The Holy Innocents

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,

 Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:13-18

 

The largest massacre of the conflict in El Salvador happened in El Mozote on December 11, 1981. Reports vary, but anywhere from 750-1000 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran army that day.

IMG_2676El Mozote is a small town near the border with Honduras. There are a few homes around a square, a small store, a big tree with the open-air market, and a church on a small rise at the base of one of the surrounding hills. The church is simple – whitewashed with blue trim. There is no steeple or tower, just two small crosses on the outside corners. Whether or not the church looked like this 35 years ago, I do not know. But there has always been a church.

The church is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall and a short iron fence. While the gate is closed today, I can see another gate, made of iron in the shape and colour of a sun with rays and rainbow, leading into the garden beside the church. Over this image is the words, “Jardin de reflexion los inocentes” – The Garden of Reflection of the Innocents.

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Immediately what springs to mind is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which we are commemorating today in the chapel at Huron. This is the feast where we remember those children massacred by King Herod when he was hoping to kill the child Jesus. But that isn’t entirely what this garden is commemorating, though it may be a reference. This garden is commemorating the massacre in El Mozote.

No one outside of the immediate department in El Salvador really believed that there had been a massacre of civilians of this scope in El Mozote. The army took great pains to hide it from everyone. Yet years later when they finally began to excavate the site, they found the bones of approximately 150 children buried in this space beside the church. One hundred and fifty innocent children massacred in one place.

IMG_2686With tears in his eyes, the brother of the lone survivor, Tomas, told us of how his sister Rufina was carrying her eight-month old baby and had her other children by her side that morning when the army rounded everyone into the square. First the men were brought into the church, interrogated, and killed. Then the young girls were taken into the hills, raped, and buried. Rufina’s baby was knocked from her hands by the soldiers who then picked it up, tossed it into the air, and “caught” it on the end of their bayonets.

Slaughter of the innocents.

Entire families were wiped out in this massacre. Lives changed – and taken – in an instant. Soldiers set fire to all of the buildings in the village, with the bodies piled inside, hoping to remove all evidence of what they had done.

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I asked if justice had ever been served. They said no: those who ordered the massacres are still serving in the Legislative Assembly and until they are no longer around to block the process, they cannot seek justice.

[For an extensive report of El Mozote: here.]

It is hard to have hope, witnessing something like that. These massacres seem to have been going on for far too long. Who knows what will someday be uncovered about our history? Perhaps the only hope we can offer is that in the second reading for today:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

God is here and is making all things new. We are participating in that renewal of the earth. Awful things are still going to happen, unfortunately, until the new heaven and new earth becomes reality. Until then, we continue to hope and pray and work to make it our reality.

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Global Citizen Youth Leadership

I have very briefly mentioned that I spent a few weeks in El Salvador this summer. My time there was through the work I do with PWRDF. One of our partners, the Committee against AIDS (CoCoSI), was chosen to host a delegation of young people from Saskatchewan. The trip was designed and run by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. Its purpose was, as the title “Global Citizen Youth Leadership Program” suggests, designed to promote being a global citizen amongst young people.

What does it mean to be a global citizen, you might ask. This was explored through discussions of international development – good and bad, through understanding privilege and oppression, through living and interacting with people with a different history, culture, and worldview to the ones we may have grown up with, and through being open to being changed and willing to ask tough questions to ourselves and our society.

The eight teenagers from all across Saskatchewan who joined in on this journey are amazing young people. They rose to the challenge and let their hearts be broken time and time again by shattered worldviews, poverty, pain, and love. Their experiences, and the stories of some of the people we met have been captured in a 30 minute video by a Regina filmaker.

For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to see the video, take 30 minutes and be challenged by some amazing young people.

Passing Peace

Each time we, as a Christian community, gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we have a tradition of passing the peace. How we pass that peace can be summed up in a thread started by a friend of mine of Facebook: “Informal poll for Episcopalians (or anyone who worships in a “liturgical church”): When passing the peace, are you a hand shaker or a hugger?”

