Relationship(s)   Leave a comment


Wendell Berry, poet, author, farmer, contemplates our human relationship(s) with the rest of creation in a thoughtful essay titled, “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation.” He writes that:

The great trouble of our age, involving the human economy from agriculture to warfare, is in our relationship to the natural world – to what we call “nature” or even, still, “Nature” or “Mother Nature.” The old usage persists even seriously, among at least some humans, no matter how “objectivity” weighs upon us.”

“We seem to have forgotten that there might be, or that there ever were, mutually sustaining relationships between resident humans and their home places in the world of Nature.”

page 77 in “A Small Porch”, Counterpoint publishers, 2016

Ontario’s chance to get more from green energy   Leave a comment

Ontario has decided to take a pause in its Large Renewable Procurement (LRP) efforts, citing an electricity supply surplus and a need to reduce costs for consumers.

Which all sounds pretty reasonable, but the devil is in the details.  First off, why do we have a surplus?Not because of solar and wind energy, which still makes up only a small fraction of our electricity supply, providing less than 7% of our power last year.

We have a surplus because Ontario operates three gigantic nuclear plants (including the world’s biggest – the Bruce Nuclear Station).  Demand for electricity has fallen over the past decade in Ontario due to changes in our economy (less heavy industry), conservation efforts, and new technologies (LED lighting), but we have not reduced our nuclear production accordingly.  The result is a large surplus of power.

Second, will stopping renewable power development lower costs for consumers?  Not likely. Ontario Power Generation recently asked the Ontario Energy Board for permission to raise the rate it is paid for nuclear power by 180% over the next decade.  Contrast that with the rapidly falling costs of wind and solar power.  For wind, we have already reached the point where it is more than competitive with nuclear power costs.  For solar, that crossing point is only a few years away.

Benefitting from the green energy revolution

Which means that we are at a crossroads.  Old energy technologies such as nuclear are being quickly overtaken by more flexible, easier to deploy and – increasingly – less expensive options such as solar and wind.  Ontario can try to ignore this worldwide trend or it can work through the transition and come out the other side with a more dynamic system that it is a better fit for our changing needs.

That’s the challenge that should be at the heart of the province’s current efforts to revise its Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP). And that revised plan also needs to strongly support the province’s climate change efforts.  Far from needing less electricity, we will actually need substantially more if we are gong to de-carbonize our energy use by moving away from sources like natural gas for things like home heating and accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.  Counting on 50-year-old inflexible nuclear plants to fill this need is taking the wrong path – we will be throwing good money after bad.

The government made a commendable decision to kickstart a new high-tech green power industry in this province.  That effort has led to thousands of new jobs and has set the stage for the next generation of Ontarians to thrive in a world of electric cars, distributed energy and smart grids.

The community advantage

We know the people of Ontario still support green energy – recent polling showed that 81% think we should continue to develop renewable sources like solar and wind.  But the public is rightly concerned about how we are currently going about this task.  Too often, they feel left in the dark by processes like the LRP program or the LTEP planning cycle.

So this “pause” gives us a valuable opportunity to rethink how we are going about the business of building a modern, green energy system.  When renewable power systems are developed locally by co-ops, school boards, municipalities or community organizations, they keep dollars and jobs in our communities, provide revenue that can used for everything from fixing arenas to improving schools, and enable those communities to become more resilient and better able to ride out severe weather events.

Through its Feed-in Tariff program, Ontario has quietly developed a leading-edge community power sector.  This is the foundation we need to build on in creating a healthy, safe, reliable and cost effective electricity system that is supported by communities because it puts communities first.

Bishops abandon KAIROS   Leave a comment

Theology in the Vineyard


Just arrived from Canadian bishops the  CCCB.

(CCCB – Ottawa)… After careful reflection and discernment, the Catholic Bishops of Canada at theirPlenary Assembly, September 26-30, 2016, decided that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) will end its membership in KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice coalition founded in 2001. This decision followed consultations with the CCCB Permanent Council, the Executive Committee, the Commission for Justice and Peace, and the Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue.

File it under “If we are not leading the parade, we are not in it.”

This has long been–at least since popes JP ll and Benedict- official institutional practice.If we can not control the agenda we are not part of it. After all we are the Roman Catholic Church.

The JP bishops never had much interest in justice and so they have pulled their funding from KAIROS …

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Posted October 14, 2016 by allanbaker in Uncategorized

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“Faith is a living thing – it is a category of the present.

