Three Poems in Lieu of a Proper Sermon for Epiphany 2018


Journey of the Magi                         T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised a Unitarian. After attending Harvard he went to Oxford in 1914 to work on a doctorate in philosophy. After his marriage in 1916 he had many many personal difficulties, which resulted in poems such as The Waste Land (1922) and The Hollow Men (1925). By the late twenties he was an Anglican, a UK citizen, and a monarchist. For many he may be best known for having written the book of light poetry which became the libretto for the musical Cats. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. This poem was written in 1927, a year after Eliot had converted to Christianity and had been baptized into the Church of England. The first lines echo a well known sermon by Lancelot Andrewes

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the yea
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


From The Summons, in For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

The following lines of poetry, in the voices of the three wise men, is an extract from a long, long poem – 62 pages – which was written by Auden in the early 1940s and published in 1944. Born in 1907, Auden is perhaps best known for his poem Funeral Blues (“Stop all the clocks”) (1936) which was featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. In the 1930s many in Britain considered him the modernist successor to T.S. Eliot, and to escape such pressure and the resulting stultifying atmosphere he emigrated to the United States in early 1939. When war broke out he contacted the British embassy and offered his services, but he was told that men of his age were not yet needed; ultimately he served in the US Strategic Bombing Survey. The grandson of Church of England clergymen, Auden renounced his High Anglican faith as a teenager. However, in November 1939 he went to a German cinema in New York City, and as Edward Mendelsohn put it in a review of the book Auden and Christianity, the theatre

was showing an official German newsreel celebrating the Nazi victory over Poland. (Until the United States and Germany declared war, German films could be shown freely in American theaters.) Auden was startled by the shouts of “Kill the Poles!” that rose from the audience of ordinary German immigrants who were under no coercion to support the Nazis. He told an interviewer many years later: “I wondered, then, why I reacted as I did against this denial of every humanistic value. The answer brought me back to the church.”[1]

He eventually found his way to the American version of the Church of England in the United States, the Episcopal Church, and became a parishioner at St. Mark’s-in-the Bowery. For The Time Being was written and dedicated to his mother. It’s nine sections review the different elements of the Christmas story in a modernist vein – from the Annunciation to the fleeing of the Holy Family to Egypt. This extract comes from the section about the Star of Bethlehem and the magi. The wise men are, in a sense, modern as well. The first, echoing Roger Bacon, extracts knowledge from Nature, seeking Truth. The second is more of a social scientist, analyzing time and history to finds its mechanisms. The third is a psychologist who reduces love to utilitarian passions. All are drawn unaccountably by the star, calling into question their assumptions and biases. The fourth part, where all three speak, is a clear echo of Eliot’s poem above.

 The First Wise Man

                        To break down her defenses
And profit from the vision
That plain men can predict through an
Ascesis of their senses,
With rack and screw I put Nature through
A thorough inquisition;
But she was so afraid that if I were disappointed
I should hurt Her more that Her answers were disjointed –
I did. I didn’t. I will. I won’t.
She is just as big a liar, in fact, as we are.
To discover how to be truthful now
Is the reason I follow this star.

The Second Wise Man

                        My faith that in Time’s constant
Flow lay real assurance
Broke down on this analysis –
At any given moment
All solids dissolve, no wheels revolve,
And facts have no endurance –
And who knows if this is by design pure inadvertence
That the Present destroys its inherited self-importance?
With envy, terror, rage, regret,
We anticipate or remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now
Is the reason I follow this star.

The Third Wise Man

Observing how myopic
Is the Venus of the Soma,
The concept Ought would make, I thought,
Our passions philanthropic,
And rectify in the sensual eye
Both lens-flare and lens-coma:
But arriving at the Greatest Good by introspection
And counting the Greater Number, left no time for affection,
Laughter, kisses, squeezing, smiles;
And I learned why the learned are as despised as they are.
To discover how to be loving now
Is the reason I follow this star.

The Three Wise Men

The weather has been awful,
The countryside is dreary,
Marsh, jungle, rock; and echoes mock,
Calling our hope unlawful;
But a silly song can help along
Yours ever and sincerely:
At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners,
That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners,
And miss our wives, our books, our dogs,
But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow this star.

[1] Edward Mendelson,“Auden and God” reviewing Auden and Christianity, Arthur Kirsch (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2007) in The New York Review of Books December 6, 2007.


Nativity Poem
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Brodsky said about himself, “I’m Jewish; a Russian poet, an English essayist – and, of course, an American citizen.” Although born into a Jewish family, during the siege of Leningrad he was apparently baptized at the age of two in a country parish. He began writing poetry as a young man, and incurred the disapproval of the Soviet authorities. In 1972 he was expelled and, with W. H. Auden’s help, came to the United States. While he learned English and wrote essays in that language, his attempts at poetry in his adopted tongue were unsuccessful; he is thus known in English through skilled translations. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. Starting in 1962 and continuing until his death he wrote an annual Christmas poem. While his own relationship to the Christian faith was ambiguous – he once joked that he was “a Christian by correspondence” – it is clear in his poems that he understood the implications of the Incarnation. He believed that “Christmas deals with the ‘calculation’ of life and the existence of the individual”. The following poem, written in Russian by Brodsky in 1989, was translated by the Irish poet Seamus Heany (Nobel Prize for Literature 1995) and published in 2000 in The New Yorker.


Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:
Imagine crockery, try to make use of its glaze
To feel cold cracks in the floor, the blankness of hunger.
Imagine the desert – but the desert is everywhere.

Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,
The fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;
And imagine, as you towel your face in the enveloping folds,
Mary, Joseph, and the Infant in swaddling clothes.

Imagine the kings, the caravans’ stilted procession
As they make for the cave, or, rather, three beams closing in
And in on the star, the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;
(No thronging of Heaven as yet, no peal of the bell

That will ring in the end for the infant once he has earned it).
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded
Immensely in distance, recognizing Himself in the Son
Of Man: His homelessness plain to him now in a homeless one.

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Echoes of Grief: Remembrance Day 2017

A Sermon preached on the Sunday before Remembrance Day, November 5, 2017 at St. Dunstan’s, Gordon Head, Victoria BC


These are the three overlapping themes of Remembrance Day; but the greatest of these is grief.

Grief was the first and primary purpose.

Soon after the ending of the Great War, beginning in 1919, people gathered to mark the end of the war, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month. From Canada some 620,000 men and women went forward, a remarkable number from a population of 8 million – 7%, or one out of every fifteen people in Canada. Some 250,000 of those 620,000 were wounded, and 67,000 were killed.

There were celebrations in 1918, of course. Crowds gathered in public squares and called back and forth, “Who won the war?” “We won the war!” The satirical song, “Lloyd George knew my father, Father knew Lloyd George” was also sung in tribute to the British Prime Minister.

But in the years following these gatherings were not so much celebrations of victory than the remembrance of the great cost of victory. The peace treaties had just been signed, and already they were being called into question by public intellectuals, such as John Maynard Keynes. Civil War continued in the former Russian Empire, the Soviets and Polish were fighting over territory, Turkey and Greece were fighting over boundaries and peoples, and there was turmoil in Germany. While there was peace in the British Empire, the USA, and France, it took another few years before the world settled down. While the legacy of the war was being debated, one thing was not in doubt: the cost in human life.

On November 11, 1920, the centre of the Empire experienced an extraordinary event. The remains of a British soldier were exhumed from the battlefields of France and transported to London for a full state funeral, with the King as the primary mourner. The unidentidfied soldier was buried with full military honours in a prominent place in the west end of the nave of Westminster Abbey. As the funeral procession from Victoria Station passed by Whitehall the King unveiled a cenotaph, a new word in 1920 which meant “empty tomb”, a gravestone to stand for all who the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had died in the defense of the Empire.

After the funeral, conducted according to the Book of Common Prayer’s “The Burial of the Dead”, the body was laid to rest directly in front of the entrance at the west end of the nave of Westminster Abbey. A stone of black Belgian marble was placed over the grave, and although flush with the floor it remains the only grave in the Abbey over which it is forbidden to walk. The inscription reads:


Beneath this stone rests the body
Of a British warrior
Unknown by name or rank
Brought from France to lie among
The most illustrious of the land
And buried here on Armistice Day
11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of
His Majesty King George V
His Ministers of State
The Chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation

Thus are commemorated the many
Multitudes who during the Great
War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that
Man can give life itself
For God
For King and country
For loved ones home and empire
For the sacred cause of justice and
The freedom of the world

They buried him among the kings because he
Had done good toward God and toward
His house

Around the main inscription are four New Testament quotations:

The Lord knoweth them that are his (top; 2 Timothy 2:19)
Unknown and yet well known, dying and behold we live (side; 2 Corinthians 6:9)
Greater love hath no man than this (side; John 15:13)
In Christ shall all be made alive (base; 1 Corinthians 15:22)

Not long after the Great War memorial halls being built across Canada, such as the one down by the Cathedral. Likewise, cenotaphs were erected in the centres of every city, town, and village. Since those early post-war years hundreds and thousands have shown up to services that are chiefly about remembering the dead.


The Saanich Municipal Hall Cenotaph

Our Remembrance Day services, then, are somber echoes of funerals from the past. They are times for the consolations of religion, and not for the celebration.

And of course we in the church know how to do grief. It was a good and natural thing for us to be part of these ceremonies. It is also around that time that Anglican churches began to bend a little, and allow prayers for the dead. Up until then it was not considered good protestant practice and theology to pray for the dead – after all, as reformed and evangelical Christians (in the Reformation sense of those words) our prayers would avail nothing of the dead. However, so great was the grief across the country that as a pastoral practice, and maybe because of a little Anglo-Catholic influence, such prayers now became a bit more common. Readings from the Apocrypha began to be used:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
Wisdom 3.1-8

Calls for Peace

But, of course, the War to End War, as H.G. Wells called it idealistically in 1914, was anything but. The First World War and the peace that followed saw the rise of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany, each with ideologies glorifying war and racism. The Second World War called forth Canada, now an independent Dominion, to enlist over 1.1 million soldiers, sailors, flyers, and others. 44,000 lost their lives. Although there has not been any war on a similar scale, we answered the call of the United Nations for the Korean War, with 26,000 participating, of whom 516 died. More recently over 40,000 personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces served in Afghanistan, and of them 159 were killed, along with six civilians.


The Afghanistan Memorial in Victoria BC, east of the Law Courts and opposite Christ Church Cathedral and Pioneer Park. The inset photograph inspired the engraved figures.

Because we live in a world where war still happens, because we live in a time when nuclear weapons have the capacity of wiping out the world’s population, many people in the generations since the Great War have used Remembrance Day as an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to peace and peacemaking.

