Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955 – March 10, 2017)   Leave a comment

Richard Wagamese first came into my life through a book club. They read his book, Indian Horse, which was then recommended to me. The story touched my heart in the summer of 2016, and I subsequently read his books, Medicine Walk and One Story: One Song. The latter book is full of wisdom for life.

IMG_2970

At Christmas 2016 I was blessed by receiving the gift of Richard’s profound wisdom, contained in the book, “Embers”. For example, “Embers” contains the following:

“LIFE is a series of passageways we choose largely on faith and a healthy dose of hope. We hope that the hallway of our choosing leads us to magic: the inexplicable, the sudden, the unconfined. Not so that we can capture it, hold it, make it our own – but just so that we can feel it, even for an instant. Feel it and know the truth that the universe itself is magic. Hope that by our believing, our blind trust, our inherent innocence, someday, sometime, somewhere, that magic will become us, even fleetingly, and we touch the face of God.”

Reading Richard Wagamese has helped me on this journey called life; he has helped me to know more about the tragedy of Canada’s residential school system and the harm that it did to First Nations people, and I am thankful for the wisdom that he has shared.

Hope in an unexpected place   Leave a comment

The following story – from the U.C. Observer –

( http://www.ucobserver.org/columns/2017/03/spirit_story/ ) –

is one that encourages all of us to remember those basic human characteristics of empathy and hope. Although the writer, and the story, are from the U.S.A., similar stories are happening in Canada too.

iStock.com/fstop123

Hope in a hardware store

By Alicia von Stamwitz

A new immigrant to the United States must enter public areas with caution, alert to hidden dangers. It’s a lesson I learned at a young age when my mother was bullied by a stranger in a grocery store.

So when I spot a Mexican man in a Home Depot store in St. Louis, I am not surprised that he looks anxious, shifting his weight from one foot to another. He’s short — maybe five feet tall in his heavy work boots — with a bushy black moustache. His furtive glances at the overhead signs tell me he does not read English.

I slow my cart, remembering a frightening experience from my childhood.

“Look at the treetops, Alicia!” my mother says as we creep along on shaded streets in our new station wagon. “The American oak trees are so tall and the branches are so wide that they meet at the top, like friends hugging each other.” She speaks to me in Spanish, but she is fluent in English thanks to her American teachers in Cuba. And thanks to American television, I have learned English fast.

We stop at a grocery store and push our cart up and down every aisle. “It’s expensive here,” she whispers in Spanish. As we wait in the checkout line, I notice the man behind us is watching my mother. He takes a step forward and says in a low voice, “What are you doing here?” My mother looks up, startled. “I — I am shopping.” Her English is perfect, but her voice is high, as if she is asking a question.

“You do not belong here,” the man growls. My mother turns to the cashier and holds out a coupon. But the cashier does not take the coupon; her eyes are fixed on the man. Everyone is looking at him. “Go back to where you came from, spic,” he hisses. The word hits my ears hard, like the word “spit.” Nobody moves at first, not even my mother. But when the man pushes past me to force her out of the narrow aisle, she turns to run and pulls me after her. When we are safely inside our car, I push down all four locks. My mother is trembling as we pull away.

This happened over 50 years ago. I want to believe things are better now, but I fear they are worse.

A long minute has passed, and the Mexican man in the home improvement store has not moved. I am about to step forward to help translate when a burly employee in an orange apron appears beside him. I tense. But the employee is a good man. You can see things like this at a glance. The way he ducks his head to meet the Mexican man’s lowered eyes. The way he nods encouragingly and speaks softly. I let out a breath. I did not realize I was holding it.

He gives me hope, this employee. I want to thank him when he is done helping the Mexican man. I want to remember that he and others like him have more collective power than any politician, even a demagogue.

On the way home, I look up at the treetops and repeat my mother’s words, like a poem or a prayer.

Alicia von Stamwitz is a writer and editor in St. Louis.