With over fifty comments on the post, it is safe to say that we are all a little divided on it and many have strong opinions. I know people who will only attend services using the Book of Common Prayer, the older prayer book, so that they do not have to even think about touching anyone. I know people who have it as their mission to hug every single person in the building before they will conclude that they have sufficiently passed peace. My own response? Well, if I know you well, I’ll give you a hug. If I’ve only just met you or I don’t know you very well, it is a hand shake.

But what about if that has to change and you can’t shake hands for some reason and you do not want to hug? Then what?

I spent July and August in El Salvador with a group of youth leaders from Saskatchewan. We were visiting a PWRDF partner there, and spent the majority of our time in a small, isolated, rural community in the highlands close to the border with Honduras. While I am always really careful about ensuring I have all of my travel vaccinations before I go anywhere, there are some things you cannot plan for and cannot do anything to prevent.

Shortly before leaving to return home, I had a bit of a fever and felt achy all over. The local doctor looked me over and decided that I didn’t need to worry about anything with regards to flying, and to visit a doctor at home if anything changed after I arrived home. For some time, nothing changed. However a few weeks after returning home I started to get really achy joints: toes, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and fingers. Not all at once, but definitely a lot of them for a lot of the time.

After a series of blood tests (and a whole lot of blood removed from my body), we have determined that I got the chikungunya virus when I was in El Salvador. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, which is interesting since I rarely get bitten by mosquitoes. It won’t cause any permanent damage and the joint pain will subside over time – and indeed it already has a lot: walking is no longer extremely painful and I have been able to type these words – but I will be dealing with joint pain off and on for a while longer still.

What does this have to do with passing the peace, you might ask? Simply this: my hands and feet remain the most affected parts of my body. I have difficulty holding our heavy hymn books some mornings in chapel. It also means that when well-meaning people give me a nice, firm handshake of peace, my hand aches for hours afterwards.

How does one pass peace when a handshake isn’t a viable option? I have tried a number of different things, most recently putting my hands together in prayer position and slightly bowing to people when I pass the peace of God. More often than not, however, this becomes awkward for both myself and the other person. So what is one to do? While for me, the pain will soon go away, I am mindful that is not the reality for many.

Sermon for October 5th, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 5, Matthew 21:33-45; Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario.

You have maybe had that moment where someone starts to tell a story and you realize you’ve heard it before – so you know that it is a good one… there is that eager expectation for the highlights of the story – you might even prompt the story teller if you think they’ve forgotten one of the key lines.

I kind of think that is how the listeners must have felt when Jesus started to tell the parable in today’s Gospel reading: They know the story about the vineyard. They’ve heard it before from Isaiah and they are pretty sure that they know exactly what is going on:

Israel the unfaithful.

Israel the untrue.

God’s unrequited love for Israel.

Unrequited love that results in Israel being cast away – exiled, and her temple destroyed because of her bad behaviour.

So when Jesus started to tell the story about the vineyard with wicked tenants, I picture some of those listening taking a step back, maybe folding their arms or raising an eyebrow and saying, ”I know how this one goes! Lets see how he does”

Jesus describes the care the landowner goes to in order to set up his vineyard. He describes the way the landowner leaves the vineyard with tenants to tend it and harvest its produce.

Then Jesus describes the cycle of violence that ensues when the landowner seeks to recover the crop from the vineyard:

The tenants kill the first set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

Then the tenants kills the second set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

The landowner, perhaps in a temporary loss of sanity, thinks they won’t dare do anything to his son and his heir. So the son is sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard and the tenants seize him, toss him out, and kill him too.

So it isn’t really too surprising that when Jesus finally asks the question: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” that everyone listening is like “Oh, I’ve got this one, I know the answer”: after all, in the vineyard story from Isaiah that they all know, God destroys the vineyard entirely, trampling down its walls, lets it become overgrown, casts out the people, and speaks of bloodshed from the pruning that Israel will experience.