Again, this is right and proper. As Christians we should have a very wary attitude towards war. Whereas conquest by war was considered a normal part of the ancient world and international law up until a hundred years ago, early Christians looked upon war as something which non-Christians did – you could not be a soldier and a Christian at the same time. St. Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers and a man after whom many military chapels were named, himself renounced war when he became a Christian. The emperor Constantine was baptised only on his deathbed even though he had become a Christian several decades earlier, as he believed that his baptism would be compromised by the military role of an Emperor – only at death’s door could he give himself wholly over to a Christian life. St. Augustine in the early 5th century worked out the theory of just war, which essentially argued that the only just war is a defensive one, and that it is only acceptable if all other avenues of resolving the conflict have been exhausted. This Just Theory continues to be deeply influential in military science and international law.

That said, things changed. Byzantine emperors and kings in western Europe had no problem combining Christianity and military force in a way that would have startled the early Christians. Perhaps the worst example of this were the Crusades, which sought to liberate Jerusalem, but resulted in the massacre of tens of thousands and in petty squabbles over territory and tribute.

Most devout Christians were horrified by the massacres of the 20th century. In the UK, France, and Germany the decline in church attendance before the Great War only accelerated, as people wondered how supposedly faithful Christians could go to war with each other. In the middle of the Second World War George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester in the 1940s, made himself very unpopular by calling into question the morality of the fire-bombing of German civilians. In the post-war era many Christians followed the Anabaptist path and became pacifists. In the 1960s many Christians joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and protested against the Vietnam War. Between the Korean War and the Afghanistan War many Canadian Christians lauded Canada’s military and leadership in peace-keeping.

At the same time Canada received many immigrants and refugees from places that had been torn apart by war and conflict: the displaced peoples of the Second World War from all across Europe; then, in the 1950s and 1960s, Hungarians and Czechs; in the early 1970s Asian-Africans driven from Uganda, where their ancestors had settled generations before; Vietnamese; persecuted peoples from Central and South America, from Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and more recently, from Syria and Iraq. Christians have played the major role in welcoming these peoples, and helping them move through the trauma of war to becoming ordinary Canadians. For many, as the memory of total war receded and veterans passed away, the relevance of these other conflicts underlined the emphasis on peace and peace-keeping.

A Nationalistic Celebration?

In reaction to what many perceived as the marginalization of the Canadian Armed Forces and a growing disconnection from our military history, many in recent years have sought to re-centre Remembrance Day in that past, to create a national identity for Canada. Vimy Ridge began to be discussed as the place where Canada became a nation, even though there are any number of other battles or campaigns that are far less well known where the same point could be made – Hill 70, Passchendaele, the Hundred Days.

Many people are uncomfortable with this, preferring to keep these nationalistic aspects to a minimum. Unlike our neighbours to the south, we do not have a supposedly common civil religion around a flag and a constitution. Instead we are a remarkable mix of societies resistant to any melting pot: indigenous, Francophones; Anglophones, Newfoundlanders, African-Canadians descended from slaves, and more recently, people from all the nations on earth. Debates over national identity are settled by stating that we are post-national and multicultural. Yes, we have a constitution, a flag, a citizenship, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we also have a lot of unfinished business. 

Knowing all this, perhaps Remembrance Day does have a role for Christians in Canada, to remind us to be engaged with our democratically chosen leaders, subjecting to examination their policies on foreign relations and the the role of the military.


That said, Remembrance Day remains fundamentally a time to grieve and remember the dead.

Grief. Peace. Nation. As Christians we can play a role in each of these ways to commemorate Remembrance Day.

  • We can celebrate our nation, fully engaging with the democratically elected leaders and debating the meaning of history and the mission of our Canadian Armed Forces today, and, as Jesus did, call into question the motivations of our leaders.
  • We can work for peace, recognizing that in our Lord and master Jesus Christ we have one who sought to overcome the violence of the Roman Empire with sacrificial love.
  • And we can mourn the dead, even as they recede into history. We remember that we walk in the light of the resurrection, and that, however horrible their deaths, God is not yet done with them, or us.


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The Columbian Apocalypse

This post is a continuation of the second part of my dissertation Unsettling Theology.

>Cutline topiaupeitaopwuetopawuetop iuawepo tuawope tuaopwietuopaiwu etopi uaweopitu aopweituopa wietuopaiuwetopuiawoeitataa

“The ruins of the Haida village of Ninstints, abandoned after a smallpox epidemic in the 1880s. When George Vancouver first came to the Strait of Georgia, a 1782 smallpox epidemic had littered the area with abandoned, overgrown villages.” National Post

The next attempt to settle the Americas was that of Columbus.[1] Because of a miscalculation Columbus thought the earth was much smaller than it was, and so he believed that he had found a new route to the Orient when he arrived in the Bahamas in 1492. In his three further voyages of 1493, 1498, and 1502 he thoroughly explored the Caribbean and established colonies in Hispaniola, still thinking he was somewhere just east of Japan. Columbus captured a number of the Taino who lived on the island of Hispaniola, some of who were sexually and physically assaulted and transported back to Spain. Many of the Taino fought back against the Spanish settlements, destroying La Navidad established on Hispaniola in 1492. Subsequent settlements at Isabella and Santo Domingo enslaved some 400,000 of the Taino, whose rapidly died off. In order to work the farms in the new colonies the Spanish colonists brought slaves from Africa, starting in 1501. The Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire in Mexico in 1519-21, and the Inca Empire of Peru in 1532. Over the following decades of the 16th century the Spanish extended their rule to cover the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, all of South America except for what became Brazil (which was settled by Portugal), and into Florida, New Mexico, and California.