It is not a once-for-all accomplishment.

It is not a possession, like a Visa card, that some have and others don’t.

It is an ongoing response to God, to the world, to life. It is therefore a matter of decision – taken not once, but over and over again, and in the presence of much evidence to the contrary.”

Douglas John Hall, Bound and Free, page 102

Rev. Vosper and the heretics of Scarborough   Leave a comment

Toronto Star column by Rick Salutin

United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.
United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.  (RANDY RISLING / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO  

The Rev. Gretta Vosper and her heretics — pardon, congregants — had their brief moment at the Inquisition yesterday — pardon, hearing. The deciders in the United Church of Canada will now pray, ponder, then render judgment.

Vosper is charged with not believing “in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit,” for which she could be defrocked — a term sounding newly pertinent in the era of the burkini. She calls herself an atheist, as regards the traditional “God” but says she understands “god” (she prefers lowercase) in her own way; so she both denies and affirms.

This isn’t Richard Dawkins’s atheism. The issue surfaced when she wrote an open letter on the Charlie Hebdo massacre saying bad things can be done in the name of God — hardly controversial or atheistic either. You could even argue that the Bible’s second commandment against worshipping false gods makes exactly her point.

As a teen, at Holy Blossom Temple, I read a novel by a rabbi, As a Driven Leaf, about a Talmudic-era sage named Elisha ben Abuyah, who raised impudent theological questions. He was in effect excommunicated and henceforth referred to as “the other” but remained revered by some sages and in subsequent tradition. Heresy in the name of faith and the truth — especially about the divine — has always been an intrinsic part of religions.

So, starting in the 1200s, a book known as The Atheist’s Bible — attacking Moses, Jesus and Mohammed — was denounced by religious authorities — and it didn’t even exist. Eventually, centuries later, it got written, as if it was necessary. In the 1960s, there was a “Death of God” movement inside U.S. Protestantism.

Vosper is in this tradition. She’s obsessed with god and writes books defining her concept. She says she believes in “a metaphorical God, as a symbol for a set of values.” She argues we “create god,” which in turn empowers us.

So yes, she’s being metaphorical but in theology, what isn’t? Surely most Greeks didn’t think actual gods lived up there on Olympus. There’s a developed theology of “demythologization” in Christianity. Atheism could end up as just another metaphor. One minister insisted the United Church “typically” affirms something “beyond material reality … more than the eye can see.” Okay, but who in the era of quantum physics wouldn’t affirm that? There are also groups of clergy who, like Vosper, “no longer hold supernatural beliefs.” But even that seems murky since it’s unclear what supernatural means today.

UCC clergy are expected to be in “essential agreement” with basic church doctrines but that can get pretty metaphorical too (“God is Holy Mystery … Mother, Friend, and Comforter”), leaving, says the UCC’s own journal, “plenty of leeway, God-wise.” And just how much is “agreement” really worth? Conrad Black, in his press lord days, apparently considered buying the Star so he was shown the leftish Atkinson Principles, which are legally built into the paper’s DNA. He looked at them and said something like, “Yah, I could sign on to that.”

If there’s anything innovative in Vosper’s challenge, it may be her serious treatment of the term, atheism. “New” atheists, such as Dawkins, just toyed with it, setting up simplistic, primitive versions of religion that they then debunked, like naughty kids in Sunday school. Vosper agonizes over the word, searching for any meaning it might have in religious settings. Such efforts keep religions vital.

In my own transition out of seminaries, for a long time I’d call myself an agnostic, till one day I thought, “Oh hell, I’m an atheist.” It wasn’t dramatic, more like the way a snake sheds its skin or, perhaps, being defrocked. In Obama’s first inaugural he mentioned atheists respectfully, which may have been a step along the way to rehabilitating the term in the U.S. context.

I used to ask people I knew at Union (protestant) seminary in New York how serious they were about Christian doctrines, like sin and salvation. Or was their Christianity just an autobiographical accident of birth through which they got attached to certain rituals, music, images etc., they were reluctant to abandon. I think those remain issues, especially in a globalizing world. In a way, Vosper is just stating the obvious and her opponents, merely postponing the inevitable.

She and her flock sound like they simply want a little meaning in their lives that feels really — meaningful. Can the United Church accommodate that?

