Culture of Fear or Compassion ?

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Since my wife and I had just been in Paris, France a month ago, I  was filled with great sadness when I heard about the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015.  Terrorism is something I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. I cannot for the life of me understand how someone can cause harm and death to innocent people such as the carnage we saw in Paris. The news media has repeatedly said that the people who carry out such acts of violence have been radicalized, that is, have become more radical. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a radical as  “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”.  I guess for radicals that means carrying out acts of murder.  This is what I can’t get my head around.  How can someone with any kind of conscience murder innocent people? The only explanation I can come up with is these people have been brainwashed. The MacMillan Dictionary defines brainwash as “to force someone to accept a particular set of beliefs by repeating the same idea many times so that the person cannot think in an independent way”.  How exactly terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are able to do this using the internet is a mystery to me, but this  must be what is happening.

IMG_1182What concerns me the most is that many people are becoming fearful. On November 23rd, the American Government issued a world wide travel alert cautioning Americans to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. This obviously means that Americans are becoming fearful. Don’t get me wrong, caution when traveling is always a good thing.  Travellers should always use caution when travelling outside of their country whether terrorism threats are around or not. That is just common sense.  Moreover, we are beginning to see a rise in Islamophobia (or anti-Muslim sentiment). That is when there is prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims. U. S. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been advocating for more surveillance of Muslims. (see Muslim-Americans fear ‘ugly rhetoric’) Mr. Trump says, “we’re being foolish, we’re kidding ourselves” if law enforcement doesn’t keep close surveillance on mosques, and he expressed support for the idea of a database for tracking Muslims in the United States. Some have even resorted to using religion to justify Islamophobia or fear of Muslims. During a November 15 sermon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, pastor Robert Jeffress told his congregation that the Paris terrorists were “acting according to the teaching of Islam,” and said “it is time” to call out Islam as “a false religion … inspired by Satan himself”.  (see Theological Studies Director calls out) This is wrong, pure and simple. It simply is not fair to put all adherents to Islam in the same category.  In fact, the majority of Muslims around the world have condemned the Paris attacks and other acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists. Even more, most if not all non-extremist Muslims categorically say that these extremists are not true Muslims. (see Muslims Around World Speak Out)  The bottom line is we must not let the terrorists achieve their goal. The root word of terrorism is terror which Dictionary.com defines as “an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety”.  The very goal of terrorism is to instil fear in society so that our leaders cave into their demands. 

IMG_1239This fear, caused by the Paris terrorists and other terror attacks, has changed the debate over refugees.  Since returning home from Europe a few weeks ago I have been asked many times if we were affected by the refugees that had been dominating the news media before the Paris incident. Of course we were not.  My wife and I even had a conversation with another couple recently at an airport where this couple expressed real concern over Canada accepting refugees from Syria. They told us that they heard one of the Paris extremists was a refugee. Once again their concerns were stemming from fear.

There seems to be two camps in this debate; Do we allow the Syrian refugees into our country or do we keep them out as there might be an extremist among them? Canada’s new prime minister,  Justin Trudeau has promised to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada. (see Trudeau…) The debate in Canada and United States over the refugees is heated.  Several of Canada’s premiers have spoken out on the issue, both for and against. Petitions against bringing in the Syrian refugees have been popping up online. (see Should Canada stop).  Quebec’s premier Philip Couillard said it well when he said, “We must keep our arms open to refugees. They have fled their villages, they have seen their parents murdered and sometimes in front of their eyes. They come here in search of peace and freedom. Always remember that the Syrian refugees that will come to Quebec are themselves the first victims of terror.” (see We must keep our arms open)   The Free Dictionary defines a refugee as “one who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster”.  These people fear for their lives. They have witnessed horrible things. As Mr. Couillard stated, they are victims themselves. Alberta’s new premier,  Rachel Notley said it even better when she delivered an impassioned speech on the need to keep our doors open to Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attack, to not treat them as if they are terrorists about to launch a jihad in Edmonton or Calgary.  (see Graham Thomson) Here are some of Premier Notley’s words from Monday, November 16 speech; “…The refugees are themselves fleeing exactly the kind of terror that we were all shocked to observe and watch unfold this weekend. And that’s why we need to be reaching out to them…” The Premier later told reporters: “We cannot have our decisions being driven by fear.” The premiers of Quebec and Alberta are right! We must not be driven by fear.  My fear is that my country is buying into a culture of fear and as a result becoming less compassionate. I have always believed and been proud of the fact that Canadians are a compassionate people. Now is the time to show compassion for the Syrian refugees and NOT fear them. Now is the time to show the extremists that we will NOT be dictated by fear, that we will continue to travel abroad, and that we will NOT live our lives in fear.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United State said  in his 1933 Inaugural Address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Roosevelt is right! My fear is that fear will take hold in our free society thereby making us prisoners of fear.

