Saturday, January 31, 2015

Generosity and taxes

It has been interesting to see in the news recently stories of people's overwhelming generosity in response to identified needs of our neighbours. Humans of New York raised $1M in under a week for an inner-city school in Brooklyn. A Vancouver idea has spread across the country to enable people from Canada's south to help those in Nunavut afford food. Those are just two recent, outstanding examples; we, of course, see evidence every day of individual generosity reaching out to those in need.

While the generosity is wonderful, it is a bit frustrating for me. As a social democrat, I feel that public schools should be adequately funded by our government. We should not need to make donations so that they can continue to function. And if people in our wealthy country do not have enough to eat or a place to sleep at night, to me, this is a public policy, systemic issue that our government should be addressing.

And what frustrates me is this disconnect between people's willingness to help in the immediate future and their distaste for government, taxes and bureaucrats.

Because as far as I am concerned, this is what our taxes are supposed to do. Fund all public schools so that everyone has a chance at a great education. Ensure that citizens are not hungry or homeless, and if they are, figure out why they are and how those underlying issues can be addressed.

But somewhere along the way, I know that governments lost our trust. As with generosity, there are so many examples of mismanagement in government. And that is frustrating.

So I wish that, in addition to being generous, people would simultaneously call on their governments to provide these services. That we would vote for those who promise to address these needs. That we would not complain when our taxes go up, because this is one of the things that taxes are supposed to do - fund essential public services so that we don't have to make charitable donations to public schools. (This vicious turn of events - people want tax cuts, so governments cut taxes, so there are not enough resources for crucial public programs, so people are called to donate... - makes me crazy!)

As a final note, I must say that, as a public servant, this is what I am paid to do (by you!). It is our job to figure out the best solutions to problems. We are experts in these issues, and we spend a lot of time considering the context and possible solutions. While the impact is immediate and heartwarming, a patchwork of Canadians sending donations north is not the best way to deal with hunger in that area (as was argued earlier this week). Public servants are occupied with these issues every day, and I promise you that we are seeking to find the best, sustainable, effective solutions. The elected executive, of course, makes the final decision (democracy! and there's where you come in! see point above re: voting), but I know that they are presented with well-researched and -considered options.

The Humans of New York fundraising campaign is a perfect example of this. One of the programs that will benefit from the funds raised is a summer program so that students have a safe place to be in an otherwise dangerous neighbourhood. And yes - this program that has been so supported will work in the immediate future. But wouldn't it be great to have public servants from the school and education department sit down with those from the police with those from other social services to figure out a sustainable, well-supported (both financially and otherwise), long-term solution?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The journey is not complete...

The seventh and final event of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place last weekend in Edmonton. It seems very far away from me right now - both physically and mentally - but, of course, it is essential that those of us who are Canadians, those of us who are Christians, reflect on this time in our history. KAIROS offers some wonderful thoughts and reports from the weekend on their website - well worth looking at. Check out the Presbyterian Church in Canada as well.

A little closer to home, though... My parents are both Presbyterian ministers in Calgary (look for them in your Presbyterian Record this month!), and were able to attend some of the events. They offered these reflections to their congregations afterward.

There is still much to be done as we continue to seek right relationships, but so much forgiveness and grace has already moved through this process.

“… God… reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

I took part this week in the hearings in Edmonton of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding the Indian residential schools, and the harm they caused to many indigenous people in Canada.  The story of these schools is a difficult one to listen to.  It began with a policy, supported and carried out by government and church, that separated children from their parents and communities, took away their language, culture, and identity.  Even worse, it extended into widespread abuse of all kinds at the hands of those who were given charge of these children. 

We sat and listened to their stories, filled with pain and brokenness, expressed through tears, and left to hang there in the sacred space of the hearing.  It is a shameful chapter in the history of our country and church.

But in the hearings the pain is being lifted up and acknowledged, and first steps are taken on a road to healing and recovery.  As one whose life has been spent in the church, what struck me most was the generosity of some of the victims, when they said through their tears in the Churches’ Listening Circle, “I forgive you.”   It was a gracious offering, and given even before many of us have come to terms with this dark side of our own past.