The overriding rationale for the Spanish to colonize the Americas was financial. Columbus’s initial goal was to find a maritime route to East Asia that did not have to use the Silk Road and was well away from attacks by hostile Muslims, who sought to interpose themselves between Europe and “the Indies”. Although Columbus did not find that route, the Spanish sought and found among their New World conquests gold, silver, and jewels. Bases were required to control the indigenous peoples and slaves, and as the economy expanded to include sugar and other agricultural exports, more colonists came over seeking new opportunities for wealth. In many ways the colonists simply sought to replicate what they had known in the Iberian peninsula – a nation which had only recently been completely re-conquered from the infidels, where slavery was practiced, and where there was significant stratification in society.

Part of that replication involved the Christian faith, for the Reconquista was very much framed as the crusade of Christian monarchs against Moslem unbelievers. Already an expanding Christian state, Spain took advantage of its technological superiority in arms and trade to continue its expansion into the Americas. The justification for this expansion was framed in theological terms.

Before examining these theological justifications, it is important to note the single most profound effect of contact on the indigenous peoples – the introductions of diseases to peoples who had no immunity to smallpox, measles, influenza, and tuberculosis. Scholars argue about the mortality rates in the decades after contact; in 1966 Henry F. Dobyns calculated it to be as high as 95%, with something between 80 and 100 million dying.[2] While these numbers are disputed, what is clear is that even a conservative estimate assumes that tens of millions of people lived in the Americas, and that at least a third to a half of them died off as these diseases raced ahead of the conquistadors and settlers.[3]

In 1519, central Mexico had an Indian population estimated to have been 25 million. By 1523 only 17 million Indians survived; in 1548, only 6 million; in 1568, 3 million. By the early seventeenth century, the number of Indians of central Mexico scarcely reached 750,000; that is, only three percent of the population before the conquest . . . It is estimated that the Indian population of Peru fell from 9 million before Columbus to 1.3 million by 1570 . . . This demographic disaster is without parallel.[4]

The epidemics appeared to have spread through indigenous peoples at various places and times, and amongst the last to be severely hit were the nations on the Pacific North-West.  At what later became known as Holland Point, in Victoria BC[5] (the southern end of Vancouver Island), there was a large fortified village of the Songhees that had been occupied off and on for some 800 years. According to Grant Keddle, curator of Archaeology at the Royal British Columbia Museum, a smallpox epidemic appears to have hit in the 1780s, resulting in its abandonment, some sixty years before the colonist of the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived: “In the 1920s Saanich Chief Tommy Paul recalled the stories of the “great plague . . . six generations back”, where so many died there was “nobody to nurse the sick or bury the dead”.[6] In 1792 Captain George Vancouver explored Puget Sound in what is now the State of Washington.

He found a charnel house: deserted villages, abandoned fishing boats, human remain “promiscuously scattered about the beach, in great numbers.” Everything they saw suggested “that at no very remote period this country had been far more populous than at present.” The few suffering survivors, noted Second Lieutenant Peter Puget, were “most terribly pitied . . . indeed, many have lost their Eyes.”[7]

After the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were established in 1849 another smallpox epidemic hit in 1862, during the Cariboo Gold Rush. “There are estimates that more than 30,000 of the approximately 50,000 people living in B.C. at the time died. First Nations believe there were many more, and the death toll much higher.”[8] At the northern end of Vancouver Island amongst the Kwakwaka’wakw people “epidemics caused an estimated population decline of up to 78 percent between the 1840s and 1881.”[9]

One cannot underestimate the upheaval that such mortality created, whether in the 16th century in Mexico or the 19th in British Columbia. It weakened the social structures in place, allowing the indigenous peoples to be more susceptible to conquest and removal. Cities, towns, and villages were abandoned as populations died off. Survivors from diverse peoples banded together, sometimes being adopted by the more powerful nation and given the names of families who had become extinct. Oral and cultural traditions that were handed on from one generation to another came to an abrupt end with so many sudden deaths. The traditions of the elders were called into question in the face of disease, and many chose to adopt what appeared to be the more powerful religious practices of the settlers. African slaves were imported to replace the indigenous people who were enslaved and died off; had the mortality not been so extreme the Atlantic slave trade would not have become so important to the colonization of the New World.

It is sometimes claimed that the settlers deliberately infected the indigenous peoples. There is only one fully documented example of such germ warfare, at Fort Pitt (later Pittsburgh) by the British in 1763, which involved the distribution of blankets and other goods infected by smallpox.[10] However, if it happened once it probably happened on other occasions. What is without doubt is that the colonizing authorities were not upset by the effects of disease, as the illnesses overwhelmed the indigenous peoples and made it easier to settle. In the case of the 1862 epidemic on Vancouver Island, while the principle of quarantine was well understood, colonial authorities nonetheless expelled infected indigenous peoples from Victoria and other settlements, thereby spreading the disease to the First Nations villages up island and beyond. As will be described later, some saw it as providential.

