Monday, December 17, 2007


I'm a real fan of the tv series, The West Wing. I started watching it in the first season and was faithful pretty much to the end (though I have to say that the last season was a bit of a disappointment for me - I watched more out of loyalty than conviction!). I watch the re-runs when I get a chance and I own the first five seasons on DVD. So yeah - I'm a fan.

I've always enjoyed the political content - specifically the issues and the way they're handled - the tensions and energy generated by working in the White House, the "faith and politics" dynamic (though the "religious right" is often hammered), the personalities of the staff of the West Wing and the way they work out of their strengths. I love the way senior staff - Leo, Toby, Josh, CJ, Sam and even President Bartlett can disagree passionately on a particular issue but never take it personally. It's about issues and the way issues intersect - it's not so much about being right or wrong or even gaining the approval of one's colleagues. At the end of the day, decisions are made and whether they agree or not - for the most part - they stand behind the process. For me, it's a study in leadership and most of the time, I'm inspired to imitate principles like working hard, standing up for what I believe, being open to integrating new ideas or information and even changing my mind or my position based on new evidence or old evidence seen in a new light. Most of the time.

But lately I have to say that I've found myself getting frustrated. I'm watching the fifth season on DVD these days. Maybe it's this particular season, or maybe it's got something to do with my own journey, or maybe it's my age (mid-life!!) or my idealism confronting reality - or probably a combination of all of the above. Whatever it is, I find myself feeling irritated. The verbal witticisms and clever put-downs that I used to love are more often these days striking me as arrogant and elitist. The compromises (ENDLESS compromises!) needed to move priority issues ahead are looking more like weaknesses (sell-outs) than strengths and wise governance. The achilles heel of North American democracies - where it's all about gaining and retaining the power to govern - means issues (and that is ALL issues) become politicized. Virtues like integrity, honesty, appropriate loyalty, faithfulness - they all have a shelf life and are often tainted by ambition, pride, fear and plain, old-fashioned poor judgment. I feel like I have a front row seat to watch the demise of principles on the altar of success. Is this leadership that's worthy of emulating?

Actually, my favorite characters in the show are probably Donna and Charlie. Donna is Josh's assistant and Charlie is - hm, I don't know his official title, but he is President Bartlett's personal aide or something. So as I think about it, both Donna and Charlie are in the middle of the action but neither really has any formal authority. Donna and Charlie often provide grounding - a bridge between the real world and the halls of the West Wing where the machinery of government hums along. Like, for example, when none of the senior staff know the price of a gallon of milk, but Charlie does. Or when Donna argues with Josh about Democratic party policies that seem to be out of step with the lives of the little people.

So, I think a lot about leadership as I'm watching The West Wing, and I'm feeling increasingly frustrated. I guess it's because integrity always seems to take a back seat to expediency. The system is built on compromise - give a bit here and there to gain a tiny bit somewhere else. Is this the best we can do?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Golden Rule - Reframed?

Everyone knows the golden rule, right? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's so much a part of our consciousness that we rattle it off without too much thought. It's like - what's the expression - motherhood and apple pie? A couple of weeks ago I saw a fridge magnet with a variation. It said, "do unto others as they would have you do unto them."

That got me thinking of a bumper sticker I saw once that had another variation: "do unto others before they do unto you." There are probably other versions floating about. So, it makes me think. What's the best one line summary for how we ought to treat others?

The Christian version of the golden rule - and by the way, there are similar edicts in all of the major world religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism and Islamism (see - comes from Luke 6:31 (TNIV) which says: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Pretty straightforward. But is this a verse that can be lifted out of it's context and applied to every person in every situation? Is it a universal command? Here it is in the context of Luke 6:27-31 - embedded in a section entitled "Love for Enemies":

27 "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Aha!!! This puts a different spin on it - at least it does for me. It's not so much "do unto EVERYONE as I want them to do unto me" as "do unto my enemies, those who curse me, mistreat me, abuse me, steal from me - unto all of them - do unto them as I would rather they were doing to me." So - treat the people who are mistreating me, as if they aren't mistreating me. Treat them with respect, care, compassion - love! Treat my enemies like they are my friends. Lavish them with love.

Luke goes on to say (in verses 32-36):

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
So - if I'm to treat my enemies like friends, how should I treat my friends? Should I treat them like I want to be treated? Or, should I treat them as they would like to be treated? Or, is there yet another option: to treat them in such a way as to do them the most good? I think these would all result in different actions on my part.

When I think about it, I realize that the way I'd like to be treated may not always be what is best for me. It follows, then, that the way others like to be treated may not be what's best for them either. Actually, it may be a lot easier to treat ourselves in ways that make us feel good - who doesn't like to be indulged or flattered? But is that all there is to love? Maybe the highest expression of love is to treat others, not as we like to be treated or as they would enjoy, but in the way that does them the greatest good.

I know. Who decides on what's best for any of us? It's not easy and in our society - let's face it - it's a feel good, indulgent culture we live in - there's a good chance we may be misunderstood if we're aiming higher. Teenagers, for example, often don't appreciate parents who make decisions based on what they believe to be in their teens best interest. Our friends and enemies may be similarly skeptical of our motives if we suddenly stop indulging them. Well - think about it and if you're very brave, try it out. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Can we change the world without getting "dirty"?

I recently attended a Maude Barlow public lecture. She was great - very articulate, informed, passionate, persuasive, at times comical. The audience was the usual mix of students, academics, activists, members of various advocacy groups and organizations. I didn't notice many pastors there, come to think of it, but there might have been some. Certainly there were people of faith who are concerned about the environment and our stewardship of the planet. All in all it was an interesting and informative evening.

There was a Q and A time at the end and the questions were also interesting, covering a variety of issues and events. The last question has really stuck in my mind. It was a fairly young man asking the question - 20 something - probably late 20s or maybe even 30ish. He had the manner and style of a political activist and his question boiled down to this: "how do you get people to the place where they have the courage to get involved and they're not afraid of getting arrested or tear gassed for the cause?". I should mention that Maude Barlow had made several passing references to protests and actions which resulted in arrests, pepper spray, tear gas, etc. - my mind flashed to the media images of G8 Summit protests and anti-war demonstrations turned nasty. I can't remember Maude's response to the young man's question, but I've been thinking about the issue ever since. And I wonder, can we change the world without getting "dirty"? Without getting arrested, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, etc.? And, are those effective ways of advocating for change within the current Canadian and global context?