HOW WE TREAT NEW IMMIGRANTS DEFINES US   Leave a comment

By Jim Taylor – Sunday March 5, 2017

During the depth of winter, when snow lay deep on the ground and arctic winds sucked warmth from bare skin, small groups of people from countries where snow is as unknown as poutine struggled across the world’s longest undefended border into Canada.

Illegally, of course.
IMG_0315

Night after night, TV news showed video of these asylum seekers. Stumbling through snowdrifts, burdened by baby strollers or car seats. Dragging plastic suitcases. Huddled at a roadside, too numbed by bitter cold to go any farther.

They were greeted by police officers. Who led them gently to a warm car. Who helped carry their children. Who delivered them to a border immigration station, where kindly officials helped them fill out their applications to stay in Canada.

This is the Canada we imagine it to be. Compassionate. Decent. Hospitable.

NOT SO WELCOMING
But at the same time, there’s another side. A recent Angus Reid poll found that 25 per cent of Canadians want to impose travel restrictions; over 40 per cent feel we’re being overrun by too many refugees.

As Scott Gilmore wrote in Macleans magazine, “As of last month, Canada has accepted 40,081 Syrian refugees. That’s one refugee for every 857 Canadians.”

Let’s put that statistic another way. Kelowna’s largest arena holds around 6,800 people for a hockey game. Would eight Syrian refugees — yes, just eight — somehow subvert the local culture?

But political parties still foment fears of being overrun. Leadership hopefuls want to grill immigrants to make sure their “values” (whatever that means) won’t conflict with ours (whatever they are).

There are also legitimate concerns. Such as that it’s not fair for some refugees to get a free pass into Canada, while others wait for years in refugee camps.

LEGAL COMPLICATIONS
For the last 15 years, too, Canada and the U.S. have shared a legal agreement to treat each other as a “safe” countries. Essentially, that means we trust the other country’s justice systems to process asylum claims fairly. Refugee claimants must request protection in the first “safe” country they reach. So if they come to Canada through the U.S., we should return them to the U.S. for processing.

So far, the U.S. is the only country considered “safe.” But what happens when a new administration’s xenophobia makes the country no longer feel “safe”?

It’s not as if all of these border-crossers are helpless indigents. Some take taxis to the nearest border point. A few admit coming a long and expensive route: from the Middle East or Asia to South America, up through Central America and the U.S. to the Canadian border.

Legally, we should send them back. But turning away a family with shivering youngsters just doesn’t feel like us.

Gilmore again: “There is nothing we can do to stop asylum seekers from walking into Canada, Samsonite in hand. We aren’t building a wall, or even a fence. Our armed forces don’t even have enough drones to take a group selfie on the parade ground, let alone patrol over 8,000 kilometres of frontier.”

ESSENTIAL DISCONTINUITY
There are no simple answers. Because there is a discontinuity between micro and macro perspectives. You cannot always extrapolate from the small scale to the larger, and vice versa.

Physicists tell me that, at the ultimate micro level, my chair isn’t really there. Neither am I. We both consist of quarks and gluons, which are not things at all but packets of energy measurable only as probabilities.
But I still need a chair to sit on.

If a shopper at the grocery cashier’s lineup can’t find a few missing coins, I will gladly give her what she needs. But I won’t extend the same privilege to every other shopper.

Macro reasoning says that we can’t just throw our borders open, take anyone who shows up, anywhere. Micro says that we can’t callously turn people away.

So what should we do about this discontinuity? Again, Gilmore offers good advice: “We can help them settle into our communities, reducing tensions with those who are less welcoming. We can find ways to help the small towns along the border who are suddenly rattled by refugee families walking over the stubble. We can publicize that crime rates among refugees are lower than among native-born Canadians.

“And we can ignore the bigoted leeches on the fringes of our political system, people cynically turning reasonable concerns into wide-eyed panic….”

Most of all, I suggest, we can make the way we welcome asylum seekers a model for the kind of country that they — and we — want to belong to.