This should matter to us as Canadians and as part of the body of Christ, because, sadly, it is our story. The journey is not complete, but first steps have been taken.   Not all are ready to forgive, but reconciliation has begun.   May we be part of the healing process, and do our part to seek renewed and life-giving relationships with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1: 9

Twenty years ago this June, through the General Assembly of our church, we confessed our complicity in the Residential School System, a system designed, as one government agent said, “to take the Indian out of the child”.  We confessed that we were culturally arrogant, that we demanded more than the Gospel requires and “misrepresented Jesus Christ who loves all peoples with compassionate, suffering love”.  We confessed that we agreed to take the children of Aboriginal peoples from their own homes and placed them in the schools where they were deprived of their traditional ways, which resulted in the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self.  We confessed that there were many forms of abuse in these schools.  Last month I was able to spend a day at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, meeting in Edmonton.   I joined with an Anglican, United Church person and Roman Catholic and represented the Presbyterian Church in Canada at the Churches Listening Circle that day.  I listened as residential school survivors told of their experiences.  And I listened with deep humility and gratitude as they said to the representatives of the churches, “I forgive you”.  It was a moment overflowing with grace. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Protests in Busan

I meant to do a blog post while in Busan about some of the protests that the World Council of Churches faced while we were there... but never got around to it. Every day, we were met with people outside of the convention centre protesting the WCC and our meetings. From what I could gather (from the few signs in English), the main issues centred around inter-religious dialogue and sexual orientation (which is interesting, because the WCC does not have a position on this).

Fortunately, a new friend that I met in Busan - Sheryl Johnson from KAIROS - has done just this. Sheryl combines it with some other powerful moments from the assembly and asks some great questions for us and for our churches about costly discipleship.

But I am left with questions about how to deepen the cost of my own discipleship, and how we as churches in the land called Canada do the same. Will we be so brave when the consequences are so high? Will we be willing to pay the price of lost friends, lost comfort, lost privileges?

Check out the rest of Sheryl's great post.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Our last day in Busan

And we are adjourned! An abbreviated day today, but very full of gratitude, hope, and a sense of mission.

After worship, we had two long business sessions this morning to try and finish up all the stuff with which we had not yet dealt. We adopted a message from the assembly, and approved several statements and minutes from the Public Issues Committee, on topics such as indigenous peoples and the situation in Abeyi in Sudan. While our time was limited, there was quite a bit of discussion about a statement on the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East. We finished these sessions with many thank yous - to the Korean churches and various host committees, to the stewards and volunteers, to the WCC staff. So many people put a lot of work into this event to make it wonderful - I am sure that they are finding some relief in the midst of their exhaustion right now.

Just on random note - my seat in the business hall was right behind those of the delegates from the Orthodox Church of Finland. One of them took a photo of a vote and lo and behold - here I am on the their church's website! Ecumenism is fun.

Father Michael Lapsley gave us some powerful words in his preaching during the Closing Prayer. He spoke of the importance of listening to each other's pain: "When we are able to listen to each other's pain we can become committed to work together for an inclusive justice. Also when we listen to one another's pain the division between "us" and "them" disappears and we all become just "us". Our experience of a common humanity is profoundly deeper than all that divides us or makes us unique and different." He concluded with words from Benedictine Sr. Ruth Fox, which I have included below.

I do not have the energy nor brain power right now to reflect on my weeks in Busan - what they mean for me, for the PCC, for my place in the Church. Those will come in the next few weeks.

For now, packing, going to touch the ocean (which, despite being right outside my hotel, I have not been near yet), dinner, then on a shuttle bus at 5 am tomorrow to start the long journey back to Canada.

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

- Benedictine Sister Ruth Fox, 1985

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The last morning of the Assembly

As we gathered to begin our final day this morning, we prayed together:

"During the last supper, Jesus became a servant to his disciples. May we follow Jesus' example of servanthood and bless one another in humility.

For the leaders of the world, that they may put aside their differences and seek the peace of Christ, we pray: Have mercy on us.

For the Church, that we serve one another with a humility which sets aside hierarchies of power, we pray: Have mercy on us.

Release us from the curse of stigma and labels that cast out the unnacceptable, we pray: Have mercy on us.

Deliver us from all that separates us from the love of Christ, we pray: Have mercy on us.

That we may long for the day when all may feast at the table of our Lord, when no one will be an outsider, and all will be loved, we pray: Have mercy on us."

Day 9 - Peace

It's official - I am exhausted. Seriously.

Now that that's out of the way...