In the midst of my ponderings I've recalled a quote by Abraham Lincoln who said: "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed." I confess that I'm a bit conflicted. On one hand, I admire the Maude Barlows of the world who have been such passionate advocates for social and political change and I think they have often changed the timeline on change. But on the other hand - and maybe this is largely a personality quirk - I'm not convinced that the positive change they're after might not happen - and happen even more effectively - by other means. I know. I know. You're probably thinking of all kinds of cases throughout history where it seems that without the activists things would NEVER have changed. Slavery. Apartheid. Women's rights. All kinds of other "rights". And I've talked about this before (the gist of that post being that we really don't know what would have happened in the absence of a particular action, since social change is a consequence of SO MANY variables).

So back to the Lincoln quote: "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed." Generally speaking, activists try to force a government to do the right thing. Most of the time - at some level at least - everyone KNOWS it's the right thing but the politicians lack the political will. That means that there's a cost - often the cost of their own position of power and influence - that's at stake. A pretty tough disincentive to doing the right thing. But what if we spent our time and energy as activists, not in doing outlandish things and getting arrested, but in the quieter, less glitzy work of raising awareness and gradually - I admit, often PAINFULLY SLOWLY - influencing public sentiment so that politicians would not be putting their political future on the line every time they might be inclined to "do the right thing."

There MAY be room for both approaches - my gut feeling is that there IS room for both - the political activists putting issues in the headlines and the rest of us coming in behind with the awareness raising stuff. But honestly, as I sat in that auditorium, it really hit me that Maude was "preaching to the choir". She doesn't get to influence the "average voter" because the average voter probably is intimidated by her and doesn't come out to hear her speak, even though she has so much to tell them and she really is a very effective communicator. I suspect that the audience that night already knew much of what Maude had to say because we're already interested and already informed. We probably subscribe to the same magazines and periodicals and have the same podcasts on our ipods. We read the same books and sign the same petitions. We're already trying to reduce our carbon footprint and we're already trying to eat locally produced food. We're sensitive to the negative effects of globalization on low income countries and are ready to vote for politicians who share those concerns.

But where are the hordes of people who haven't yet heard that there is great inequality and injustice on this planet, as it spirals on the brink of environmental and ecological destruction? Well, I suspect that they're home indulging in the comforts provided by a consumer capitalist economic and political system - or maybe they're headed south of the border "to shop 'til they drop" while the loonie is soaring above the American greenback (well - soaring may be a bit of an exaggeration!).

I enjoyed hearing Maude Barlow. I admire her and am thankful for her insights and her energy. But as for the question "can we change the world without getting 'dirty'?", I'm more convinced than ever that the answer is YES! So, if you've been holding back because you simply don't want to join in with the activists who have taken to the streets, hold back no longer. There actually is a large and powerful force of people - like you and I - who want to change the world through gentler means. So, let's get to it - let's start influencing public sentiment, even if it's just one person at a time! Who knows what the history books will eventually say...

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Common Good?

Winston Churchill once said that "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Hm. Not very flattering. But I think there's a disturbing kernel of truth in the statement. A definition of democracy that I must have learned somewhere along the way is "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

I've actually just googled that phrase and it turns out that it was part of American President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 when he said:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (

[I LOVE google by the way. I'm so happy to know - finally - the source of that phrase!] Sounds impressive and even empowering. We make the decisions about what to do and how to do it. It's all about freedom and there seems to be an implicit assumption that we are both free AND noble. That we are up to the challenge of governance. That, because we are all equal, we can all have a say and every voice will be listened to and respected. It's a vision worth fighting for and maybe even dying for. From our vantage point in the early years of the 21st Century, it's even something that we have the luxury of taking for granted - at least in Canada, right?

Yet, are we up for it? If we don't have either the time or the interest to find out what's going on around us and around the world and how one decision affects another, are we really responsible enough to be in the driver's seat?

A wise older man who was my mentor for several years before his death was fond of saying that "the leaders are following the followers and no one knows where they're going." Then, he'd add: "it's no wonder we're in such a mess!"

So what are our options? There are those who are valiantly trying to turn humanity around - to put on the brakes and change the course of history. There are anti-globalization activists, anti-poverty activists, anti-climate change activists, etc. etc. Then there are those who are perhaps less ardent but who believe that they can make a difference by attaining positions of power and influence. They run for political office or become business elites in a global economy. Some of them maintain their integrity and their vision for a better future - many do not. Then there are those - the average voter - who try to keep up with current events so that they can be informed and responsible citizens who can use their vote to put in the people and the party who will do the "right thing". But it's hard not to get discouraged when we get a glimpse of our own powerlessness in the face of global political and economic forces. Some of these people eventually fall off the treadmill and join those who are either so busy simply trying to survive that they have no time or energy for the world beyond themselves or who have opted out of genuine participation. The news is too depressing so they don't bother with it. They have a job to do and bills to pay and kids to raise. Nose to the grindstone. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Live and let live.

So who IS looking out for the common good and what is the common good any way? Is it wise to trust our elected officials to look out for our interests? What about any responsibility we might have for the interests of those on the margins of society - those who can't seem to find their voice? Do they fall under the umbrella of "the common good"? Somehow it sounds a little shallow to say that we are committed to the common good when the richest 1/5 of the world's population consumes 4/5ths of the world's resources? That doesn't sound like the common good to me! Who are we kidding?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Wanting to JUSTIFY himself..."

There's a phrase that's been stuck in my mind for the past few weeks. But first, a little background. I heard someone talk about the parable of the good Samaritan - a story from the New Testament (Luke 10:25-37 to be exact) in which an expert in the Law (that would be a religious scholar who has studied the Judaic law, including especially the 10 Commandments) asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.

As Jesus often did, he answered a question with a question which the man apparently handled with ease, boiling the 10 commandments down to 2: "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul and with all your strength and with all our mind" (from Deuteronomy 6:5) and "love your neighbor as yourself" (from Leviticus 19:18). Jesus himself later brought these two together in answer to the question from His disciples concerning which is the greatest commandment. So, all is well and good. Jesus tells the expert that he is, in fact, correct and that if he does what he knows to do, he's good to go. The conversation could have been over before it really began.

