: American Rhetoric)

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had discovered that Jesus had spoken the truth about God’s promise to do a new thing.

EASTER means that God is doing a new thing.


Resurrection is a new thing! To encounter it for the first time is

to be seized by terror and amazement”.

Theologian Jurgen Moltman:

“Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving.”

To Moltman the resurrection of Jesus shows the world, “the beginning of a fundamental change in the conditions of possible experience.”[3]

Harold Wells:

“faith” in the risen Jesus means making the resurrection the central plank of one’s worldview, and involves the commitment of one’s whole life.[4]

No wonder the church has been running on empty for 2000 years! We have evidence that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, and we are a part of that new creation.

We are people who know, deep in our hearts, that God is doing a new thing! We know that the power of love can change the world. We are people who are willing to go into the world to do a new thing as followers of Jesus!

In a world of abundance, where the powers of Empire preach scarcity and deficit reduction, we are people who tell others that God shows us that it is the size of the heart that matters.

In a world that propagandizes that you can never have enough, Jesus shows us that all can be fed with five loaves and two fish.[5]

In a world guided by the false value of selfish individualism, Christian communities have been demonstrating for 2000 years that sharing is more powerful than hoarding.

In a world that celebrates the rich and powerful, no matter what their abilities may be, God shows us that it is “the least of these”, like Mary Magdalene, who explore the empty tomb, and bring the message of resurrection and NEW LIFE to future generations.

We are people of hope for a better world, who remember that real hope is guided by the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“No one who hopes in me ever regrets it.[6]

There is an eco-theologian by the name of Wendell Berry. He has published a poem that is called:

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

In this poem, the farmer warns against the love of the quick profit and a life that makes a person afraid to know your neighbours, and afraid to die. Instead, the mad farmer calls the reader to do something every day that doesn’t compute. It may be something that causes people to run away in terror and amazement. What is that radical act:

Love God; love God’s world, and finally “practice resurrection

As Jesus said;

‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.[7]

May we go into God’s world to “practice resurrection”,

may we go to meet the Risen Christ,

and may we go with the assurance of God’s everlasting and gentle love.

Hymn # 183 – We Meet You O Christ

[1] Mark 16, 8

[2] The Toronto Star, Thursday, April 16, 1998, page B5

[3] [3] Harold Wells, The Resurrection of Jesus According to “Progressive Christianity”, Touchstone, January 2012, page 43

[4] Harold Wells, The Resurrection of Jesus According to “Progressive Christianity”, Touchstone, January 2012, page 41

[5] See Mark 6: 30 – 44

[6] Isaiah 49: 23

[7] Matthew 25: 34 – 36 (The Message)

Alice Heap – presente!

Alice Heap presente!

This is a column written by Ted Schmidt.

It begins, as Ted usually does, with poetry. In this case it is a portion of a a poem by Bertolt Brecht.

Ted then writes a story about a funeral / celebration of life for one of the saints here in Toronto, Canada: Alice Heap.

There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.

There are those who struggle for a year and they are better.

There are those who struggle many years , and they are better still.

But there are those who  struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensible ones.

It was a funeral for the ages, a warm two hour bath of memory and hope. It was also a snapshot of a world gone by.

Alice Heap—’wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,Christian, pacifist,socialist, feminist, community activist and organizer extraordinaire” was feted and sent on her way to glory  in a Mass of Resurrection at the boiler room of incarnated Christianity, Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

You knew you were in the right palce when you saw John Sewell, Olivia Chow and so many veterans of peace and Justice struggles in our city.

Nestled in the bosom of the Temple of Consumerism, the Eaton Centre, Holy Trinity  has been the pulse of relevant Christianity for as long as I can remember and Alice Heap was one of the great dynamos who worshipped within her sacred precincts.She did it all with maximum effectiveness and little fanfare.

Wife and confidant to her “inseparable partner in faith and social justice causes”, former NDP member of Spadina  Don Heap, Alice was 86

Born in 1925 in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Quebec, southeast of Montreal, the daughter of a United Church minister Alice Boomhour converted to Anglicanism during the Second World War.It was at McGill that she met her future husband Dan, then studying theology and on his way to become an Anglican priest. Dan was ordained in 1950 the year he and Alice married. Both were members of the dynamic Student Christian Movement (SCM) which did so much to renovate the bourgeois Christianity which reigned in Canada in the post-war years. The SCM with its active insertion  into society prefigured the similar  thrust of Catholicism’s Vatican ll by decades.

Moving to Toronto, Dan worked in a paper factory for eighteen years  as a worker-priest. Alice stood tall alongside him—while raising the first of their seven children,

The Heap household with Alice the nourishing hub ultimately included seven children who were used to welcoming into their home  war resisters, SCM workcamps,farm workers and social justice activists of all stripes.Their penultimate home, a  rambling house in the Kensington Market area of Toronto was notorious as  an NDP hot house and a crash pad for justice seekers. The door at 29 Wales was never locked.

The funeral with numerous tributes made everyone aware of the extraordinary life this no-nonsense humble woman had led. It was breathaking to realize how a woman with seven children could be simultaneously engaged in so many areas of kingdom work– from housing, to anti-war work, refugees etc, all the while offering radical hospitality and speaking truth to power. Even at a young age  in her early SCM days as old friend Bruce Mutch stated, she was not shy “in calling to account.”Simply listening to the five “eulogists I  realized the appropriateness of the following justice  “hymn”:

Through all the tumult and the strife, i hear the music ringing, It sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing?

This was no morose funeral.It was a bold statement of Christian conviction, a defiant challenge to all of us, to pick up the cross and carry on. And irony of ironies, we would all be back in tis place  six days later to celebrate the Ecumenical Stations of the Cross.

The  gospel reading was obvious: Matthew 25:34-40 25—whatsoever you do unto the least…..Of course it was preceded by verses from the Internationale (Billy Bragg translation).It all cohered.

Stand up, all victims of oppression

For the tyrants fear your might

Don’t cling so hard to your possessions

For you have nothing, if you have no rights

Let racist ignorance be ended

For respect makes the empires fall

Freedom is merely privilege extended

Unless enjoyed by one and all

And what would a funeral of such a strong woman be without a few choruses of Bread and Roses?

A beautiful sacramental touch in this historic Henry Bower Lane Toronto landmark was the bread and wine shared and also the ashes we were all invited to add to Alice’s interment.

Alice was always future bound as Jurgen Moltmann reminds us, “Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving”. Forty years earlier she was active in the co-op movement at the top of our street with my wife Joan and forty years later she and Dan were embracing my own daughter Susannah as president of the Student Christian Movement for Canada.

This celebration should have been taped and sent by video to every Catholic parish to show just what we are losing as the Church retreats into its own smug, inward-looking circle, virtually disengaged from our common struggles. The “Church of the little flock” looks paltry, timorous, boring and ineffectual substituting charity for the clarion call to live out the Kingdom as a true leaven in society.

Alice Heap lived out of the messianic vision of Jesus.She was a profound gift to the Church and our city. She was also a  challenge to our own middle class Christianity hobbled as it is by the sweet seduction and cheap toys which often subvert our best intentions.To many of us—and we can only see this in the glow of such life in retrospect—Alice brought to life the Little Poor Man of Assisi’s advice: Pray often—use words if you have to.

Her life was the the Gospel, the Word for today, an incarnated Message and as  Michael Creal said in one of the eulogies. “If Anglicans had the machinery for canonization, Alice would have qualified.” And as he also noted, she would have dismissed the notion out of hand.

Did you ever leave a funeral dancing down the street? I did on March 31,2012