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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Gratitude from the Heart.


We've survived Black Friday and Cyber-Monday and Tuesday.  Black Friday is also known as Buy-Nothing-Day and was started by Adbusters magazine some years ago to counteract the consumerism of our modern society; I lament that we are such a consumer-oriented society.  However, in this blog I want to focus on gratitude and the power of gratitude to ramp down our consumerist tendencies and cultivate a sense of awe.

Two of the elders that I have long respected—both now in their 90’s, one a Roman Catholic monk—Brother David Steindl-Rast—and the other a Quaker—Parker Palmer—have spoken and written about gratefulness.  Brother David started the gratefulness.org website and movement and Parker the Centre for Courage and Renewal.

In a play on words, the administrators of the gratefulness.org website have suggested that instead of buying, buying, buying, we give a gift from the “great fullness” of our lives.  There has been a lot of research that has shown that cultivating gratitude can change our brain patterns, change our habits, and change the way in which we view the world.

Part of Parker Palmer’s great work on courage is to remind us that courage is about living the convictions of our heart.  The word courage comes from the Latin “cor,” which means heart.  We live from our heart outwards; we live the convictions of our heart—generosity, love, compassion, peace, justice, hope—and participate in the renewal of our world.

The heart is where Brother David and Parker’s life-work overlap.  Parker takes it in the direction of courage and Brother David in the direction of gratitude, but both are heart-centred in their call for the renewal of our societies, communities and interactions.

Scholars with better knowledge than I have researched the major ethical and religious movements of history.  All these movements give expression to gratitude, abundance, hope, and the renewal of our lives and communities from the heart outward.

The World Parliament of Religions met in Toronto, ON, November 1st to 7th.  The theme of the recent parliament was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change.”  I haven’t heard much in the news media about this gathering, but the theme certainly is heart-centred.

Instead of giving-in to our need to acquire more, why not focus on expressing gratitude for the people in our lives, the things we do have, and simply just for this day.  From the heart outwards, gratitude can grow and life can be lived more fully.

Closure Is Over-rated


It’s been a difficult time for our church community the last while; we’ve had several deaths.  After a recent memorial service, I spoke with someone who asked me what I thought about closure. This person defined closure as the end of grief and moving on with life.  I offered my response and we had a good conversation.

My opinion of closure is that it is a myth.  It is related to the many myths of our society that demand happy endings, answering all questions, or having things tied in a neat bow.  Closure usually implies that something is tied off and set aside as being complete.  In my opinion, grief at the death of a loved one or grief that comes with a serious loss never gets tied off in the way that closure implies.

My father died over 30 years ago and to this day I still grieve.  It isn’t a debilitating, crushing grief, but his loss still affects me today.  We are human beings who feel and remember.  We can’t package up those memories and feelings that are painful and put them inside a box and close the box.

One of the privileges of my vocation is that people talk to me about their grief.  A common challenge that grieving people face is that they feel constrained to grieve only for a short while and then seek closure.  However, when we don’t grieve for an adequate period, we can begin to repress our feelings of grief; when we pass some threshold of what society sets as a grieving period, we begin to worry that other people will think we aren’t strong and then often we begin to pretend that we are fine.

Telling people that closure is over-rated and that everyone grieves in their own way and takes whatever time is necessary can often lead to an opening of the floodgates—a good thing.  Tears flow and stories come, and people feel free to talk and let their bottled-up feelings out.

Closure implies that there are no open question, that everything is solved.  As a liberal, progressive Christian, I follow Jesus of Nazareth who raised questions and invited reflection.  Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, once said, “… the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  Life is messier when living the questions, but it is more real.  We are more real.  We are more human.

When you experience loss, take whatever time you need to grieve, and grieve your own way.  Don’t worry about closure; it’s over-rated anyway.  Live your way into the answer of love and that will sustain you.  And seek out help if you feel overwhelmed.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

United Church Supports Proportional Representation


With the recent mid-term elections in the USA, it is readily apparent why first-past-the-post voting systems don't work.  I believe that this winner-take-all mentality leads to the kind of partisan, polarized politics we see south of the border, and are beginning to see more and more in Canada.  With the stakes so high around the world--climate change and people on the move--we can't afford the authoritarian, narrow-minded politics of fear (which first-past-the-post can heighten) any longer.

I often get asked about my political and economic stance with respect to my beliefs as a progressive, liberal Christian.  Often the question is posed as a means for the questioner to argue that religion has no business in the political or economic realm.  The first paragraph I wrote above will rile some who feel that the church has no place speaking about politics or economics.  I beg to differ.

I grew up in the United Church and learned early on from my father that when I vote, I bring all that I am to the voting booth.  I can not suspend what I value and believe when I vote for a party or candidate.  As a whole human being, how I make economic and political decisions is part and parcel of who I am as a person of faith.

