Justice Storytelling Quilt, Church Council on Justice and Corrections (Canada)

Justice Storytelling Quilt, Church Council on Justice and Corrections (Canada)


Our exploration of the Ten Commandments at St. Andrew’s concludes tomorrow morning with the words ‘you shall not give false testimony against your neighbour’. I must admit that it has been hard to focus on sermon preparation when emotions are so strong after the attacks of terror yesterday in Paris. But slowly I have come to understand that there may be a connection.

As I have studied this ‘word’ of God upon which a new human society was to be built, I have come to acknowledge a certain progression of understanding and application. The Holy One had commanded already that respect be shown to neighbour in deed, and now that respect is to be shown in word also. What begins in a legal context as a defence against exploitation is extended to become a general prohibition against lying in any way or form, for by compromising the truth, harm is inflicted upon others and indeed the integrity of human society. What is stated in the negative in the Bible is interpreted by the Reformers into a positive, that we are called to speak the truth. As Christians we follow the way of Christ, the way of the one who declared ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, and we are called to live the same constructive, sacrificial service of neighbour as did he, and the same confrontation with apathy, prejudice and injustice as did he. A progression from not lying to telling the truth, and further, to seeking the truth, so we might speak and live it for the good of neighbour.

Which brings me to the fact that this is known as Restorative Justice Sunday. Most of us acknowledge the need for our judicial system and we are grateful for the many who are at work for good within it. But it is also possible to acknowledge that it is an incomplete resource for the fullness of human life. Once representatives of victim and offender have spoken, and sentence has been passed, legal process has been served … but there remains a whole realm of human experience unspoken and unresolved. Restorative Justice declares that for there to be healing, victim and offender might be offered the opportunity to hear each other directly, personally. Dimensions such as hurt suffered and guilt carried need to be articulated. Each of the 40 patches on the quilt at the top of this blog represent testimonies of victims and offenders offered in safe spaces created by restorative justice circles in Canada. The prayer of this quilt is that as the various scraps of fabric are woven together into a cloth, so might the wounded and shattered pieces of our lives also be brought together for a new community. Read more at http://ccjc.ca/resources-3-2/

After the violence perpetrated upon the people of Paris, and by extension many of us beyond that city, there is much here to ponder for the days to come. For now, as I acknowledge the command to speak the truth, I can only look to the One who I believe has spoken and embodied truth most fully. I remember a portion of a prayer by the Scottish theologian John Baillie …

Grant that the remembrance of the blessed life that once was lived out on this earth under these skies may remain with me through this day. Let me remember –
His eagerness, not to be ministered unto, but to minister;
His sympathy with suffering of every kind;
His bravery in face of his own suffering;
His meekness of bearing, so that, when reviled, he reviled not again;
His steadiness of purpose in keeping to his appointed task … (A Diary of Private Prayer)

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all-saints (1)

It is All Saints Sunday, a day greeted by many Christians with particular joy.

For some, it is a time when we remember how connected we are to all who have gone before us in Christ – that in Christ we shall know not only the resurrection but reunion. I find the image above rather stilted in its highly stylized way, but I appreciate the evocation of the bands of generations who live around Christ, past present and future.

For others, it is a time to rejoice that we are all ‘saints’ or ‘holy’ (depending on whether you prefer an English word with a Latin or Greek derivative) right now – not in the sense of any personal accomplishment or quality, but rather because in baptism we belong to the ‘Holy One’, and are loved with a love that will not let us go and given a calling to live in and be that love in this time and place.

For myself, I am approaching ‘all saints’ with another perspective this year. We are progressing through an exploration of the ‘ten words’ of God given at Sinai, and have reached ‘you shall not steal’. As I hear this word, I think of another dimension of community. And I am aided in this by Jean Calvin, who suggested that we read the ten commandments according to two principles. One is that each part points to a greater whole. The other is that each prohibition is a positive exhortation. In the light of ‘all saints’, I hear ‘you shall not steal’ as the exhortation ‘you shall share’. And I wonder how different our cities and world would be if remembered that we are in this together with all humanity, that life is something that is honoured and enjoyed in the sharing. In a recent article, Jim Wallis of Sojourners wrote about his experience at the recent Parliament of World’s Religions, and the identification there of income inequality as a spiritual issue (link). As we gather for Holy Communion, I will be thinking about community, and my Christian commitments to neighbours near and far.