BUT, it seems, the man is not satisfied yet. The text says, "wanting to justify himself..."

That's it. That's the phrase that I can't get out of my mind. So - I've been thinking about it. When do I want to justify myself? How do I do it? It's been an interesting few weeks as I've become PAINFULLY aware of this tendency to want to justify myself. I'm certainly not done thinking about it yet but I've noticed that there are times when the desire to have others think well of me leads me to want to justify myself. It's almost instinctive - I slip in a bit of information that will help them see a situation from MY perspective and with me as the hero in the scenario. I've noticed that there's quite an art to this sort of impression management and I often do it almost without thinking - at a sub-conscious level. It's not like I'm investing a lot of time or energy into this sort of self-justification - it's subtle and clever and effective and the bonus is, I can do it and people will still think that I'm very genuine! Even as I write this, I'm conscious of the fact that I may be trying to manipulate you into thinking that I'm honest and authentic and transparent. And the more I protest that I'm really not, the more convinced you will be that I am!

Which reminds me of another bible verse that has been stuck in my mind for about 20 years now. It's Jeremiah 17:9 which I once memorized in the King James Version: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Now that's uplifting isn't it? Someone should warn us when we memorize those verses that they may haunt us for years! But I've come to the point where I'm wary of my own heart for this very reason - it IS deceitful. It keeps wanting to justify me - to myself, to others, to God.

But wanting to justify myself is not just about personal credibility and reputation. It occurs to me that there are all kinds of levels to this justification project. We want to justify ourselves as families, communities, churches, organizations, societies, ethnic groups - this is BIG. Advertisers play on this when they pitch their products. Political parties rely on it when they formulate election platforms. Governments rely on it when they need support for a particular course of action. Churches use it when they come up with mission and vision statements and five year plans and building campaigns. In previous postings I've talked about the overwhelming evidence that the lifestyles we "enjoy" in North America are exploiting the scarce resources of the earth and are condemning billions of people around the globe to lives of incredible hardship and poverty. But we can look at the figures and carry on - maybe making minor adjustments or giving a bit more to charity - because we are so good at justifying ourselves.

Here's the thing. Just because we can convince ourselves and maybe even those around us that we really are very good people - or good Christians - or good atheists - or good Muslims - or good Canadians - or good Americans - or good Germans - or good Iranians - or good Brits - whatever we are - that doesn't make it so.

Abraham Lincoln said: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." Society does have a conscience - we need to learn to listen to the voices which question our justifications - we need eyes to see and ears to hear.

If you've got a minute, check out the Millennium Development Goals for a quick refresher on some of the big issues in our world which - if you're like me - can be too often "out of sight, out of mind". Go to: and open your heart, mind and soul to the big picture... let's not be fooled into thinking that everything's ok or that nothing can be done!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some thoughts about STRIVING

Well - it's been a while (way too long!) since I've posted and if any of you check regularly you might be wondering what's up. Lots has been happening over the past few months and I've had many ideas for postings, but have just been very lazy about taking the time to put my thoughts down on paper. So - as the "fall" is upon us, my hibernation is over and I'll try to get back on track with postings every week or two.

I used to be quite an athlete. Really - I was. In fact, I was very VERY serious about basketball and field hockey through university and even for a short time was a carded athlete on the Canadian National field hockey squad. In 1980 I ran the Ottawa marathon and finished in a respectable time of just under 3 and a half hours. I tell you this so that you'll believe me when I say I was a serious athlete. Of course that was a quarter of a century ago, but who's counting years? Since then - well - let's just say that my focus has shifted to other, more sedentary pursuits. BUT, the point is, I'm on the verge of making a decision to get in shape. So, just to dip my toe in, so to speak, I went for a run yesterday and have been checking out The Running Room online. I'm actually feeling pulled toward this "get in shape" idea - it's a bit like a magnetic field that's gaining strength. I should also tell you that I was talking to someone on the weekend who went from being a non-runner three years ago, to running four half marathons this year. Pretty impressive! And I'm thinking, I COULD DO THAT.

In fact, I'm starting to get really excited about it. I can imagine myself, once again, as a "runner". Now to be honest, my run yesterday was pretty uninspiring. I covered about three miles in a half hour (that's a distressingly slow 10 minute per mile pace for a former marathoner like myself!) but it did feel good to be done. There's a certain sense of accomplishment when you push yourself to do something hard. And I got thinking about that as I carefully put one foot ahead of the other.

I realize that what I've missed - and I've known I was missing it for a long time now - is STRIVING. It takes a lot of commitment and discipline and energy to strive. From the time I was in grade seven until I was twenty-seven years old (coincidentally the age at which I got married!) I was dedicated, committed, disciplined - maybe even obsessive (okay - definitely obsessive!) about sport and fitness and always improving - faster times, longer distances, better stats, more consistent performances. I loved it. Getting married, finishing a PhD, having kids, working - there's been a certain amount of striving in my new life, but it's not quite the same. So, I wonder, do we all have a built in need to strive?

One of the things I did this summer was participate in a Short Term Mission trip to Kenya. This was my second trip to Kenya. It was a great experience and it has given me lots to think about in terms of justice issues. But it occurs to me that in countries like Kenya where so many people are living in absolute poverty, they STRIVE simply to survive. Life is very hard. Could the sense of satisfaction I might get from pushing myself to do a three mile run be akin to the satisfaction a woman has who has worked hard all day to put some food and water before her children - again?

A few years ago, my husband and I drove through the Rocky Mountains from Calgary to Vancouver. It's amazing terrain and we marveled at the engineering feat and the sheer guts and determination required to build a railroad through those mountains. Many lives were lost in the process and we got thinking about how technology has improved work safety in many areas of our country (at least for those in the middle class!). As a result - that is, as life has become less inherently risky - it seems that the need to strive has turned some people's efforts to things like extreme sport. Wikipedia defines extreme sport as follows: "Extreme sport (also called action sport, adventure sport, and adventurous sport) is a media term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger or difficulty and often involving speed, height, a high level of physical exertion, and highly specialized gear or spectacular stunts." It seems that people who are drawn into these extreme sports or activities have a high need to test themselves - to STRIVE for new levels of daring and achievement. And they become part of a fraternity of other like-minded souls.