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Those Crazy European Drivers

On our flight over to Europe, I watched the recently released movie called Spy whereby the main character, Susan Cooper, played by Melissa McCarthy. is a desk bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster. The movie has a very funny driving scene where an Italian agent named Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law, picks Cooper up and drives her to her hotel. During that scene the Italian agent, driving a sporty convertible speeds through the narrow streets of Rome, paying more attention to the girls he is passing by than to his driving. The scene is very funny and typifies the way Europeans drive. Anytime I’ve watched scenes like this, I’ve always thought that the movies must be majorly exaggerating drivers in Europe. After returning home, I no longer think that.

IMG_1172Based on our experiences in Europe, it would seem that the stereotype, perpetrated by Hollywood movies,  that European drivers are crazy is true. Have you ever seen an intersection packed with cars at all different angles, none of them moving, many of them tooting angrily like it will possibly help? Well, we did in Paris when our shuttle driver entered the very large round about that encircles the Arc of Triumph (Arc de Triomphe).  There were no clear lanes and cars were everywhere and numerous horns were tooting. This is just one of the many driving experiences my wife and I, along with our friends, experienced when we visited Continental Europe. Even though I was aware of the stereotype, I was still “shell shocked when witnessing it”.

Our first taxi ride was on the island of Santorini, one of the Greek islands.  After a nice dinner at our hotel, we decided to visit the nearby village of Kamair, so we had the hotel call a taxi for us.  When the taxi arrived, My wife and our friends got in the back seat, and I got into the front with the driver.  No word of a lie, the driver put the “petal to the metal” and the car accelerated quickly.  Now in Greece, there are no side walks so pedestrians walk on the narrow roads.  There was a group walking down the road as the taxi driver sped toward them, showing no signs of slowing down.  The pedestrians scattered very quickly, as you might imagine.  The village was two kilometres from our hotel. and our taxi driver speeded the entire way there.  Thank God, we made it to the village alive.  We all were so shocked that all we could do was laugh. I would label this taxi driver as one of those stereotypical crazy European drivers.

IMG_1166Like the driver in Santorini, the taxi driver who took us to the airport in Athens “floored it” at every opportunity.  At one point he narrowly missed a car door that was opening. What made the situation even more humorous was the fact that just before the taxi arrived, a huge thundercloud moved over the city and a torrential rainstorm occurred as we were driving off.  Now as in many cities, Athens does not have the infrastructure to handle torrential downpours, so needless to say the streets of Athens were semi flooding, or in some case fully flooded.  That didn’t slow down our taxi driver.  He just sped through the water sending water everywhere.  Now we were nervous to say the least and I suspect our driver must have sensed that since he put in a CD of Greek music and “cranked” it up.  It worked, as we did relax and started swaying to the music. This driver fit the stereotype.

IMG_1738Being a pedestrian in Europe is truly an adventure.  Really you take your own life into your hands every time you step out onto the street as there was no other choice since sidewalks are rare in Europe.  There were many, many times when our friends and us would be walking in what we assumed was a pedestrian zone only to be shocked when a vehicle would drive through scattering all the pedestrians.  That happened in Florence and Sorrento in Italy, Mykonos town in Greece, and Bayeux in France, to name some places we experienced this.  In fact, at our vacation rental in Sorrento, the gate opened right onto the road, and I’m not kidding when I say the vehicles did not slow down on that road.  Numerous times we literally ran to cross the road for fear of getting hit by a car.  It was most entertaining when you watched some else doing so.

In places like Rome, Paris and Athens it is common to see the narrow streets jammed with unruly drivers, streetcars, buses, mopeds, and double-parked trucks.  It is also common in these cities to see massive horn-honking traffic jams.  The mopeds and motorbikes were plentiful on the streets and would weave in and out of the vehicles, and often would drive between two vehicles to get ahead.  There didn’t seem to be any sense of abiding by rules and such.

IMG_2752Then there is the parking.  In Rome and Paris, for example, you would see vehicles parked in every which direction.  There would be trucks parked in lanes with their flashers on.  We saw this often in Paris on the shuttle.   Vehicles would be parked up on sidewalks, if there was one, and it was not uncommon to see cars double parked.  Vehicles would just park beside other parked vehicles and turn on their flashers.  It just seemed liked chaos to me.