Have a look at the Order of Service below and join us in the worship of God if you are in the area!

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Wednesday evening a Kingston church hall was filled to overflowing for a Community Feast. We were called together by two groups: the Katarokwi Indigenous Grandmothers Council and KAIROS, the social justice initiative of eleven Canadian Christian churches and agencies. We were there to take up the journey towards healing and reconciliation and ‘reset the relationship’ between indigenous and non-indigenous neighbours. The traditional food of three sisters soup, bannock, wild rice and buffalo stew was complemented by salads and desserts of a typical church pot luck. Words and music were shared. And it all began with the voice and rhythm of the Grandfather Drum, offered by the Shimmering Waters men’s drumming circle.

Sunday morning we shall gather to acknowledge the voice and rhythm of God known through the scriptures. We continue our exploration of the Ten Words (as the ‘commandments’ are more appropriately translated from the original Hebrew) and hear ‘Do not commit adultery’. It might sound initially sharp and hard, but as it reverberates in heart and soul and over great swaths of human experience, and particularly through all known in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, we recognise the faithfulness that beats throughout God’s relationship with humanity, and the best of our relationships with each other.

Wednesday evening concluded with the sound of other drums. The Sisters of the Drum circle lead us out of the hall with a travelling song, a moving exhortation to take up the joy of the feast and to live it in the days to come. My only prayer for our service of worship of God tomorrow morning is that we might take up God’s way of faithfulness in our own relationships, personal and social.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway.
Honesty and openness make you vulnerable. Be open anyway.
Neglect and betrayal are often experienced. Be faithful anyway.
What you spend years building may be swept away overnight. Build anyway.
A service of worship may be dull and uninspired. Worship God anyway.
They say that a kingdom of peace and justice is not of this world. Live in trust of God anyway.
(inspired by words of Mother Theresa)


Have a look at our order of service and if you are in the area, I hope you can join us.

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These weeks of autumn, we continue to hear God’s ‘ten words’ (as they are referred to in the original Hebrew), and we hear ‘honour your father and your mother’.


As I considered this ‘word’ through the week, I found this image particularly moving. For many years when I heard ‘honour your father and your mother’, I thought young children were being addressed, and the exhortation was of obedience. But now I realize that when God spoke these words at Sinai, they were addressed equally if not primarily to adults, and the exhortation was not so much obedience as respect. I find the image above moving, for it shows an adult child seeking and receiving the blessing of an aged parent.

God knows, our parents are not perfect. But this ‘word’ about our relationship with parents is the first that follows the ‘words’  about our relationship with God. So somehow, honouring our parents flows from our honouring God, and the way we honour our parents is a mark of the honour we give God. Might respecting our parents as they age and deal with infirmity and become dependent upon us be a way of acknowledging and accepting God’s care for us in our frailty and brokenness as human beings?

The original Hebrew words for father and mother are expansive, able to include all our ancestors, all seniors. Might honouring our aged parents be the foundation of a society that respects the elderly and all who are vulnerable? As our nation goes to the polls tomorrow, might this ‘word’ be asking us significant questions about the investments we are willing to make in affordable housing, public transport and health care!

Much to ponder. Much to celebrate.
Have a look over the order of service, and if you are in the area, join us!

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As the ten good words of God are heard again this autumn, this Sunday we arrive at ‘You shall not covet’. There is little at first that seems relevant to this Thanksgiving weekend. ‘Covet’ conjures up thoughts of individual acts and objects, but is actually an inclination of the human heart that shapes whole lives and cultures. It is born of our innate insecurity and becomes our need to possess and control, at any cost.

In fact the relevancy of this good word is deep, for the only alternative to covetousness is … thanksgiving! This is why the first Christians were exhorted to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (I Thessalonians 5: 14-18). It is only the spiritual discipline of thanksgiving that frees us from the fears and insecurities and powers that otherwise rule us. It is only thanksgiving that lifts us out of little selves and opens us to trust God, and to serve neighbour. It is in thanksgiving that we find freedom.