[1] His birth name in 1451 in Genoa was Christoforo Colombo, which was latinised as Christophorus Columbus, from which we get the English form Christopher Columbus. In Spain he was known as Cristóbal Colón. The South American nation of Colombia is named after him, as is the District of Columbia, Columbus, Ohio, and ten counties in the USA. The city and district of Colón in Panama is also named after him. In 1792 a ship named Columbia Rediva out of Boston sailed up a river on the west coast of North America, and the river was named after the ship; this then gave its name to the area, part of which became the colony and then province of British Columbia.

[2] Mann, 1491, p. 106.

[3] Mann, 1491, pp. 150-151.

[4] Thomas W. Berger, A Long and Terrible Shadow: White Values, Native Rights in the Americas since 1492 (Vancouver: Douglas & MacIntyre, 1999), pp. 28-29.

[5] This ancient village is some 600 metres from where this dissertation is being written.

[6] Grant Keddie, Songhees Pictorial: A History of the Songhees People as seen by Outsiders 1790 – 1912 (Victoria: Royal BC Museum, 2003), p. 16.

[7] Mann, 1491, p. 123.

[8] Dene Moore, “B.C. First Nations mark small pox anniversary” published in Metro News/Canadian Press, August 06 2012, accessed January 16, 2017.

[9] Leslie A. Robertson with the Kwagu’ł Gixsam Clan, Standing Up With Ga’axsta’las: Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church, and Custom (Vancouber: University of British Columbia Press, 2012), p. 121.

[10] Dixon, David, Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), pp. 152-155.

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First Contact: Skraelings and Vikings

This is a continuation of the second part of my dissertation on the theological legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, Unsettling Theology.



The indigenous peoples of what is now known as North and South America have lived there since “time immemorial”.[1] Archeological evidence suggests that earliest ancestors of the indigenous peoples arrived no later than 11,000 years before the present, and mitochondrial DNA evidence suggests it was probably more like 25,000 years ago, and quite possibly as much as 43,000 years ago.[2] Presumably there was not just one mass migration, but several waves that took place over many centuries, facilitated by the Beringia land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, created by the lowering of sea level during the Ice Ages. The last migration is thought to be that of the Inuit, who came out of Western Alaska and spread into Northern Alaska, Northern Canada, and Greenland from c. 200 to 1300; in this case they were replacing the earlier Dorset Culture.

South of the Inuit are the First Nations, whose ancestors developed over thousands of years into many peoples or nations with distinct cultures and languages. The variety of these languages and culture was and is huge; for example, the linguistic diversity of indigenous languages in what now called British Columbia is greater than that of the languages in modern Europe. The Pueblo peoples in what is now the US Southwest have fifteen languages in three utterly different language families.

Cahokia Aerial_HRoe_2015


In some places, such as the Mayan Peninsula, in Mexico, and in Peru, sophisticated cultures with forms of writing and architecture arose, namely the Mayan, the Aztec, and the Inca. In North America, on the east bank of the Mississippi, not far from where St. Louis was eventually built, a city now known as Cahokia was established between 600 and 1400, with some 40,000 inhabitants at its peak. The city of Tenochitlan (pre-conquest Mexico City) in 1520 had 20,000 people, which at that time made it bigger than Paris, Europe’s largest metropolis; by all accounts it was also cleaner and more livable than any European city. Many of the indigenous peoples were hunter-gathers, but just as many were sedentary, building cities, or travelling on their ancestral territories between winter and summer settlements. Social organization was diverse, ranging from small migratory tribes based on extended families to highly complex groups with hierarchies and clans. The nations had a variety of cosmologies and spiritual customs, and in some cultures a religious caste emerged. Warfare between adjacent peoples was common, and captives were often turned into slaves. Across the Americas the indigenous peoples transformed their territories through fire, irrigation, and the building of mounds and terraces.[3]

All of this belies the tendency by Europeans and European settlers until very recently to homogenize and discount the complexity and considerable achievements of the indigenous peoples. The story we tell of the “Indians” of the Americas is that they were ignorant savages, stuck in the stone age, scattered across the continents and islands in small nomadic groups. The story runs that they were peoples of simple beliefs and had no idea how to exploit the land and build up civilizations. The Hollywood image of Indians is of hostile enemies standing in the way of progress, or of noble savages in tune with the environment but slowly being ground down and assimilated by European culture. It is assumed that they have no history prior to contact in 1492, and that their oral traditions are myths and “old wives tales”. Whatever virtues they might have had, they were clearly inferior to the “white peoples” from Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain.


Reconstructed Sod House, L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first documented attempt by Europeans to settle in the Americas was that of Icelanders led by Leif Ericson around 1000[4]. The Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik the Red describes the discovery and settlement of Vinland at a place named Leifsbudir. In the 1960s two Norwegian archeologists discovered a Viking settlement at the north end of the island of Newfoundland in what is now called L’anse aux Meadows; it is thought to be the site of Leifsbudir, or a depot for another colony further south that has not yet been identified. Iceland and the recently settled Greenland was in the process of accepting the Christian faith, so it is possible that Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first child born in the settlement, was also the first person baptized in the Americas.