So the listeners answer, kindly sparing the vineyard itself, but damning the tenants: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.”

If they won’t comply, kill them and get new people who will do a better job.

I find myself asking “Why” when I read this gospel parable. Why are the tenants killing the slaves and trying to keep the harvest and the land? I wonder what drove them to do that?

Are they really wicked?

What if they are desperate?

The landowner, we are told, lives at a distance. An absentee landowner. He bought the property and probably invested a lot of money into setting up this vineyard, came to some sort of arrangement with his tenants, and then took off to live in another land. So this guy probably has some money. Judging from the way he takes such time and care to set up his vineyard, we can guess that this was a brand new vineyard: a brand new vineyard carved out from land that may once have been common land for the peasants to harvest crops for their food on. This was a common practice in Palestine in Jesus’ day.

It is also, unfortunately, a common practice today.

Canada is home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies and mineral exploration companies. The Canadian stock exchange raises 40% of all mineral exploration capital worldwide. (Statistics from Kairos)

Canadian mining companies have been known for taking advantage of, worsening, or even provoking conflict in countries with weak democracies. Exploiting the conflict to their own financial and material gain.

I travelled to El Salvador at the beginning of this year. In El Salvador we sat with and listened to the stories of people affected by Canadian mining operations in that country. We heard about agreements made to deliver the resources from the land at the expense of the workers and those trying to live on the land. Wealthy company executives who live in another country who pressure – and even trick – those working the land to sign away the rights for and turn over a product beyond what they and what their land can sustainably produce. To give up a return that will not enrich the workers and will not provide for their livelihood – instead it will kill their livelihoods and poison their water. A return that will only line the pocket of the mining company executives and shareholders. And when the people of the country put their foot down and say “No more exploitation,” violence – intimidation and death – against those who protest, follows.

Would we blame these workers if they decided to revolt? Wanted to seek better working conditions? Wanted to protect their children and livelihoods?

I’m all for justice in the world, and I’m all about fairness – and killing messengers sent to collect produce probably needs to be dealt with, but all of this – the destruction of the land, the exploitation of vulnerable workers and retribution for non-compliance – this just seems like a lot of violence that needs to be stopped. The people listening to Jesus’ story, however seem to encourage it to continue: “put those miserable wretches to death and find someone else to do the dirty work.”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of response doesn’t seem like the Jesus that speaks elsewhere in the gospels – the Jesus who challenges the status quo and asks us to stand up for the poor and the vulnerable. Not with violence, but with love.

Jesus, shocking his listeners, and perhaps challenging us, doesn’t agree with that response either. Jesus flips it around. “Haven’t you read the scriptures?” he asks. As if to say – is this really what you think God is like? Do you really want a violent God? A God who is represented by the landowner that goes in and kills everyone – a God who is just going to be violent in response to any violence that happens?

No, says Jesus, “the stone that has been rejected will be the cornerstone.” Instead of telling a story of a violent and retributive landowner, I am telling the story of what could be: Those who you reject I have lifted up. The least among you is the greatest. The voiceless will be listened to. Those who exploit will be overturned and we will have grace and justice.

We believe in a God who asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit those in prison, shelter those who are homeless. A God whose son Jesus Christ said, “whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.”

I am challenged to ask, what I, what we, have done and what I, what we, have left undone to the least of these.

Amen.

One Year

One year ago this weekend I finalized the pack-up of my life in Victoria and got on a ferry for a few days in Vancouver, before flying to Ontario to start a whole new chapter.

A whole new chapter? Yes, I suppose it was, though the chapter has been just one in a journey of many that started with the first conversation I had, out loud, pondering a call to ordained ministry as a priest.

The last year has had lots of new adventures. I’ve been exploring a new city and region and re-exploring the province of my birth. I’ve been within spitting distance of extended family members who I haven’t lived near in 20 years.

I have started the seminary journey, completing first year (with top grades in the class!) and have begun to lay the foundations for my field placement for this upcoming year. Lots of new friends have joined me on this journey, some who I know I will have for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador, participating as an international elections observer and witnessing the human rights and development work done by PWRDF partner the Cristosal Foundation.