If you are around Kingston this weekend, be sure to join us … in thanksgiving. (Scroll down to see the Order of Worship – with a nursery for infants with certified caregiver, a programme for children during the service, great hymns to be sung, and a gospel to enjoyed)

And consider lifting up a prayer of thanksgiving this weekend:

Blessed be you, Lord God of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth and makes glad the heart of humanity.
Ancient Hebrew prayer

Give us grace, O Lord, to be ever thankful for your providence, with hearts always ready to provide for the needs of others.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

You who have given so much to me,
Give me one thing more,
a grateful heart, for Christ’s sake.
George Herbert (1593-1633)

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
for all his love.
Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

For food and drink and friends, we give thanks. Bless, O Lord, our table; deepen our gratitude; enlarge our sympathies and order our affections in generous and unselfish lives, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen
Robert Runcie (1921-2000)

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I remember David Suzuki, Canadian scientist, summing up his life work and message with a simple image. Image a test tube filled with food. It represents the earth. Image a single bacterium introduced into the test tube. Left to grow, it doubles in number every minute. In the first minute, two bacteria. In the second minute, four bacteria. Imagine it takes one hour for the bacteria to consume the entire supply of food, the point at which the bacteria themselves will die. When will the test tube be exactly half full of food and half full of bacteria? In the 59th minute. At the 59th minute, everything looks fine. Just one more minute and catastrophe will strike.

Suzuki the environmental scientist declares that we are at the 59th minute. Perhaps we are at the 59th minute spiritually also. Our lives have become overwhelmed by activity and anxiety.


It is time for us to recover the gift of the Sabbath. It is time for us to recover the discipline and delight of withdrawing and resting, of reflection and of gratitude. It takes time to connect with others, to open ourselves to the Holy. In celebrating a sabbath we find freedom, we enter into the freedom which is the gift of God … which is the point made in the version of the Ten Words recorded in Deuteronomy – ‘Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy … Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day’ (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Join me in practising sabbath, beginning in the worship of God!

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I have been helping to prepare a Community Feast here in Kingston that will offer us the opportunity to sit with First Nations neighbours and share an evening of food and music. It is being co-hosted by the Katarokwi Grandmother’s Council and KAIROS Canada, taking up the journey toward healing and reconciliation. (See a notice below the Order of Service with all the details.) During the week I was reminded of a series of paintings Kisemanito Pakitinasuwin—The Creator’s Sacrifice by Cree artist Ovide Bighetty, and one in particular caught my eye this week – ‘Betrayal’.


We continue our journey through the ten words of God and good, arriving now at the third, ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses this name’ (Exodus 20:7). In a very real sense, it is all about betrayal.

When Moses asked by what name he would refer to the Holy One, the answer came ‘I am who I am’ (Exodus 3:14). Worked from the linguistic derivative of the verb ‘to be’ in Hebrew, the Holy Name came to known as YHWH, translated into English as Jehovah, or LORD. The Holy One would be known by working freedom for the Hebrew slaves, and later by working freedom for all humanity in Christ, but the Holy Name reminded all of the profound sovereignty of the Holy One.

In earlier translations into English, this third commandment spoke of taking the LORD’s name in vain, and it came to be reduced to swearing. The New Revised Standard Version challenges us with the broader, more demanding, dimensions of this ‘word’. We make wrongful use of the name of LORD when we speak, invoking God for our own purposes (whether it be within the church to justify our own plans and prejudices or a politician to appear pious and trustworthy), but also as we live, bearing God’s name as God’s people but living without God’s care for the poor and despoiling God’s good creation.

Back to Bighetty’s canvas … That kiss of the disciple reminded me that the Holy One is hurt most deeply by those closest, by us … and not by our words but by our actions do we betray the Name of the good God most grievously. It is in being reminded of this, and it is in acknowledging this, that we are opened to new beginnings, that we are set on the highway of life once again, by the grace of God. Thank God for these signs, these good ‘words’, these commandments, along the way.

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