*******************************************************
Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
********************************************************

Civil Disobedience and Civil Resistance   Leave a comment

Changing the Rules of Engagement:

By Bill McKibben  March 2017

Published in Sojourners Magazine: https://sojo.net/magazine/march-2017/changing-rules-engagement

DSC02806

AS WE ENTER this new Trumpish world, I’ve been thinking a lot about civil disobedience. I had the honor of delivering the first lecture in honor of the late Jonathan Schell two nights after the election, and used the occasion to reflect on his masterwork Unconquerable World, with its confident belief that the era of violence was passing and that nonviolent action was the right way for the “active many” to beat the “ruthless few.”

This jibes with my own experience of the last few years. Helping to organize big protests like the ones that launched the Keystone pipeline fight, or watching in admiration as friends galvanized the country around Standing Rock, has convinced me that these techniques continue to represent our best tools for change.

On the one hand, disobedience may be harder in the Trump era—it may come at a higher price, as the zealot officials he’s appointed crack down.

But civil disobedience may also be more important than ever, especially the civil part. Because what we are battling now is not just corporate power and shabby oligarchy. It’s also a galloping incivility, the verbal violence and crudity that marked Trump’s campaign and his days of preparing for the presidency. It’s the “alt-right” ugliness of Breitbart’s white nationalism; it’s the constant barrage of nasty tweets. None of it looks like anything we’ve seen before from a president, and all of it, whether by design or not, hacks at the bonds that hold us together as a nation.

If we respond to that in kind—with the same sort of anger and snarl—then we play into the hands of the Steve Bannons of the world. They’re always going to be better at it, just as they’re always going to have more weapons.

What Can One Do in These Times?   Leave a comment

Feeling helpless is seldom a solution to responding to what is going on in the world. We all have power, and all to frequently we give that power over to others. The following column was written by Jim Taylor and there are suggestions about how we can act. Taylor suggests that we avoid “wasting energy on efforts unlikely to produce desired changes”.

IMG_0922

Take Responsibility

A week ago Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries where he doesn’t have business ties. He branded them “evil”.

Two days later, a Canadian with far-right sympathies entered a mosque in Quebec City and shot six men in the back as they knelt in prayer. Eight others were injured.

The timing is too close for pure coincidence. If you’re a white supremacist feeling you should take action against people you dislike, what better justification could you ask for than encouragement from the world’s most powerful person?

Trump called Ottawa to offer his condolences. I think he should be charged as an accessory to murder.

So far, the man charged with six murders and five more attempted murders, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a student at Laval University, has volunteered no information about his motives. But his Facebook page reveals that he paid attention to Trump’s rants.

The Quebec murders are not an isolated incident — although they are the most extreme example of the anti-feminist, Islamophobic, and homophobic outbreaks since Trump’s election. The same mosque previously had graffiti painted on its walls, and a pig’s head dumped at its door during Ramadan.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Several readers have written, in response to earlier columns, asking “What can we do?”

I hesitate to prescribe anything that I am unwilling — or unable, by my nationality — to do myself.

I know that not everyone can do what Oyama resident Bev Edwards-Sawatzky did last weekend. As a 70th birthday present to herself, she flew to Washington to take part in the Women’s March.

With half a million other women — massively more than attended Trump’s inauguration in person — she pushed her walker through Washington streets. Over a million more joined in marches in 670 locations around the world.

But we can’t all go on marches. And marches in cities Trump has never heard of will have little influence on his policies.
We need to avoid wasting energy on efforts unlikely to produce desired changes.

WORDS OF WISDOM
The widely known Serenity prayer, written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr back in 1934, offers some valuable advice:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

First, then, accept that some things, we cannot change. Mass protests will not undo an election. Clever placards will not unseat the emperor, with or without clothes. Storming Washington with scythes and pitchforks will not eliminate the electoral college.