However, this first European settlement was not successful. Contact with the local indigenous people, called Skraelings, was limited, but involved some bartering. Some of the settlers were aggressive, as one might expect from Vikings, and the Sagas record incidents of unprovoked violence that led to killings of the locals. They also record the exchange of milk products with the Skraelings, which, because they were lactose intolerant, led to them becoming ill and thinking that they were poisoned. In the end they attacked the Viking settlement, and the colonists retreated to Greenland and Iceland. Settlements in Greenland were more successful, but contact with the Inuit was limited, and the Greenlanders tried to replicate their Scandanavian society and did not adopt the locally-adapted ways of the indigenous. The settlements on Greenland died out in the 14th and early 15th centuries, and the colony in Vinland was forgotten by the rest of Europe.

Trade, conflict, and unintended illness – these three issues also characterized subsequent contact five centuries later.

[1] Time immemorial is an English legal phrase which means “Time whereof the Memory of Man runneth not to the contrary” (OED, cited from 1832). It is a phrase that in Canada is frequently used to describe the ancient roots of the indigenous peoples in the land, as contrasted with the historical, documented arrival of all other peoples.

[2] Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Second Edition (New York: Random House Inc., Vintage Books, 2011), pp. 187-190).

[3] Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Second Edition, p. 14, 211, 283-8.

[4] A bit old but useful is Frederick J. Pohl, The Viking Settlements of North America (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publisher, 1972).

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Theologies of Mission and the Indian Residential Schools (Introduction)

The following is the introduction to the Second Part of my dissertation Unsettling Theology.

St. Michael's

St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, Alert Bay, BC, circa 1965. Operated by the Anglican Church of Canada on behalf of the federal government of Canada, the school opened in 1894. The building in the picture was erected in 1929. The federal government took direct control of the school in 1969, and it closed in 1975. The building was torn down in 2015.

What were the theologies of mission which informed the operations of the Indian Residential Schools?

This is a simple question which does not yet have a standard, well documented answer. I will not attempt to provide such an academic history, as this dissertation is an interdisciplinary work integrating philosophy, history, and theology, and a full history awaits the work of academic historians working in archives with fonds of primary documents. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this dissertation, the historical aspect is necessarily derivative of other scholars’ work. That said, I will provide a provisional suggestion of what those theologies are, which is grounded in an inductive study of some primary literature with some verification by a brief excursion into archival documents. This will also be informed by the secondary literature.

In an attempt to keep the dissertation at a manageable size, I will only consider the Protestant theologies. An primary resource in determining such theology in the Canadian context is Canada’s Missionary Congress: Addresses Delivered at the Canadian National Missionary Congress, Held in Toronto, march 31 to April 4, 1909, With Reports of Committees.[1] On a more global level the records of the World Missionary Conference of 1910, held in Edinburgh, Scotland, provide a comprehensive overview of the theologies in operation across the Protestant world. The World Missionary Conference of 1910 produced 8 volumes of reports sent to all of the delegates, and a ninth volume recording the proceedings sent out after the conference. [2] From these texts I will derive a number of characteristics of these theologies. As well, I will examine a handful of books written at that time in preparation or under the influence of the Conference. To verify that there is a congruency between what is said at Edinburgh in 1910 and what was happening in the schools I will briefly examine some of the reports of missionaries from 1870s to 1910s, and addresses and sermons given in missionary societies in that era. [3] This verification will be less an endeavor of proving the congruency than checking to see if there is a lack of similarity, thus disproving my suggestion that the theologies discerned from the nine volumes of reports reflect the theologies at work among the leadership of the schools. As there is a growing number of recent secondary works on the conference and Victorian protestant theologies in general, these will also be considered.

This chapter will work backwards, first with a summary history which examines the context of the interactions of Europeans and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, in general, as they related to issues of religion and colonization, and then becoming more specific as it considers the interaction of French and British in New France and colonial North America (including the British colonies in Atlantic Canada and the activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Rupert’s Land), down through the Conquest of New France by the British and the subsequent American Revolution and entry of Loyalists into Canada and the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This brings us to the 19th century, where we can distinguish between two streams of English speaking Protestantism, namely the High Church/Anglo-Catholic tradition and Evangelicalism. After this summary I turn to examine the Edinburgh Conference of 1910, contemporary books, and the smattering of contemporary archival matter. I then make a theological summary of this excursion into historical texts. Finally, I submit these conclusions to the Levinasian matrix of Chapter One.

[1] Canada’s Missionary Congress: Addresses Delivered at the Canadian National Missionary Congress, Held in Toronto, march 31 to April 4, 1909, With Reports of Committees (Toronto: Canadian Council, Laymen’s Missionary Movement, 1909).

[2] The WMC Edinburgh 1910 produced 8 volumes of reports sent to all of the delegates, and a ninth volume recording the proceedings sent out after the conference: World Missionary Conference, 1910 Reports of Commissions I-VIII and vol. IX The History and Records of the Conference together with Addresses Delivered at the Evening Meetings (Edinburgh & London: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier; and New York, Chicago, and Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910). The standard history is Brian Stanley The World Missionary Conference 1910 (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009). The chair of the conference, the American John H. Mott wrote The Decisive Hour of Christian Missions (Toronto: The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, The Young People’s Forward Movement Department, 1910). Because of the centenary in 2010, a secondary literature contrasting missionary theology in 1910 and 2010 has emerged, including: Stephen Bevans, “From Edinburgh to Edinburgh: Toward a Missiology for a World Church” in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Issues (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), pp. 1-11, and Ian M. Ellis, A Century of Mission and Unity: A Centenary Perspective on the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2010).