I wonder what percentage of humanity experiences some form of this desire to strive. What if we all have it in some degree - that it's part of our humanity - but that it gets expressed in various ways? But then, as I look around our post-modern, often selfishly materialistic, narcissistic, sometimes slothful (overweight, underactive, self-destructive) North American society, I wonder if this is what happens when we squelch our god-given desire to strive and give in to self indulgence?

I wonder at our ability to accept a lukewarm existence where we avoid anything that is hard. Is this really living? I don't want to trade places with those who have to strive to survive, but I'm thinking that it might be better to strive to survive than not to have to strive at all. And since my normal life is really pretty easy, maybe joining the fraternity of runners who are willing to be disciplined and committed enough to train for half marathons and marathons is actually a portal to a deeper spiritual life. I wonder...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Making a Difference

Over the past few weeks there have been countless graduation ceremonies in high schools across the country. Our son graduated this year so it's all very fresh in my mind! As we attended the Grad Banquet, the Grand March and the graduation itself, I found myself thinking about these kids and their future. Graduation is certainly celebrated as a rite of passage, but passage to what?

The valedictorian (like valedictorians pretty much everywhereI suspect) commented on the journey these students have been on from elementary school to middle school and finally to high school. She talked about things that have shaped this graduating class and about the contributions they might make to society as they continue on from here. It was pretty inspiring and it got me to thinking about the ways we make a difference in our world. Here's some of the things I've been thinking.

We all make a difference in one way or another. In fact, we all make a variety of differences, some positive and some negative. Is the measure of our life the net difference we make? Or is that a cop out? Imagine one of the 2007 grads ends up discovering a cure for cancer. Big difference, right? But let's say he or she has a personal life that causes lots of pain and suffering for family and friends. The net difference may be positive, but that doesn't undo all that pain and suffering does it. Or let's say that someone who is a great humanitarian causes an accident that kills a mother of three young children. Does the humanitarian good outweigh the personal cost to that family?

So, the point is, the decisions we make all have an impact on those around us. And we make hundreds of decisions every day.

As I think about the thousands of high school graduates that are being "released" into society, I wonder if they have been prepared to be good citizens, good employers and employees, good husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends. Years ago an elderly gentleman was a mentor to me. He was fond of coming up with pithy statements containing profound fragments of wisdom - his own proverbs if you will. One of his favorites (and mine!) was this: "Learning isn't all from books. It depends what you bring to the books."

Have we, as a society - through our educational system - invested in the character development of our children and youth? If we have, then I think the future is bright. But if we have failed to focus on character, opting to just teach the academic subjects, then I'm afraid there may be some rough waters ahead.

Life jackets, anyone?

Monday, June 25, 2007

"I can only imagine..."

A few years ago I was at a retreat and the soloist sang a Mercy Me song called "I Can Only Imagine". It's about heaven and it brought tears to my eyes. The song is about trying to imagine how we'll respond when we go to heaven and are in God's presence. The chorus goes like this:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.

Lately though, I've noticed that when Christians talk about heaven, there's a bit of hesitation - a little squirming in our seats. On the one hand, we've been taught to think that heaven is great - perfect, in fact! What's not to look forward to? After all, there will be no more pain or suffering or tears. No more sin. Evil will apparently be completely absent from heaven. We'll be free to worship God 24/7. It seems a bit heretical to even think that such an existence may be, well - a bit boring.

Sure, we joke about sleeping in and eating all the chocolate we want, but what's heaven REALLY going to be like? As I ponder this, I have a bunch of questions:

  • will we still have free will in heaven?
  • if we do, what will our choices be and what will prevent us from making the same mistakes humanity has always made?
  • if we don't, will we really be human?

Come to think of it, if Adam and Eve had obeyed God and resisted the lure of knowing good and evil (and thus, being like God), would they have lived on in the Garden of Eden in ignorance? Would we be innocent today, not knowing the difference between good and evil? Will heaven be a return to ignorance - I mean, innocence?

Or, will the context have shifted so dramatically that the only reality we know on earth - the perpetual battle between good and evil - will be transformed into a totally different reality? One beyond our knowing or even our imagination. But if this is possible, why have we had to go through all of human history with its injustices and abuses, greed, corruption, selfishness, etc.?

Will being "like Jesus" mean that we will choose not to do evil, even though we could? But how is that a fair scenario, if evil has been removed that is, if evil is absent, we can't really choose it and if we can't choose it, can we really be like Jesus in resisting evil and being obedient? So you see - lots of questions!

For the sake of this posting, the key one is this: will we have free will in heaven? Any thoughts? Until I hear from those who are wiser than I on this topic, I can only imagine...

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Triumph of Evil?

There's a quote that's been dogging me for some years now. Often attributed to an Anglo-Irish philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the quote goes something like this: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". It often appears as a tag line in emails from people who are very committed to a particular "cause" which they perceive to be unjust or immoral. Perhaps it's just me, but I've come to feel as though it serves as a wagging finger. The text of these emails has outlined a particular issue and the "triumph of evil" quote is a benediction of sorts - the ultimate raison d'etre for rolling up our sleeves and taking a stand against the forces of evil at work in our world.

So, I've been trying to figure out why this quote irks me. After all, it has a certain inherent wisdom, doesn't it? Slavery is often cited as an evil which was brought down by the actions of good men - most especially William Wilberforce, about whom a movie (Amazing Grace) has now been released to bring historical account to popular culture. Let me say unequivocably that I do not for a second wish to diminish the efforts of Wilberforce (or any other social or political activist) who has courageously taken a controversial stand and effected change in society. These men and women are rightly regarded as heroes. So, what's the problem?

Well, I guess there are two things. First, since we can never undo the intricate web of human action and inaction on any particular issue, we can't say with any certainty what the outcome would have been in the absence of the action or inaction of a certain person at a certain time. Had Wilberforce not challenged the British Parliament when he did, would the institution of slavery have persisted to this day? [As I say that, I'm quite conscious of the fact that the institution of slavery DOES exist today - in fact, National Geographic had a feature article on 21st Century Slaves a few years ago in which they reported: "There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The modern commerce in humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the destruction of lives." (see for a taste of the article or go the library and look up the Sept. 2003 issue of the National Geographic). What would have happened if Wilberforce had not acted as he did? Well - we really don't know, do we. Again, let me stress that this is not a criticism of Wilberforce. Far from it! Rather, it's a plea for careful reflection.

