Archive for the ‘Christian Faith’ Category

June 6 – anniversary of what?   Leave a comment

Norman Bethune, “Wounds”

The following article, “Wounds” is by the Canadian communist and medical doctor, Norman Bethune, who died in China serving the revolution. It is a scathing critique of imperialist war.

written 1939, published 1940 

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The kerosene lamp overhead makes a steady buzzing sound like an incandescent hive of bees. Mud walls. Mud floor. Mud bed. White paper windows. Smell of blood and chloroform. Cold. Three o’clock in the morning, December 1, North China, near Lin Chu, with the 8th Route Army. Men with wounds. Wounds like little dried pools, caked with blackbrown earth; wounds with torn edges frilled with black gangrene; neat wounds, concealing beneath the abscess in their depths, burrowing into and around the great firm muscles like a dammed-back river, running around and between the muscles like a hot stream; wounds, expanding outward, decaying orchids or crushed carnations, terrible flowers of flesh; wounds from which the dark blood is spewed out in clots, mixed with the ominous gas bubbles, floating on the fresh flood of the still-continuing secondary haemorrhage.

Old filthy bandages stuck to the skin with blood-glue. Careful. Belief moisten first. Through the thigh. Pick the leg up. Why it’s like a bag, a long, loose red stocking. What kind of stocking? A Christmas stocking. Where’s that find strong rod of bone now? In a dozen pieces. Pick them out with your fingers; white as a dog’s teeth, sharp and jagged. Now feel. Any more left? Yes, here. All? Yes; no, here’s another piece. Is this muscle dead? Pinch it. Yes, it’s dead, Cut it out. How can that heal? How can those muscles, once so strong, now so torn, so devastated, so ruined, resume their proud tension? Pull, relax. Pull, relax. What fun it was! Now that is finished. Now that’s done. Now we are destroyed. Now what will we do with ourselves?

Next. What an infant! Seventeen. Shot through the belly. Chloroform. Ready? Gas rushes out of the opened peritoneal cavity. Odour of feces. Pink coils of distended intestine. Four perforations. Close them. Purse string suture. Sponge out the pelvis. Tube. Three tubes. Hard to close. Keep him warm. How? Dip those bricks into hot water.

Gangrene is a cunning, creeping fellow. Is this one alive? Yes, he lives. Technically speaking, he is alive. Give him saline intravenously. Perhaps the innumerable tiny cells of his body will remember. They may remember the hot salty sea, their ancestral home, their first food. With the memory of a million years, they may remember other tides, other oceans, and life being born of the sea and sun. It may make them raise their tired little heads, drink deep and struggle back into life again. It may do that.

And this one. Will he run along the road beside his mule at another harvest, with cries of pleasure and happiness? No, that one will never run again. How can you run with one leg? What will he do? Why, he’ll sit and watch the other boys run. What will he think? He’ll think what you and I would think. What’s the good of pity? Don’t pity him! Pity would diminish his sacrifice. He did this for the defence of China. Help him. Lift him off the table. Carry him in your arms. Why, he’s as light as a child! Yes, your child, my child.

How beautiful the body is: how perfect its pads; with what precision it moves; how obedient, proud and strong. How terrible when torn. The little flame of life sinks lower and lower, and with a flicker, goes out. It goes out like a candle goes out. Quietly and gently. It makes its protest at extinction, then submits. It has its day, then is silent.

Any more? Four Japanese prisoners. Bring them in. In this community of pain, there are no enemies. Cut away that blood-stained uniform. Stop that haemorrhage. Lay them beside the others. Why, they’re alike as brothers! Are these soldiers professional man-killers? No, these are amateurs-in-arms. Workman’s hands. These are workers-in-uniform.

No more. Six o’clock in the morning. God, it’s cold in this room. Open the door. Over the distant, dark-blue mountains, a pale, faint line of light appears in the east. In an hour the sun will be up. To bed and sleep.

But sleep will not come. What is the cause of this cruelty, this stupidity? A million workmen come from Japan to kill or mutilate a million Chinese workmen. Why should the Japanese worker attack his brother worker, who is forced merely to defend himself. Will the Japanese worker benefit by the death of the Chinese? No, how can he gain? Then, in God’s name, who will gain? Who is responsible for sending these Japanese workmen on this murderous mission? Who will profit from it? How was it possible to persuade the Japanese workmen to attack the Chinese Workman — his brother in poverty; his companion in misery?

Is it possible that a few rich men, a small class of men, have persuaded a million men to attack, and attempt to destroy, another million men as poor as they? So that these rich may be richer still? Terrible thought! How did they persuade these poor men to come to China? By telling them the truth? No, they would never have cone if they had known the truth, Did they dare to tell these workmen that the rich only wanted cheaper raw materials, more markets and more profit? No, they told them that this brutal war was “The Destiny of the Race,” it was for the “Glory of the Emperor,” it was for the “Honour of the State,” it was for their “King and Country.”

False. False as hell!

The agents of a criminal war of aggression, such as this, must be looked for like the agents of other crimes, such as murder, among those who are likely to benefit from those crimes. Will the 80,000,000 workers of Japan, the poor farmers, the unemployed industrial workers — will they gain? In the entire history of the wars of aggression, from the conquest of Mexico by Spain, the capture of India by England, the rape of Ethiopia by Italy, have the workers of those “victorious” countries ever been known to benefit? No, these never benefit by such wars. Does the Japanese workman benefit by the natural resources of even his own country, by the gold, the silver, the iron, the coal, the oil? Long ago he ceased to possess that natural wealth. It belongs to the rich, the ruling class. The millions who work those mines live in poverty. So how is he likely to benefit by the armed robbery of the gold, silver, iron, coal and oil from China? Will not the rich owners of the one retain for their own profit the wealth of the other? Have they not always done so?

It would seem inescapable that the militarists and the capitalists of Japan are the only class likely to gain by this mass murder, this authorized madness, this sanctified butchery. That ruling class, the true state, stands accused.

Are wars of aggression, wars for the conquest of colonies, then, just big business? Yes, it would seem so, however much the perpetrators of such national crimes seek to hide their true purpose under banners of high-sounding abstractions and ideals. They make war to capture markets by murder; raw materials by rape. They find it cheaper to steal than to exchange; easier to butcher than to buy. This is the secret of war. This is the secret of all wars. Profit. Business. Profit. Blood money.

Behind all stands that terrible, implacable God of Business and Blood, whose name is Profit. Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stand the militarists. Behind the militarists stand finance capital and the capitalist. Brothers in blood; companions in crime.

What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. they are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. they endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. they obey the law, their law, the law of property. But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners. Such men as these must perish if the human race is to continue. There can be no permanent peace in the world while they live. Such an organization of human society as permits them to exist must be abolished.

These men make the wounds.

1939

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.

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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.
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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.

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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
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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

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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”.

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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.
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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
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  Leave a comment

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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.”

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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