[3] For illustrative purposes I will draw on: Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society Annual Sermons and Reports from North-West Canada Missions and British Columbia Missions in 1869, 1894, 1897, 1903, 1915; Society for the Propagation of the Gospel The Mission Field 1862, 1863, 1870; George Hills (1st Bishop of British Columbia) Columbia Mission Special Fund (London, 1860) and Diary 1860-1861; Diocese of New Westminster Monthly Record 1889, 1890, 1893, 1894, 1895; The Bishop’s Address to the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, 1902 Report of the Executive Committee to the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, 1901.

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The Origins of Evensong

A Sermon preached
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Year I )
Evensong 7:00 PM, July 30, 2017
The Parish of St. John the Baptist, South Cowichan BC


According to Wikipedia, a baseball is:

a ball used in the sport of the same name, baseball. The ball features a rubber or cork center, wrapped in yarn, and covered, in the words of the Official Baseball Rules “with two strips of white horsehide or cowhide, tightly stitched together.”

Sung Evening Prayer, or Evensong, is like a baseball in that it has three parts. I’m sure the similarity struck you, too.


The cork or rubber centre is the oldest part. It’s the sung parts – the versicles and responses, the preces, the psalms, and the canticles. Evening Prayer as we have it in the Book of Common Prayer (“BCP”) is derived from two old monastic services, namely Vespers and Compline. Vespers would have been sung at sunset and included the canticle Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. Compline would have been sung at the end of the day, just before bed, and it would have included the Nunc Dimittis, or the Song of Simeon. All of this would have been sung in Latin in plainsong, or some simple two- or four-part chants.

In the 16th century, in the reign of the boy-king Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and half-brother of Mary and Elizabeth, who succeeded him, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had the opportunity to reform the liturgy of the Church of England. Thomas Cranmer had been appointed as Archbishop by Henry VIII, but the old man was quite conservative – he liked the services in Latin, he wanted his clergy to be unmarried, and liked his bishops to be submissive to royal authority, and not to the pope. Cranmer had been married once before as a young man, but his bride died early, and Cranmer was subsequently ordained a priest. However, on a trip to Germany to advocate for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon he fell in with some Lutheran reformers, and secretly married. Cranmer, much to his and everybody else’s surprise, was then nominated by the King to be the Archbishop, so Cranmer kept his marriage secret from the king and just about everybody else. He wanted to have services in English, but the only thing he was able to get published and authorized in Henry VIII’s reign was The Great Litany. With the death of the old king and the sucession of his young son Edward VI, and the regency of dukes favourable to Reformation principles, Cranmer had his chance.

Cranmer was aware that in ancient times in cathedrals and other city churches there were two services of worship every day, one in the morning and one in the evening. However, so great was the influence of St. Benedict and monasticism in the Latin church that the forms of those services were lost and replaced by communities of religious who followed the Rule of Benedict: seven services daily, mostly psalms and canticles and what would seem to us exceedingly brief passages from scripture, a sentence or two at most. Cranmer wanted to have a Church of England where ordinary people could pray daily, and so he created Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Not having any models from ancient times, he reworked what he did know, namely the services of the monastics, which is how Vespers and Compline became Evening Prayer.

Frontispiece-chained-bible-q38-2080x2446As a good reformer he wanted the common people to become biblically literate, and so he set up a lectionary so that practically the whole of the Bible would be read in one year at the services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. He trusted that the Bible could speak for itself, and did not make any provision for the clergy to preach at these services – they led the prayers, the scriptures were read, and God was thus worshipped. One might wonder why people could not just read the Bible at home, but in fact, despite the new technology of the printing press, books were still expensive and valuable; in Cranmer’s time most Bible were chained to the lecterns so that they could not be easily stolen. Many people could not read, so their exposure to scripture took place in the church building. Because this was a penitential time Cranmer also included a prayer of confession at the beginning, and said prayers at the end. All of this was included in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and that core format has not changed much since then in our own BCP.

So, in Evening Prayer we have the monastic core – the cork and rubber centre of the liturgical baseball – and then the Reformation prayers and readings – the twine going around the centre. The monastic core is what we chant, and the reformation additions are read and said. And, of course, all of this is now done in the language understood by the people, English.

The psalter in the BCP pre-dates the Authorized Version/ The King James Version, and is in fact essentially that of Miles Coverdale’s 1535 translation of the Bible, which it self was based on earlier English versions. The psalter in particular it was based on the Jerome’s Latin version of the Psalms, which was based on the Greek Septuagint. While Jerome translated all of the rest of the text of his Latin translation (“he Vulgate”) from the Hebrew and Greek originals, when it came to the psalms he produced no fewer than three translations. At the direction of church authorities one of these translations was translated from the Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew original, and followed other ancient versions; this is the version that was included in the Vulgate and used in the monastic offices, and not one of the two he translated directly from Hebrew. Thus, in the BCP Psalter we have an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the original Hebrew. You’ll appreciate that something might have been missed along the way, and so in our Canadian BCP of 1959/1962 Archbishop Carrington of Quebec gently revised it to bring the text more in accord with the original. That said, it’s still Tudor English, and has a bias towards patriarchal interpretations!

Sleeping ParishionersCranmer expected that Holy Communion would be the principal act of worship on Sunday, but in the medieval period it had become very uncommon for people to communicate, and this was still too revolutionary in 1549. So, Holy Communion was shortened, and turned into Ante-Communion. As well, the service tended to be shmushed together with Morning Prayer and the Litany, and thus morning worship would be this remarkably dull liturgy of two hours or more with repeated prayers for the monarch and typically dreadful long sermons unless one had the blessing of a great preacher like John Donne. It nearly killed the Church of England, and I suspect that this is why Methodism and other denominations proved to be so popular in comparison to the Established Church.