The other thing has to do with this "triumph of evil" business. There are some details of my Christian faith that I'm not absolutely, totally, 100% sure about. I recently heard someone say that most of us might have our theology 80% correct. The problem is, we're not sure which 80% is right or, more importantly, which 20% is wrong!

What I want to say is this: the way I understand it - at the very heart of my faith - evil does not win, no matter how badly we behave or how inhumanely we treat one another on this earth. No matter how courageously we stand for justice or how meekly we watch injustices unfold. Certainly, if we do nothing when we could act or speak, we may fail to deliver someone from pain and suffering. But let's be clear on this one thing: Evil has already been defeated. Wasn't that the point of the cross? Really, if the only hope we have against evil is our (puny) efforts - our schemes, campaigns and strategies - we're in big trouble.

This is not a prescription for doing nothing, but a reality check. Let's not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. If we really want to be followers of Christ - disciples, apprentices - God doesn't expect us to save the world or even fix it. He does expect us to do the things Jesus taught us to do - to be faithful witnesses of the life that comes from obedience. To live according to the ethics of the kingdom and thus create a dynamic, life-embracing, counter culture. And then! When we Christians get this part down - and I mean, REALLY get this down, in spite of the push and pull of our culture of materialism and me-ism, then we will see what God can do with our systems and institutions of injustice!

The triumph of evil? I think not.

Friday, June 01, 2007

How do we know what we know?

There's a dinosaur on my desk at work - a tyrannasaurus rex - the king of the dinosaurs! It's there to remind me to be humble and not to get so attached to my understanding of truth that I don't continue to seek understanding. Truth, I firmly believe, is complex. You just think you get something figured out when new information surfaces. Something doesn't quite fit. That's what makes the pursuit of truth so exciting.

I have this image in my mind about the way we tend to claim "truth". It's like climbers who have scaled a mountain, or astronauts who have landed on a distant planet - they proudly plant their flag, claiming the "conquered" territory. We do the same sort of thing when we arrive at a deeper level of insight or understanding. We plant our flag. Problem is, too often we tend to camp out there - protecting our territory. This is TRUTH - maybe even THE TRUTH and we're ready to defend it. The climb, the search, the flight is over. We've arrived. Of course, while we're tied up defending truth, we stop looking.

So what's this got to do with the dinosaur on my desk? When my son went through a dinosaur phase, we had movies about dinosaurs, books, various dinosaur figures - the works. In the course of our "research" I can still remember the shock and disappointment I felt when I discovered that paleontologists really have to fill in a lot of blanks in order to give us the finished product. The fierce tyrannosaurus rex, for instance, is a composite of a few bones and a lot of imagination. Did you know that? On the basis of a few bones, paleontologists have re-created this amazing creature - they've fleshed him out, all based on a few bones. Shape, size, color, temperament, habitat, diet - all from a few bones!

We have this great book. It's a coffee table size - Dinosaur Skeletons and Other Prehistoric Animals by Jinny Johnson. On the cover flap it says this: "No one was around millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth. So how do we know about these amazing creatures? From discoveries of fossilized bones, scientists have pieced together a picture of how these incredible animals MAY have looked, and how they moved, fed, and fought." I added that emphasis on MAY... hm. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

So, the dinosaur sits quietly on my desk, watching me work and reminding me to keep thinking, keep searching, keep seeking - even when where I'm at feels pretty right.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Black Gold

I've just watched the movie documentary, Black Gold and read some of the posts on the official website - most of it a debate on whether or not Starbucks is a villain. The movie itself is excellent - good cinematography, interesting commentary, helpful statistics, compelling coverage of a relevant issue. Not surprisingly, though, it leaves me with lots of questions, not so much about what is said, but about what is left unsaid.

The movie follows Mr. Tadesse Meskela's efforts to improve the market position of the 105,000 Ethiopian coffee farmers who are members of the Oromia Ethiopian Coffee Farmer's Cooperative Union. The story is pretty straightforward: despite the increasing popularity of coffee and the amount of money spent globally on coffee and coffee products, coffee farmers in Ethiopia and other low income countries are laboring for next to nothing and generally receiving a price for their product which imprisons them in poverty and makes basic education for their kids a pipe dream.

So what about fair trade products: coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, flour, etc.? Does buying fair trade certified commodities actually make a difference? I'll be doing lots more thinking and researching on this question, but for now, the bottom line for me is this: whenever I can, I will. I know my consumer habits and yours are just a drop in the bucket but those drops can add up and if we each can influence those around us to go fair trade, the drops will become a trickle. The bigger issue really is what are we going to do with our wealth? Are we going to spend it on lavish lifestyles as we sip our $3.70 lattes and espressos, or are we going to find ways to invest it in effective poverty reduction?

Here's my challenge: get a copy of Black Gold and have some friends in to watch it with you - I'm pretty sure you'll have a good discussion when it's over!; do some research on the issues surrounding fair trade; then - adjust your patterns of consumption to reflect your understanding as it continues to evolve. The big multi-national corporations are after one thing only: profit. And they'll continue to exploit whoever they can to improve their profit margins and impress their shareholders. That's what they do. That's how the system works. But consumers have influence too. At the end of the day, where will your buck stop?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Thinking About the Cost of Housing...

When I woke up this morning I turned on the tv news and caught the end of a special report on housing in Canada. The gist of it was this: as you move west the cost of housing is literally through the roof. That's if you can afford a roof at all! The report looked at how much house you could get in different cities for $350,000. By the time you get to Edmonton, there's not much available at that price. They did show a small home - apparently not all that well kept - for $350,000. It was listed as a "tear down", meaning that for $350,000 plus the price of tearing down the house, you could have a lot for construction of a brand new "dream home". In Vancouver, $350,000 could get you a living space of about 700 square feet. You get the idea.

As I sat there watching, I couldn't help thinking of the 14,000 Canadians who are currently homeless on any given day - living on the street or in charity shelters or in makeshift "tents" under bridges or in back alleys. And I thought of the one billion people in the world who do not have basic decent shelter. Images of the shanty towns I visited in Nairobi flashed through my mind. Then I thought about an ad on tv that I find particularly disturbing - I can't honestly remember what store is being advertised (some sort of direct sale box store) but a young couple is boasting about the $750 faucets they got for just $350 (or something like that). I'm thinking, $350 for a faucet!? Have we totally lost our minds?