We cannot, as individuals, reverse Trump’s immigration bans or reshape international diplomacy. We cannot call back the missiles and drones. We cannot make ISIS vanish.
And it’s futile to reason with unreasonable men.
So we need to focus on things that we can change.

Which means that we start with ourselves. We need to ensure that our words and actions never, never, foster the prejudices we deplore — racism, homophobia, misogyny, and bigotry. We must exemplify — nay, incarnate — the virtues we claim to value.

By forcing us to examine what we consider right, Trump may actually have done us a favour. (I don’t recall him ever saying that he would do something because it’s the right thing to do.)

CALLING FOR COURAGE
Doing the right thing might mean offering hospitality to marginalized minorities, regardless of their origins or religions. For me, it requires being scrupulously honest — both with others and with myself. As far as possible, I intend to avoid purchasing products from, or investing in, companies that support Trump’s version of justice.

And I shall try not to remain silent when I hear racial, sexual, or religious slurs.

When the indigenous peoples of Central America were being slaughtered by government-backed death squads, when survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools were being ruthlessly cross-examined in courtrooms, representatives of North American churches risked standing with them. To simply be there.

Perhaps, once again, we need to be companions, to stand in solidarity with those being demonized. A recent report says that Trump plans to change the program “Countering Violent Extremism” to “Countering Islamic Extremism” — despite an FBI report showing that the primary danger to Americans now comes from home-grown white supremacists.
So we may want to attend worship in mosques, with their permission. We could recognize — even celebrate — non-Christian festivals like Ramadan and Divali.

Yes, that may involve some personal risks. That’s why Niebuhr’s prayer asked for courage.

So….
Know what your values are. Do what you can, in accordance with our values. Don’t waste energy on what you can’t change.

But most of all, don’t do nothing.
*******************************************************
Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
********************************************************

  Leave a comment

IMG_1726

Jesus the Homeless

Rev. Jim Wallis has written an excellent piece about how Christians in America, as opposed to American Christians, will view an Executive Order from the new President of the U.S.A.

“For Christians, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes clear that how we treat “the stranger” is how we treat him. That’s what the Gospel text says. And the “stranger” means immigrants and refugees — the citizens of other nations living and traveling among us. Therefore, this is a faith issue for us as Christians. Donald Trump’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is in conflict with our Christian faith, and we will oppose it as a matter of faith.”

Wallis concludes that:

The good news is that intense but nonviolent protests at airports and public squares broke out all over the country this past weekend in opposition to the executive order — including tens of thousands of people outside the White House, in Boston, and in New York City’s Battery Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Exercising the right to peacefully assemble will be asked of us many times in the weeks, months, and years ahead, and we must rise to the occasion, remain engaged, and keep witnessing to our faith and values when they are targeted by this government.”

Read the full commentary by Rev. Jim Wallis at:

https://sojo.net/articles/ban-not-about-national-security

 

Just tell me the TRUTH, eh   Leave a comment

Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners lives in Washington, D.C. That is true.

However, there seems to be some debate beginning about what is true these days, and what is not. This applies to politics in Canada, and possibly elsewhere. I can only speak from my experience of politics in the country where I live.

According to Stanley Hauerwas, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us that politics “can never be divorced from truth.” Indeed, Hauerwas maintains that Bonhoeffer believed that “cynicism is the vice that fuels the habits to sustain a politics that disdains the truth.”

IMG_0608

The paragraph above is a quote from a posting by Rev.  Jim Wallis, the title of which is “Christians” Call to Speak Truth to “Alternate Facts“. Wallis examines what role Christians may have in the coming days, and years, as he makes the following observation:

Christians are called many times in the Scriptures to be truth-tellers and to reject falsehoods, from scriptural commandments against bearing false witness to Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…. So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”

Yes, I believe that we are all in this together. As The New Creed in the United Church of Canada says, “We are not alone. Thanks be to God!”

The full column by Rev. Jim Wallis, from Washington, is available at:

https://sojo.net/articles/christians-call-speak-truth-alternative-facts