It was in this context that Evening Prayer became such a bright point in Anglican tradition, It wasn’t too long, it was an opportunity for the choirs to shine as they did old and new four-part chants, and as it was a Sunday clergy began to offer sermons, despite Cranmer having made no provision. For many people Evensong became the principal form of worship, a remarkable synthesis of music, scripture, and preaching.

As well, in the 18th century another innovation crept in – hymns. The original BCP made no provision for hymns, but by 1750 many clergy, especially Evangelicals, were incorporating hymns in the services in the morning and evening. So, with the introduction of hymns inspired by but not directly from scripture we arrive at the shape of Evening Prayer as most of us have known it.

The outermost layer, then, the stitched cowhide of the liturgical baseball, is preaching and hymnody.

There are, of course, alternatives to Sung Evening Prayer and Choral Evensong. The monastic services never ended, and whether in Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism one can find the old services in English translations. Communities such as Iona and Taize take a different approach to worship, grounding their services in repetitive chants or popular Celtic tunes. The Book of Alternative Services has contemporary language versions of Morning and Evening Prayer, and these have been set to music. But there is something striking and wonderful about this grand old service as it has evolved and become a familiar means of worship.

So come, hear the word of God.
Offer to God in Christ the praises due his name.
Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word, chant, and hymn.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

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Lee Aaron and Me

Lee Aaron is a Canadian musician who was quite popular in the 1980s and into the early 1990s. If you are of a certain age you might remember her – she was a female entry in the hair metal genre and did sexually charged songs like this:

While I have friends who followed her avidly, she was never on any of my cassette playlists. Back in the day I was more into singers like Jane Siberry, Holly Cole, and k. d. lang. Ms. Aaron really catered to some other type of guy. My kids suggest that when I was young I was some sort of proto-hipster, and most of Lee Aaron’s music is the antithesis of what would appeal to hipsters, proto- or otherwise. I’ll grant you that she was very successful, and very good at what she did, it just wasn’t my kind of music.

So why do I bring her up? What possible connection could she have with me?

Well, as it turns out, she and I were born on exactly the same day, July 21, 1962! We are exactly the same age, probably just a few hours apart, or maybe even just a few minutes. I am not aware of anyone else who was also born on this day, and so for that reason I feel I share some kind of special connection with her. Friday, July 21st, 2017 is our mutual 55th birthday.

Not that she has ever acknowledged or reciprocated the bond. She lives just over in the Lower Mainland, and I am on Vancouver Island, and I once tried to contact her and suggest that we should have coffee and compare life notes, but I never heard back. *sigh* Of course she has no obligation to reply. I suspect that over the years she’s been stalked by any number of creepy middle-aged men, and my communication to her might come across as just one more. She does have her own life. Last I heard she’s happily married to a drummer, has a daughter, and is doing as much jazz music as her old hits. She still tours and makes recordings.

But our common birthday does raise for me a question. If someone were to cast our horoscopes would they be the same? Because of our common day of birth, are we essentially the same person?

At first glance, maybe not. Lee Aaron has had, to say the least, a different career path from me. She’s been a rock music performer since her teens; I have been ordained since I was 25 and sing plainsong. She goes on tours across North America and Europe; I go to Britain to work on a PhD. Her biggest-selling album was called “Bodyrock”; I wrote a master’s thesis on the debate over the blessing of same-sex unions in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster.  When she was younger she used her physicality and sexuality in her performances; I preside at worship under several layers of fabric. In recent videos she looks much younger than a woman in her mid-fifties; today I was offered the seniors’ discount.

An astrology site that claims to unlock these type of things suggests that people born on July 21 “cannot stay out of trouble for very long. Somehow a storm is usually brewing around them, often one with tragicomic overtones.” Is this me? Is this her? I don’t think of myself as very tragic or comic, and I don’t know if those terms apply to Ms. Aaron either. According to the website traits of us July 21 babies include being:


Is this me? I don’t think so. Not too many people would describe me as “daring, exciting, physical, or obsessive.” After all, I was a rather dull ecclesiastical bureaucrat for nine years. The latter two traits did apply when I was younger, but that’s a average of .333 for the website, which is great for baseball but not so good for personality predictions. Between me and Lee Aaron maybe we raise the percentage, but I don’t know; maybe she gets the first three, but probably not the rest. Between the two of us maybe a majority  of the traits apply, but that may be true of any two random people, too. You don’t need to be born on the same day to have common traits.

There’s a whole bunch of famous people born on July 21st in other years including Ernest Hemingway, Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, Robin Williams, and Ken Starr. Frankly, I don’t see a lot of commonality amongst us, any more than any chance grouping of people. This just confirms my skeptical bias around horoscopes and astrology. Yes, some of the longer description in the website does apply, but a lot of it doesn’t, and the whole thing is hedged with weasel words like “often”, “usually”, “may be”, and “many”.

Of course, if I did have coffee with Lee Aaron I’d probably discover that she does believe in the predictive power of astrology, and undoubtedly state the case in a daring and exciting way. We would then get obsessive and argumentative about our entrenched positions, and the disagreement would escalate into something self-destructive and physical. So maybe its just as well she never replied to my communications, eh?

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