In Canada, the poverty level (measured as a Low Income Cut-Off or LICO) is based on the proportion of income spent on food, clothing and shelter. If an individual or family spends 20% more of their income on food, clothing and shelter than the average in that area, they're considered poor. It's a relative measure. In cities like Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, poor people spend half of their income or more on housing alone. So, I think to myself, what's going to happen as more and more people migrate from rural areas to urban centres? Are there creative solutions that might alleviate the pressure and preoccupation people have when it comes to finding adequate shelter?

I spent about 10 days out west last fall and, as you can imagine, everyone was talking about the cost of housing. In East Vancouver, I visited a church that opens its doors a couple of nights a week to the homeless. And I heard about a couple of businessmen from that congregation who had bought hotels in East Vancouver, renovated them and used them as single occupancy rental units for low income housing. I was impressed that they would put people ahead of profits... This winter I met a couple of people that are involved in an organization called the Multi-faith Housing Initiative (MHI)in Ottawa. Their ultimate objective is to encourage churches to find creative ways to meet the housing needs of people in their communities. The organization owns a couple of properties - a home and six units in a condominium complex - which they rent to low income earners. But even more importantly, the MHI is encouraging churches and their congregations to get directly involved by using church property and individual homes for low income housing alternatives.

Oh - one other thing about East Vancouver... because of the cost of housing, people are beginning to live in various kinds of "community" arrangements, sharing space and expenses. And, they're discovering some of the non-fiscal benefits of living in community. To be fair, they've been driven to it out of necessity, but maybe we could learn from their experience. Interestingly, the church has become something of a hub in the neighborhood and has gradually developed innovative responses to other community needs. Hm. I wonder... might this model work in other places? For those of us who are Christians, doesn't it remind you of a few verses in Acts where it seems that the believers in Jerusalem were actually living in community - "selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need..." (Acts 2:45). Hm. I wonder...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stretcher Bearers

I'm thinking about my grandfather this morning. He died 18 years ago and there are days that pass when my memories of him are buried somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind. But I was reminded of him yesterday because he was one of the Canadian soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge during the First World War. He never talked much about the war - like many veterans - and I was too young to really want to know the details of his war experience.

As I watched the news coverage yesterday though, I found myself imagining what it must have been like for him. He was a stretcher bearer during the war. I don't know if he had any special training for that posting, or if it was just a random assignment. And I can't obviously totally comprehend what he experienced as he dashed along the front lines, dodging enemy fire to retrieve the wounded. I've watched enough war movies to know that it must have been incredibly dangerous work. Maybe it was very rewarding - rescuing the wounded from death or capture. I don't know, but I know my grandfather was a gentle man.

For me, as I've "grown up" with this knowledge that Grampie was a stretcher bearer during the Great War, the image that has taken shape in my mind is one that has transferable principles. I always think of Grampie when I read the account of the friends who carried the paralytic man to see Jesus. They transported him on a mat (or stretcher) and then, when they got to the house where Jesus was teaching, there was such a crowd that they couldn't go in through the door. They were somehow convinced that Jesus could help their friend and so determined to accomplish their mission that they took their friend up on the roof, cut a hole and lowered him down to Jesus. It's a great story. It reminds me of Grampie.

It reminds me that I'm not just responsible for myself, but that there will be times when I can be a "stretcher bearer" for someone else. Or, there will be times when I'll need the services of stretcher bearers myself. It may be due to physical injury or illness, or it may be on account of emotional pain. Weakness comes to all of us at some point in the journey and it's great to know that there are those who are willing to not only come along side, but who will risk their own safety to rescue others - to rescue me. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said that we ought to love one another and that the evidence of this kind of love is that we would be willing to lay down our lives in order to save someone else. As I post this, I'm grateful to my grandfather for being that kind of man.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Word About HONESTY

It may be another "frog in the kettle" thing, but have you noticed how honesty has kind of gone out of style? And with it, trust and integrity and doing the right thing. Really - who do we trust any more? Not politicians, or lawyers, or the RCMP, or teachers, or clergy - ask kids today if they trust their parents and parents if they trust their kids... In fact, when I think about it, we live in a world of distrust and the sad thing is, we've come to take dishonesty for granted. I truly think that many teens today assume that everyone cheats and lies and steals, and it's no big deal. You only tell as much of the truth as you have to.

So, yes - the environment is in trouble, and yes, global warming is serious. Absolutely. And yes, we should not just be concerned - we should change our behavior: in a nutshell, we need to live within the natural limitations of the planet. But seriously, the environment is not our most serious problem. Maybe it's more of a symptom of the cumulative effect of humanity's lack of integrity.

Think about it. Who are we trying to kid? We NEVER get away with dishonesty - ever! Our lies will always catch up with us, eventually. Oh, we may get away with it for the time being - pass the exam, get the job, keep the relationship, protect our reputation. But even if no one knows - if we're never "found out" - we know that we're not "real" and of course, God knows.

Now - what's to be done? What about starting where we are. Right now - commit to honesty and integrity. Commit to being a person who says what he means and means what he says. Look at your watch and take the 24 hour challenge. For the next full day, commit to total honesty - no half truths, no white lies, no holding back on relevant but slightly awkward information, no exaggerations, no empty platitudes or unwarranted flattery - and obviously, no outright lies - and no avoiding difficult situations until the 24 hours is up. Oh, and no fudging on the time!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jim Flaherty's Proposed Budget and the Millennium Development Goals

Way back in 1969, Lester B. Pearson (then Minister of Foreign Affairs for Canada) proposed that if the developed nations of the world would give 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), the global community could address the worst effects of poverty around the world. For a brief description of this initiative, see The 0.7% target was officially endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 (Resolution 2626). The original date set to meet this commitment was 1975. Fast forward to the year 2000. The setting is the United Nations Millennium Summit where 191 world leaders sign the Millennium Declaration (see Eight goals - now known world wide as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - provide the framework for addressing humanity's most pressing needs. And a time line is established for completing this ambitious project - the year 2015 (see Once again the 0.7% target is endorsed as a viable means of financing the necessary steps needed to accomplish the goals. Sadly, Canada has never even come close to meeting the 0.7% target. Currently, we give about 0.34%. So, this week Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has unveiled the government's proposed budget. I've listened to the pundits and financial analysts and provincial spokespeople and political strategists and academics dissect the budget and interpret it for us. There's lots of buzz about who will benefit and how it will affect this group of tax payers and that. Reading through the text of Jim Flaherty's pre-budget speech (, I could almost believe that Canada is a great country and getting better all the time. We're good people. We look after one another. Heck - we've even started to realize that we ought to care a bit more for the environment. The future is bright. But glaringly absent is any mention of Canada's responsibility for our neighbors in other parts of the world.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Solution to the Consumerism Trap