Now I realize that the reason drivers are so aggressive in Europe and why people park in any available space they can find in cities is because Europe does not have the space that North America has. Most of the cities in Europe are ancient.  To give you some perspective, parts of Rome are truly ancient.  If you look at the famous Roman Colosseum and inquire when it was built you would learn that it was commissioned around A.D. (CE) 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian. Paris existed long before Notre Dame Cathedral was built and the cathedral began its construction  in 1163 AD (CE). The site of Athens has been inhabited since before 3000 BC (BCE). The earliest buildings date from the late Bronze Age, about 1200 BC (BCE), when part of the town spread to the south of the citadel on the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel (fortress) located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient Greek Temples.  So as you can see, these cities are truly ancient thus explaining why the city streets are narrow.  They were built in times before vehicles were around.  These cities were never intended to have modern vehicles on them.  In fact, many of these streets are still cobblestone. Space is at a premium over in Europe.

Then there is the population factor. Italy, for example, has 60,808,000 inhabitants and is 33 times smaller than Canada and the United States. Canada’s population is about 35 million and the population of the United States is approximately 319 million. Now that doesn’t mean much until you compare the number of people to the land area, otherwise known as their population density.  According to the World Bank Data Website Italy has a population density of 209 people per sq. kilometre (km) of land area.  Canada, on the other hand, has a density of 4 people per sq. km of land area and the United States has 35 people per sq. km of land area.  So as you can see, Italy is much more densely populated than either Canada or the United States. In light of these statistics, it is easy to understand that Italy has much less space to handle its vehicles and pedestrians.

After returning home, I have come to appreciate  the amount of space we have in North America.  Our wide streets, our sidewalks for pedestrians our large, straight highways, our open space in rural areas  are so refreshing after being in Europe.  All the while we were in Europe we heard about the refugee crisis.  It was on the news.  It was in their news papers.  We even witnessed a demonstration in support of the Syrian refugees in Athens. North America has so much more space and fewer people when compared to the European nations, therefore we should not be afraid to take in more of the Syrian refugees, especially in light of the fact that Europe is experiencing a refuge crisis right now. North America can easily encompass more inhabitants.  We have the space!

What is the matter with our youth?

niBBgppxTOver the last few years, because I was a veteran teacher, I’ve been asked many times if kids or youth of today are different compared to those when I started teaching.  That is a really interesting question; a question I have pondered for a while. There is no doubt that there are differences in the youth of today compared to say 35 years ago when I began my teaching career, or even 15 years ago for that matter.  But does that mean young people are different from the youth of previous generations?  That question always brings me back to a couple of quotes I first read in a book many years ago.

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”.

So have “kids” changed?  Are the youth of today different?  I don’t believe the youth of today are any different from the youth of previous generations.   Children have always been mischievous.  Young people have always been self-centred. Kids have always rebelled against authority when they could.  There has always been a generation gap. All one has to do is remember the beatniks and hippies of the 1960s and 1970s  The two quotes above also illustrate this.  Does the first quote sound like something an older person of today might say?  You bet it does!  The surprising thing is it is actually a quote from a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in  C. E. (A.D.) 1274.  That was said 741 years ago.  The second quote is reported as being said by Hesiod, a Greek poet in 8th century BCE (BC).  He is generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC. so that means he said this well over two thousand years ago.  I don’t know about you, but it sounds like youth have not changed in thousands of years.

So why does the youth of today seem so different compared to previous generations?  I believe there are two key reasons for this.

The first reason is due to the fact that today’s culture is very different from previous generations, and the biggest difference is technology.  The generations of today have all sorts of technologies that were not prevalent 20 years ago.  Today we have cell phones, computers, calculators, and the World Wide Web, otherwise known as the internet.  When I was in school in the 1970s, there weren’t even calculators.  We had to use slide rules when attending high school math classes. For you youngsters reading this, that was a ruler-like contraption that was used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry. Addition or subtraction had to be done using pencil and paper. In my experience, computers did not really start appearing in my world until the 1980s when the Commodore 64 came out in 1982. I never had one, but I was envious of those individuals who had one.  The internet became available to the world in 1991.  So the youth of yesterday did not have access to the vast amount of knowledge the internet provides.  For the most part, people still had to rely on libraries to get information. Today, the culture is very different. Young people have come to expect things instantly.  They expect instant calculations using calculators.  Kids expect to find the answers to their questions within seconds and not to look in books to find them.  This is why the youth of today are not as patient.