Advocating for justice is an important tradition within the United Church; along with people of faith and peace-advocates, the United Church is rooted in concern for the marginalized and disenfranchised.  Seeking an end to poverty, racism, and discrimination is part of what we believe Jesus taught with respect to the Family of God, the Realm of Peace.  Seeking climate justice and the mitigation of global warming as well as pursuing justice and reconciliation in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people continue to be part of our work of peace and hope. The KinDom of Heaven is making the world a better place here and now.

To try to change the narrative of how we do politics in BC, the BC Conference of The United Church of Canada endorsed proportional representation at a general meeting held last May. 
BC Conference is the regional body of the United Church and is comprised of more than 400 delegates from urban and rural congregations of BC.

Some of the reasons why I support proportional representation from a spiritual perspective follow here.  I want to vote for a system that encourages consensus building and people working together.  Proportional Representation values the contribution of everyone and all voices have a chance to be heard.  Proportional Representation is inclusive and invites people to move beyond partisan politics to understand other perspectives.  I believe in mutual respect and people working together.

My grounding in the Jesus tradition—so full of compassion, hope and love—leads me to bring all that I am to political decisions and for that reason, I support proportional representation.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

“We Mourn the Deaths in Pittsburgh”

(I wrote this op-ed piece for the Nelson Star last week and include it here.)

Do you know the significance of April 4th, 2018?

If you answered that it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you’d get a gold star.  Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem that we’ve come very far since then in terms of peace and race relations; we certainly haven’t achieved the dream that Dr. King articulated more than 50 years ago!

What was that dream?  In 1963, Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in which he said near the end, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today!”  The interesting thing about this speech is that some of it was delivered in an impromptu fashion; when Mahalia Jackson, the great Gospel singer, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, he diverted from his text and articulated his dream of freedom and equality.

I despair that we will never see that dream come to fruition.  The murder of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh a few days ago, the latest incident of how Dr. King’s dream is still unfulfilled, is a deep tragedy that affects all of us around the world.  It highlights again Dr. King’s famous words that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!

I don’t have any easy answers to solving the problems of injustice and violence in the world.  I do know that we have to give tangible expression to King’s dream.  We have to speak against the purveyors of hate and authoritarianism that are gaining political power around the world, the latest of which is in Brazil.  We have to continue to march, to speak out, to not let hate speech become normalized, to speak against anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and anything that threatens to destroy communities, eco-systems and neighbourhoods.

For the sake of our planet, for peace, and for the sake of the many species that have been driven to extinction by our inhumanity, we must not be idle.  “For what does God require of us, but to seek justice, love compassion and walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)


Thursday, 2 August 2018

Back to writing.


It's been a while since I’ve written a blog.  The reasons for not writing were personal; but it's time to get back to sharing a few thoughts from time to time.  This is one way that I can contribute to a just and loving world.  It’s also been therapeutic for me to write.  So, thanks for listening…

There are many things that we can do to make our world a more just and peace-filled island home.  What I can contribute are words and solidarity with those who choose to do more front-line protest.  It’s a small thing, but it is something...

While I'm not a conservative—anyone who reads this blog or knows me will attest to that!—I agree with the 18th-century Irish philosopher and parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [sic] to do nothing."  Gandhi said similar things, as did Martin Luther King, Jr.  Anyone who has felt at odds with the dominant culture has said something to the effect that evil feeds on the complacency of ordinary people who choose to do nothing.

Do you know the name Martin Niemöller?  He was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran Pastor; he started off as a conservative in Germany and is a controversial figure because of his early life.  However, he chose to become involved in the Confessing Church in Germany and he deeply regretted his early views; he deeply regretted that he didn’t do enough for Jews, Socialists, Gay and Lesbian people, and others discriminated against by the Nazis; he wrote these words after World War 2,
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
In many speeches Niemöller spoke a variation of the above quote; he included other groups who’d been discriminated against by the Nazis.

The point is that I’m joining my voice—at least this online voice—along with my preaching and local activism in the fight against tribalism, bigotry and fear.  I’m back to writing and if only one or two people are listening, that’s at least something!

Peace.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Palestine: After 50 Years of Occupation, It Is Time to Say, "Enough!"



After 50 years of occupation, it is time to say, “ENOUGH!”  Some of what you find below comes from Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace.  Some comes from our United Church of Canada Moderator’s Letter; Moderator Cantwell went to Palestine recently and shared her experience.  There are other links in Moderator Cantwell’s blog: 1) to the call from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine in an open letter; 2) other links that lead to more information and ecumenical action.

Why is this year important?

2017 marks 10 years of Israel's blockade of Gaza; 50 years of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; 70 years since the Nakba and displacement of Palestinian people; and 100 years since the Balfour Declaration.

The graphic below shows the loss of land that Palestinians have experienced.  It is a shocking graphic.