I promised something positive this week and here it is: there is a solution to the consumerism trap! Most of us, most of the time don't need to live beyond our means and, if we want to, we can be truly generous - with our time, our stuff, our talents. How? It's simple, really. Rather than allow the media to dictate our desires, we need to think about what is really important to us and then set a budget that reflects our values. Or, if you don't like budgets, just change your heart (but believe me, it will be easier not to "cheat" if you commit to a budget!). The first step in this process is to realize that big companies pay big bucks to advertise their products and plant the idea in our minds that our lives would be better (so much better) if we could just figure out a way to own their product. Do they think we're STUPID? Well, actually - they do and not for no reason (not to be negative but remember that we are citizens of the country that is $752 billion dollars in debt for "stuff", much of which we don't need!). So, knowing this, we can begin to match cunning with cunning. We can look at advertising with a skeptical eye and gradually train ourselves to resist the lure. Really, how many times do we need to say to ourselves, "it's not really making my life better" or "it wasn't as good a buy as I thought" or "I really didn't need it but I just couldn't resist"?

I heard a story on CBC radio a few months ago about a neat elderly couple. They're multi-millionaires, but had decided that they could live comfortably on $30,000 a year. So, they kept $30,000 for themselves and gave the rest of their investment income away! Notice that they didn't start with a commitment to give 10% to charity. They evaluated their needs, kept what they needed for themselves (to live comfortably but not wastefully or extravagantly) and they just gave the rest away. They spent their days meeting with people who needed money for various projects and they donated - $1000 here, $100,000 there - all for projects that they felt would help other people.

I've thought about that couple a lot over the last few months. They're an inspiration for me and I don't even remember their names or where they live. I just know that I love what they're doing. For me, it's all about living simply, giving generously and practicing hospitality. I can't help wondering what the world would look like if this model were to catch on. It won't be easy - we need to learn how to stare down our greed, but if they can do it, maybe I can do it too. And maybe you can too!

Monday, March 12, 2007

We may be addicted to consumption, but at least we're generous, right?

OK - so we Canadians are living well beyond our means. I heard a podcast this week (it was in a three-part sermon series called Traveling Light at or go to itunes and find The Meeting House - very near the top is the Traveling Light series), in which Bruxy Cavey made the point that for every $1 North Americans earn, we spend $1.22. So - we live in a society that routinely lives about 22% beyond our means and apparently feels little or no guilt about it.
But, you may be thinking, at least we're generous. We're not just indulging ourselves. When there's a crisis we respond with compassion and generosity, right?
In terms of generosity, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that about 91% of Canadians made financial or in-kind donations to charitable and nonprofit organizations in 2000 and that was up 3% compared with the figures for 1997. In total, Canadians gave $4.94 Billion dollars to charity that year. Sounds pretty impressive, eh? Of course if we compare it to the $752 billion dollars that we're in debt, the shine starts to fade. And then, when we look a little more closely the good news starts to look more like bad news.
For instance, the average annual donation - that is, the total amount of money donated to charity by individual Canadians (those 15 years of age and older) for one year - is $259. Just to be clear, that includes the total of monies donated to places of worship (44%), charitable sponsorships (14%), donations made in response to mail solicitations (5%) and door-to-door canvassing (3%). It includes all the money given to health organizations (20%), social services organizations (10%), philanthropy and voluntarism organizations (7%) and education and research organizations (3%).
And, it turns out that 5% of Canadians gave 47% of the total and 25% of Canadians gave 82% of the total. The top 5% made donations of at least $1088. So, if you gave $1088 or more to charity in 2000, CONGRATULATIONS! You are among the 5% of most generous Canadians. On the other end of the scale, 25% of Canadians gave $23 or less to charity. All these stats (and more!) are from
What does all this tell us? Personally, I think we've been hoodwinked. The proverbial wool has been pulled over our eyes. I think we've been tricked into thinking that we need to have lots of stuff - we deserve to live well and that we are very kind, compassionate and generous people. In fact, I remember when I first heard some of these stats on Canadian giving, the headline actually emphasized our generosity! Well - all I can say is that that's not my definition of generosity!
In case you might think that "at least we're more generous than other people - say the Americans" - wrong! The Fraser Forum (see notes that "while roughly the same percentage of tax filers in Canada and the US donate to charity, the depth of their charitable giving is dramatically different." The bottom line is this: In 2001, Americans gave 1.59 percent of their aggregate income to charity compared to 0.62% for Canadians.
Tune in next week to read something positive - I promise!

Monday, March 05, 2007

When is enough, enough?

Many Canadians (maybe even most Canadians) take debt for granted. We don't think about whether or not we will go in debt, but rather, how to manage debt - that is, how to keep solvent while still enjoying all of the benefits of life in an affluent society. Ever look at car ads in the local paper? You'll be hard pressed to find one that lists the price of its cars. What you'll see is the monthly payment or lease. We go in debt for all kinds of things - "essentials" like cars, houses, furniture, appliances, technological gadgets, vacations, education, clothes, even groceries. "Buy now, pay later" schemes, payday loans, easy credit - all of these entice us to buy things we can't afford.
According to a CBC News Indepth feature (, Canadians have more than 50 million Visa and Master Card credit cards and 24 million more retail credit cards. With a total population of around 31 million, that's 2.4 credit cards for every man, woman and child in Canada! And credit card debt is only a small part of our individual and collective debt load. Here's a multiple choice question for you:
How much money do Canadians owe for consumer debt?
  1. 152 billion dollars
  2. 352 billion dollars
  3. 552 billion dollars
  4. 752 billion dollars

Just so you understand the question: collective consumer debt is the total amount of money that Canadians owe for consumer products including things like mortgages, car payments, credit card debt, bank loans, student loans, etc. That is, money we owe for products and services we are already enjoying but haven't yet paid for. Put another way, it is a tangible measure of the extent to which we Canadians are living beyond our means.