The second reason has to do with parenting.  Today there are so many parents who “smother” their children.  They are always hovering  and waiting to swoop in and rescue their child whenever their child whimpers. We in the teaching world call these parents “helicopter parents.”  The kids of today for the most part are not allowed to “fall flat”.  They are not allowed to learn from their failures because their parents are always rescuing them.  This is why we are raising a generation that may not know how to handle failure.  Young people need to fail from time to time so that they learn how to be stronger; so that they learn from their mistakes.

Not only that, sometimes kids need to be taught values like respect through discipline.  They need to be taught that some behaviours are undesirable.  When I went to school, my parents always reminded me and my siblings that if we got in trouble at school, we would be in trouble at home. And they meant it. In my experience, this doesn’t happen much any more. They typically blame others for their child’s behaviour. So many parents of today do not “parent” their children.  They give children whatever they want.  This creates a generation of entitlement. The youth of today expect all things immediately, such as a new car or a new house.  Previous generations just accepted  this would take time to get and would have to work for it.

So, are young people different today compared to the youth of generations past?  The short answer is NO!  It is the parenting that is different and the culture that is different.  Kids learn these behaviours and develop traits like impatience from the older generations. This is why children behave differently.  So don’t blame the children, blame the parents; blame the culture; blame the adults.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of great parents out there who don’t always give in to their children and who believe in strong discipline and not of the corporal kind either.  It’s just that they are in the minority.  Parents need to be parents. There are lots of great things about our culture and its technologies.  We just need to learn as a society how to use the technology appropriately and respectfully.

Change is inevitable!

I recently received this quote in an email and the quote got me thinking. The quote was:

Change cannot be avoided in life. So do not resist change, embrace it!

There is no doubt that life is changing all the time.  I’ll use myself as an example.  This year, 2015, has been very much a year of change for myself as well as my family. As I mentioned in some of my other posts, I retired as a classroom teacher after 35 years of teaching.  So to say that this is a huge change for me personally is an understatement.  Really, retirement is a new beginning; it is the beginning of a whole new journey.  For me, that has meant following some of my passions.  One of those passions is writing which is why I started this blog.  I needed an outlet for my writing.  I needed a place to share my stories and my opinions.  It means change because now there will be no more having to get up for work unless I decide to work somewhere.  Working is more of a choice now, rather than a necessity.  That is a good change.  I’ve heard it said, “some people work to live and others live to work”.  I was always one of those that worked to live.  I needed to work to support my family and to feel useful to society.

My wife and I have three wonderful children,  All three of our children have gone through some sort of change this year.  Our eldest daughter has moved to a new place to live after being in her previous place for five years.  That was a major change for her as she is not a person who freely embraces change.  Our youngest daughter is returning to university this year after living and working for the past year in her home town.   Our son is also off to university after spending two years at the local community college.  He is excited for this change as he has been living with us while getting his Diploma.  So as you can see, there has been much change in my family.  The only one that is remaining at her same job is my wife.  Having said that, she has taken a three-month leave of absence from her work place so that we can do some travelling this fall.  So even she has to endure some changes, although they are good changes.

If you listen to the news regularly, then you would also know that the day-to-day conditions on our planet are changing now in ways we could not have anticipated.  Climate change is one of the biggest changes our planet has had to endure.  Every year seems to be reported as the hottest on record.  Storms seem to be getting more and more frequent and progressively more violent.  According to the Union of concerned scientists, “As the Earth warms, the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent on average in the United States—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.” That is definitely change, and not good change. Our planet needs help.

Changes the world will endure, according to the article, 5 ways the world will change radically, are:

  1. The world is becoming over populated.  The article states that,” India’s population will overtake China’s around 2020, and Africa’s population will overtake India’s by 2040″  That is not change to embrace since Africa is one of the world’s most poverty-stricken continents.
  2. Urbanization will rapidly increase.  The article says, “the number of people living in cities will climb from 3.5 billion today to 6.3 billion by 2050”  That means there will be much less farmland to grow food to feed the people.  That is not good change.
  3. Conflicts over water shortages will probably play out on our planet.  That is not positive change, for that means many people will die because the world is running short of fresh water.
  4. At this time in history, there isn’t enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. That means humans will be forced to turn to new energy sources before the end of the century.  In my opinion this is good change as hopefully these new sources will mean less pollution.
  5. The article maintains, “biologists [not all biologists] believe that with the current rate of extinction, 75 percent of the planet’s species will disappear within the next 300 to 2,000 years”.  That is just sad as this planet has so much biodiversity.  That definitely is not good change.