And there are more adventures to come! Later this month I will be experiencing the Stratford Festival for the first time! Then, I head to Turkey with a group from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. I continue to work with the theological society to plan orientation for this upcoming year of school. Second year classes begin in a little over a month (eeek!) and I’ll be starting my field placement at a local Anglican church.

Southwestern Ontario is a far cry from Vancouver Island,  but it is beautiful country with wonderful people, and more things to learn and places to explore.

Here is to year two in Ontario!

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Young Leaders Thrive Amidst Opposition

This was written for justgeneration and has also appeared on pwrdf.org.

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Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young… (I Tim 4:14)

Those words were ringing through my head as I sat in a circle with a group of young people working for PWRDF partner CoCoSI (Committee Against AIDS) just outside of Santa Marta, El Salvador.

One by one we went around the circle, introducing ourselves, saying what our role was, and how old we were. “I am 24 … 31 … 29 …” As each one of the other young people told their story of working for CoCoSI I was struck by how this group of young people had all seen a need in their community and responded to it, regardless of opposition.

CoCoSI was founded in 1999 by a group of young people, some of whom still work for CoCoSI. They founded the organization to raise awareness of and promote prevention of HIV and AIDS in their community and in the local prisons. Since then, CoCoSi has also begun to work at preventing gender-based violence, particularly towards women, and promoting human rights to those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

And there was opposition: some of the young adults were as young as 15 when they founded CoCoSI. They faced opposition from those who thought they were too young to do what they were doing. They faced opposition from those who did not think HIV and AIDS should be talked about. They faced opposition from those who said they did not have enough formal education. In some cases, they faced opposition from within their own families and communities.

What was remarkable was that these were young people who should not, by all accounts, have succeeded. Most were born across the border in Honduras, in refugee camps that their parents had escaped to during the long years of the Salvadoran conflict. They had, as teenagers and young adults, returned home and begun to advocate within their community for rights of the marginalized. They also began developing HIV and AIDS education and prevention programs in their region.

Despite, or in spite of all of this, they have succeeded. After spending time with the young staff of CoCoSI, I had the opportunity to sit with two of them as they facilitated a women’s support group in a nearby community. Despite only understanding about half of the Spanish conversation, I could see the joy on the faces of the women in the group. I could see the passion and love for the women and for their job in the presentation of the two young women from CoCoSI. And I heard and understood stories of empowerment and safety echoed around the circle. Indeed, CoCoSI has been recognized internationally for their programs and I am so proud that we at PWRDF partner with them to help see that their incredible work continues.

El Salvador

IMG_2680I’ve been going full-tilt since I arrived home a little over a week ago – so much so that I haven’t even stopped to edit/review my photos. (Though you can see a few that I posted to Instagram while I was down there if you scroll back through my web feed)

This week is reading break so I’m hoping that I will have some time to catch up with myself, if only to prepare for the two papers and two midterms due next week before I head off to Victoria for Diocese of BC events.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI did do some blogging whilst in El Salvador, though the justgeneration.ca website went down so blogs have been posted since I’ve arrived home. The blogs are, wonderfully, filling two purposes: updating our justgen website with stories about what two of our PWRDF partners are up to in El Salvador and becoming the reflection paper I have to write as a part of the program requirements for school.

Notably missing from the blogs will be my concerns with the long hours while we were there and the fact that I got sick from sheer exhaustion. But evident will be the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, and the amazing work that our partners are doing down there.

In case you haven’t found them yet, I’m not going to reproduce them here, but the blogs can be found here:

Preparing to Leave for El Salvador

Reflecting on Archbishop Oscar Romero

Observing an Election

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On the same day as reported on with the Oscar Romero blog, I had another, even more moving experience related to a friend of mine from home. It is a beautiful story that I am still deciding on whether it is mine to share. Regardless, some amazing moments out of that trip.