The answer: 752 billion dollars ($752,000,000,000). While we're doing the math, that's a debt load for every man, woman and child in Canada of about $24,258! If you don't believe me, check out the Mclean's magazine article (Canadians' Personal Debt at Historic Levels) at

So - we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world and we're still living over $750 billion dollars beyond our means. At least that's the conclusion I draw. And, you probably know what I'm going to say next - here's the other side of the coin:

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen.
  • 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.

These stats are all from and there are lots more depressing stats there if you have the stomach for them!

Are we like the frog in the kettle (in case you don't know that analogy, they say you can put a frog in a pot of water and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and the frog won't jump out because he gradually adjusts to the change in water temperature - no need to try it but you get the idea!)

How have we allowed this to happen? And, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, how are we going to explain this when we're called to give an account? When is enough, enough? When will we realize that our ever improving standard of living is NOT a good thing? At least it isn't if we're at all concerned for the plight of our neighbors in low income countries. And what about our own kids and grandchildren? I heard recently that the practice in traditional native communities is to consider the impact of any decision for seven generations down the line!

I've heard that if the whole world were to live as we do in North America, we would need four or five planet earths. From where I sit, my guess is that's not going to happen...

Conclusion: enough is enough! We need to learn to control our appetites for more of everything and become committed to sharing the world's scarce resources.

In a speech entitled "Make History: Make Poverty History" (2003), Nelson Mandela said this: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice."

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Little Inspiration Goes a Long Way

Last summer Titus Kiilu (AIDS training coordinator for the Africa Brotherhood Church in Kenya) was a special guest at the Annual Assembly of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches. While he was in Wolfville, Titus spoke to various gatherings about justice issues in Kenya. Together with Sharing Way staff (Gord King, Marilyn Smith and Lois Mitchell), Titus participated in a workshop on water issues. And he talked about water and the way lack of access to water affects people's lives in Kenya in many ways.

This sparked the interest of Peter Chasse, the youth pastor at Main Street Baptist Church in Saint John, NB and he decided to do something about it. He has coached the youth group (Standing Strong) to get involved and become advocates for water justice. They have a great web site: and have introduced a challenge in their church and beyond, to reduce or eliminate our use of bottled water and donate the money to a Sharing Way water project in Kenya. Specifically, the challenge is to give up bottled water and donate $90 (the average amount Canadians spend annually on bottled water) or, if you can't quit the bottled water habit, to give $90 anyway.

Whether you drink bottled water or not, you can help this youth group reach their goal (of $6000). And it's not just about money but also about being informed so that we can make good choices about ethical consumption on a variety of fronts. To see how a little inspiration (and information) can go a long way, check it out at and get involved!

Monday, January 08, 2007

The "New" Moral Issue and The Politics of Climate Change

One can hardly turn on the tv, listen to the radio, or shift through unsolicited emails these days without hearing about climate change and global warming. The unusually mild weather in the east and the wild storms in the west seem to be catching the attention of average Canadians. Not to mention that the absence of snow through most of the country has ski hill operators and ski enthusiasts seriously considering the future of this Canadian winter passion.
When PM Stephen Harper shuffled his cabinet last week and replaced environment minister Rona Ambrose with John Baird, the media picked up on Harper's efforts to shore up government efforts to take this issue seriously. A new Decima Research poll indicates that the environment has now become the number one concern of Canadian voters with 19% of poll respondents indicating that it's their top concern (over health care, the Afghanistan conflict and the economy) - see and Al Gore's timely movie, An Inconvenient Truth has hit Canadians hard and some churches are even reported to be showing the movie to their congregations in an effort to raise awareness about climate change. An interesting title, isn't it? An inconvenient truth. I wonder if truth is ever convenient, really.
Predictably though, there are those who refuse to get on the bandwagon and who are insisting that the sky isn't falling after all. Or, at least not as fast as we might think. I can't help thinking of a film I saw back around 1980 called Only One Earth. The basic premise of that documentary film (as I recall) was that if things didn't change - dramatically and very soon - the future of planet earth beyond the year 2000 was in serious jeopardy. It really caught my attention. Al Gore's take is equally or more impressive. And yet, I confess there's a niggling doubt in the back of my mind.
Don't misunderstand me, please. I am totally convinced that we ought to be good stewards of this incredible environment. I believe that humanity (and I suppose more specifically, humanity in the western hemisphere) has exploited the earth's natural resources in very crass ways and that we have left a very dirty and deep ecological footprint. But is there a danger that the pendulum might swing too far - that we might become so focussed on environmental issues that we neglect other important and even related issues?
Obviously, public opinion is a very powerful force behind the political machinery of a country. Abraham Lincoln once said:
"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute." (from
I'm reading a little volume edited by Bjorn Lomborg entitled How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place (2006). By the way, Bjorn Lomborg is the author of a larger volume called The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (2001) in which he subjects the various measures used to portray climate change and other environmental indicators to rigorous statistical analysis. I think it's fair to say that his basic argument is that climate change is nothing new and that the earth is perhaps in better shape than we think, or at least that it's capable of recovering from the abuses we continue to subject it to. And, if this is the case, we shouldn't spend all of our energy and resources fighting it.
For the 2006 book a group of economists (the Copehnagen Consensus, including four Nobel laureates!) ranked the 10 worst problems facing humanity and made hypothetical decisions as to where $50 billion could be best invested to alleviate the real suffering of real people, based on a cost-benefit analysis. I'm not going to tell you what they recommend (read the book for yourself) but I will say that climate change doesn't make the list. Again, remember that it's not that they think climate change is unimportant, but that in terms of costs and benefits, the money will have a better return on things like HIV/AIDS prevention programs, providing micronutrient-rich dietary supplements to the malnourished, trade liberalisation, mosquito nets to control the spread of malaria, agricultural research and improved sanitation and water quality for the one billion poorest people on the planet. OK, that's a pretty big part of what they say but you should still read the book!
Lomborg's views have been controversial (to put it mildly). And I don't have the expertise to tell you how his ideas stack up against Al Gore's "inconvenient truth". My instinct is that we don't have to pick sides on this one. Let's learn what we can, be careful of bandwagons, work towards good stewardship of all scarce resources and always remember the three fold instruction God gave through Micah: act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God!