So the fact of change is real!  The quote at the beginning says, So do not resist change, embrace it.”  When change happens to us individually, then yes it should be embraced.  As it has been said, “A change can be as good as a vacation.”  I think there is truth in that.  Many spiritual writers will say that when change happens to an individual, it is God’s or the universe’s way of forcing you to do what you are not choosing to do yourself, because God knows what is best. Having said that, sometimes individuals need Ostrichto resist change such as when individuals or groups of people are being forced to do something against their will. An example of this might be when groups of people are forced from their homes due to conflict like what we are witnessing in areas of the world like Africa and the Middle East.

However, when it comes to changes affecting this planet, such as climate change, or loss of biodiversity, then change needs to be resisted.  It is time for us humans to “get our heads out of the sand” and start resisting planetary changes that will only cause our planet to be less desirable to live in.

Will there ever be peace?

According to International Relations.com, there are ten wars where the fatalities are greater than 1000 every year and  five serious armed conflicts with fatalities just under a 1000 per year, happening on our planet at the present moment. According to the website, Syria remains the most lethal and overall “biggest” conflict, with an estimated 250,000 deaths in the past three years, of which fewer than half were battle-related deaths. The website goes on to list 15 other conflicts where less than a 1000 people are killed per year. For me, that is appalling.  For me that says something about the world’s sad state of affairs. It begs the question, “Will this planet ever experience peace?”  An even better question would be, “Is peace on this planet even possible?”

Personally I believe it is.  At the beginning of the Great War, otherwise known as World War One, the Christmas Truce of 1914 gives me a glimmer of hope. According the BBC,  a scattered series of small-scale cease fires did happen between some German and British forces. But this brief festive reprieve was not a mass event as some people have come to believe. In many places along the Western Front, December 25, 1914 was a day of brutal fighting like any other day in war times. Where it did occur, accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. If events where enemies put down their differences and celebrate, in this case Christmas, then those actions suggest to me that peace is achievable because of personal choices.  Each soldier involved in one of those brief cease-fires made a personal choice to make efforts of peace and goodwill towards their enemies.  It was a choice.

So is peace possible? Hans Küng,a scholar of theology and philosophy and author of many books, wrote in Christianity: Essence, History, Future, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions”.  Many of the conflicts in the world involve tensions between the world religions. Hans Küng holds part of the key to the solution for world peace.  World religions need to understand one another and to practice what their religions teach, which is the ideals of their faith’s.  All world religions teach ideals of compassion, love and tolerance.

There have been and still are many spiritual leaders in history that have given us ways to achieve peace. The historical Jesus, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Dalai Lama to name a few. Gandhi once said,”An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”.  In other words, violence begets violence. History has demonstrated to humanity that most human conflicts have been as a result of stubbornness on the part of our leaders.  If our leaders could just learn that most disputes can be resolved by showing a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and that by using diplomacy and compassion these issues can be solved peacefully.  Mahatma Gandhi also said, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for”.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  His wisdom holds true not only for peace in our world, but for peace within ourselves.  Mr. Gandhi taught, “We must become the change we want to see in the world”This is by far Mahatma Gandhi’s wisest teaching. To achieve peace, be peace. How does one be peace? By a sheer act of Will. By the decision to always act peacefully and by causing others to experience what you wish to experience, that is peace.

peace-signThis especially holds true for our leaders, especially our political leaders. One cannot bring world peace to all unless a leader demonstrates peaceful acts of kindness daily.  Just think how different the world would be if our political or even religious leaders didn’t act like bullies, but instead always acted out of love, understanding and tolerance. It would be a very different world. A world living together in peace.

So what is my point simply put? Seymour Miller & Jill Jackson, a husband and wife songwriting team, say it much better than I could when they wrote the 1955 song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,  with those beautiful words, ” Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me”. Peace begins with you and me!

Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”

In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands  that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families.  What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.

This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church.  Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself.  He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”  (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays).  It  would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.

It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church.  Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been.  It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that.  I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that.  He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused  to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease.  (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.

Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to  be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did.  According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive!  Let us look at some examples.

Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus  and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee.  They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water.  When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked  the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.

To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing.  Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.

Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector.  Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes.  So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least.  Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.

Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”  Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person.  Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?

Thumbs upSo as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point.  If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive.  That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.”  He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!