We had a very moving plenary about peace this morning. Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee told us of her personal healing that was necessary for her to become a peacemaker in Liberia. Instead of being complicit bystanders, Ms. Gbowee told the church (i.e., us) to speak up for peace.
choir and orchestra for worship

Rev. Dr. Chang Yoon Jae, a professor of theology who speaks on society, justice, faith and peace, said that the Korean people are on an exodus journey to peace: an exodus to new peace (moving from unfinished war to permanent peace); an exodus to new light (turning on an internal light of life and peace to move toward a world without nuclear bombs and power); and, an exodus to new earth (to liberate ourselves from fossil fuels and nuclear energy). Using the week's image of a pilgrimage, Rev. Dr. Chang told us to get out of our cars and walk, to leave our comfortable spaces. As he called us to new light, all the lights in the auditorium were turned off and he lit a candle while singing "This Little Light of Mine." A very powerful moment.

There was a strong sense of responsibility in the room - that we are responsible for the lack of peace in our world and that we need to work to remedy that. Agata, an Iranian woman, called for an end to the sanctions that are hurting ordinary people in her country. Fabian, from Costa Rica, said that we should be a church of action and leave behind our differences in order to make the world beautiful. Stanley Noffisinger concluded with a call to engage in "radical, compassionate discipleship."

The PCC delegation to the assembly
This afternoon, I attended a workshop entitled, "From ecological debt to eco-justice: Mining, reparations and earth rights." We began by watching a video produced by KAIROS Canada after a conference they held on mining issues. We then heard first-hand accounts of human and environmental destruction caused by mining companies (many of which are Canadian) in Zambia, Ecuador, the Philippines, and India. As with resource extraction in Canada, indigenous people are disproportionately affected.

We took some time to discuss what our churches can do to respond to these cries from our sisters and brothers and to work for peace: two ideas were to advocate for increased accountability and transparency of mining companies working overseas, and to engage in ethical investing. These are not difficult actions, and should be embraced by congregations.

We discussed a few more of our public issues statements during our business plenary tonight - peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and the way of just peace.

A great day - despite the exhaustion :).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
John 14:27

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Day 8 - Justice

We began the day in worship, talking about justice. We sang a wonderful song - "Until all are fed."

Our Bible studies looked at a story of injustice in the Bible - Naboth's land being taken by Ahab. It was not hard for us to think, in our small group, of examples of this from our own contexts - land being taken from people for mineral and oil development in Nigeria and Canada, farm land being taken from Palestinians, difficulties with finding affordable housing in the UK, Sweden and Korea. How can the church be more like Elijah? How can we speak out against these injustices? How can we stand with those who are having their land taken away?

The Justice Plenary looked more deeply at some of the injustices facing us today, and what the church should be doing about them. Martin Kohr talked about the world financial crisis, unfair trade rules, and climate change. Dr. Julia Duchrow told us that churches must work with civil society organizations to ensure that human rights are respected by governments and multi-national corporations. Bishop Iosif of Patrara reminded us of the basis of our faith: we are to love God, and to love our neighbours. Rev. Phumzile Mabizela said that justice should be at the core of our church. She identified that the church has often silenced voices - an affront to those peoples' dignity - and that the church has used sacred texts to justify gender injustice. She said that the gospel must be re-interpreted for people like her - a village woman living with HIV.

All panelists said that Christians must pray and act for a more just world. Rev. Mabizela challenged us to leave our comfort zones: "Stress those who are comfortable, and comfort those in distress."

The Presbyterian Church in Korea hosted its partners for a lovely lunch. Was interesting to meet Presbyterians from all over the world, and the food was delicious :).

Canadian fellowship at the end of the day
During a business plenary session, we succeeded in electing a new central committee that will guide the work of the WCC until the next assembly. We also adopted statements on the human rights of stateless people and on the politicisation of religion and rights of religious minorities.

Before we discussed a statement on peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula, the WCC General Secretary read greetings from the churches in North Korea. This is the first time in some years that North Korean churches have not been at a WCC Assembly. They expressed their support for the WCC, and for the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.

The day ended with fun and fellowship as Canadian delegates from all churches gathered together. Much laughter over the menu (pizza = a "non-runny, ready-to-eat dish with heterogeneous ingredients") and much sharing about our experiences at the assembly and about our churches back in Canada.

How long will we sing? How long will we pray?
How long will we write and send?
How long will we bring? How long will we stay?
How long will we make amends?

Until all are fed, we cry out. Until all on earth have bread.
Like the one who loves us, each and every one
We serve until all are fed.
- T. Brown and B. McFarland