Paul Rogers: We won’t defeat ISIS without a dramatic change in tactics   Leave a comment

On Sunday, September 18, 2016 the CBC’s Michael Enright broadcast an in-depth interview with Paul Rogers, who is the Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Enright began with the following introduction:

We are now fifteen years into the global “War on Terror.” It has led to the ousting of regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and to the detainment or deaths of thousands of Islamist militants — along with a lot of their leaders.

It has also cost trillions of dollars and led to the deaths of at least 250,000 people — mostly civilians — many times more than the number of people who died on 9/11. That number doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands who were injured, and the millions who were displaced.

The War on Terror also played a part in the creation of ISIS, and in alienating and radicalizing people in the West and in the Muslim world.

What the War on Terror has not done is defeat terrorism. That might be because it has been prosecuted like a normal war, deploying tremendous military force to vanquish a foe.

Paul Rogers says the kind of war we’re engaged in against ISIS is an irregular war — one which cannot be won with sheer military might, technological superiority or strategic cunning.

And, he argues, irregular wars are the the kinds of wars we will find ourselves mired in through the decades ahead if we don’t change our approach to fighting — and preventing — them.

Paul Rogers is a Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University in the UK and the International Security Editor for the website , as well as a regular guest on The Sunday Edition. His most recent book is called Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins.


The interview is available on CBC’s podcast website:

Posted September 19, 2016 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Peacemaking

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Church: thermometer or thermostat?   1 comment

A reflection by Ted Schmidt

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

ML King Jr “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” April 16,1963

One of the sad developments over the years has been the loss of power and agency in the institutional Catholic church.

“While it is inevitable that large institutions run down and in uber-capitalist countries will be co-opted by the culture, there will always be counter-movements fighting against such lassitude. History is full of examples beginning with the early church in the Roman Empire, then the Beguines, Francis of Assisi, Wesley’s challenge to high church Anglicanism, the Catholic Worker.” The examples are too numerous to mention. The Church at Vatican ll stated that it was “ecclesia semper reformanda”, a church always in need of renewal.

Today a Vatican ll pope has arrived, a man who understands that the church must be thrust into society as leaven.his theology is focused on Jesus’s call to God’s reign. Too many bishops are still locked into the church as the heart of the gospel. Sadly they resist Pope Francis.  The world today ruled by corporate power will always resist the gospel. Vatican ll reminded us that “we to must shoulder the cross which the world and the flesh inflict on those who search after peace and justice.” As King reminded us the church should not be a thermometer.

In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Birmingham Jail

All of the above and below reminded me of a remarkable student I had in the 80s. John Popiel went on to do significant development in the Dominican Republic and today coordinates the Jesuit Volunteers in Canada.

In the nuclearized 80s I sent out students 2X2 to knock on doors and join the resistance to Canada  testing the Cruise Missile. Johnny came in with  a harrowing tale of some guy running him off his porch , telling him to eff off , saying he was all for testing.

I just laughed and had John read the gospel for that day in home room class. The gospel was Luke 10:5 ff

When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’”If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Earlier the Jesus of Luke gave this advice If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

John was stunned. The gospel had leapt off the page as it always does when we turn it into action. It’s like putting on 3D glasses—you see a new reality.

Chris Hedges recently wrote (below) about an Anglican bishop who basically asked the church to become the leaven, stop mirroring the corrosive culture and take a stand for God’s reign of peace and justice.
Carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience is the only option left to defy the corporate state, says retired Anglican bishop Packard, who over the years has been arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest and other demonstrations. It will be a long, difficult and costly struggle the decorated Vietnam vet says. But there are moral and religious laws—laws that call on us to protect our neighbor, fight for justice and maintain systems of life—that must supersede the laws of the state. Fealty to these higher laws means we will make powerful enemies. It means we will endure discomfort, character assassination, state surveillance and repression. It means we will go to jail. But it is in the midst of this defiance that we will find purpose and, Packard argues, faith.

“This is the renewed presence of the church, people of spirit wandering around in the darkness trying to find each other,” Packard said to me before he was taken into custody by police during the Montrose protest. He stood holding one corner of a large banner reading, “We Say No to Spectra’s Algonquin Pipeline Expansion.” “When you find a cause that has spine, importance and potency you find the truth of the Scripture. You find it inside your gut. There is an ache in the culture.” Gesturing toward his fellow demonstrators, he added: “These are a few of the people who are speaking to it. This is what the church used to be. It used to be standing in conscience.”