 
100 YEARS since the Balfour Declaration
2017 is the 100 year “anniversary” of the Balfour Declaration, which set the stage for the Zionist movement to colonize Palestine and later to establish a Jewish state. As author Arthur Koestler described it, "one nation promising another nation the land of a third nation." This document shows the international community’s deep complicity in creating and maintaining the situation of injustice and oppression of the Palestinian people.

70 YEARS of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe)
The Palestinian Nakba remembers the period between 1947-1949 when over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed and 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced. Today, 6.6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants are denied their Right of Return to their homeland, the “Right of Return” being a fundamental principle of international human rights. 

50 YEARS of Israel's military occupation of the Palestinians 
In June 1967, at the end of the Six-Day-War, Israel seized control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. One million Palestinians were placed under Israel's direct military control. Israel began to build illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land. Now 600,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements (colonies) in the West Bank /Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished. In 2017 alone, 566 Palestinian houses have been demolished by Israel. The Israeli water authority allocates only 3% of the water to Palestinians even though they make up more than 50% of the overall population. Palestinians in the West Bank live under Israeli commanders who impose inhumane laws and prevent people from enjoying the most basic human rights. 7,000 political prisoners now sit in Israeli jails in violation of international law.

10 YEARS of Israel's blockade of Gaza
When Hamas won the political election and control of Gaza in 2007, Israel declared them terrorists and closed Gaza's air, land and sea borders. Israel maintains control of residents' electricity, fuel, water, and all food and supplies allowed into Gaza as well as the movement of residents into and out of Gaza. Today, approximately two million people in Gaza have no access to clean water, proper nutrition or medicine. There have been massive assaults by Israel on Gaza in 2008-09; 2012; and 2014, causing thousands of deaths, mostly non-combatants, including children.

 After 50 years of occupation, Say "Enough!"
Send our federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (The Honourable Chrystia Freeland at Chrystia.Freeland@parl.gc.ca) a letter asking Canada:
    -to live out its stated policy on Israel and Palestine; and
-to call on the Israeli government to adhere to international law without exception; to grant Palestinians basic human rights including the Right of Return; and to be part of a solution that recognizes Palestine’s rights.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Homo Sapiens… Humans with wisdom to live beyond consumption!



I don’t remember who first coined the phrase “Homo consumerensis” as a description of the human species, but it has been around for a while.  It is a take-off on the scientific designation of our species, “Homo sapiens.”  In today’s world, government policy and the corporate world would have us be known in terms of our economic viability and ability to consume.

As you may know, Homo sapiens means “humans with wisdom.”  We evolved from Homo erectus and other ancestors in the human evolution family tree; when it came time to name us, it was decided that wisdom was an appropriate term to apply to modern human beings… hence Homo sapiens.  It seems an ironic designation to me as I despair that we are not so very wise!

Since the Industrial Revolution—and even before—the worth of humans in the Western world became attached to our ability to consume goods and services.  We came to be seen as unique economic units.  The economy became the focus of governments and those that wanted to succeed in government began to appeal to the baser parts of our human nature, the want for more and the desire to get ahead.  I began this blog with reference to the cheeky human designation “Homo consumerensis,” but now I think we should be known as “Homo economensis.”

My own sense of self in relation to others, which stems from my spiritual beliefs, is that I am part of an intricate web of life.  I am not a separate unit, least of all a separate unit of economic viability.  I am a human being, gifted with life, part of the web of life.  Life for all is what is important, not our ability to consume.

In BC politics, we are facing an unprecedented time of cooperation… at least, I hope we are!  The Green and NDP Parties have formed a coalition and are forming a government.  I was outspoken during the recent election that the economy is not the most important thing in politics; community is more important, as is justice, hope, life and the web of life.  The Liberal party kept hammering away at the fact that the Greens and the New Democrats would destroy the economy; the Liberals kept repeating, “It’s all about the economy, stupid.”

Well, it isn’t all about the economy.  It is about enhancing life for all.  I hope that the NDP and Green coalition will help us shift from seeing the economy as the most important thing to seeing justice, hope and the enhancement of life as the most important things.  God knows, and we must learn, that endless consumption and growth is destroying our planet.

I’ve been reading a bit about a guaranteed basic income; some economists suggest that poverty in over 65 countries could be alleviated with a basic income.  John McArthur, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, has suggested that a guaranteed basic income would help hundreds of millions of people; McArthur is also an advisor to the UN Foundation and a board governor for the International Development Research Centre.

There have been pilot projects in Namibia, Brazil, Finland, Manitoba, and now in Ontario.  Denmark, Norway and many other countries around the world have experimented with various forms of a guaranteed income.  I was speaking recently with a Scottish cousin of mine whose son lives in Denmark; he talked about research in Denmark showing that work satisfaction is high, anxiety is low, and costs related to unemployment very low; he further said that people don’t abuse the system.

We need a humane model for dealing with the economy, one that is based on the inherent value and worth of each individual… and not because they consume goods and services, but because they are part of the web of life.