The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Malala Yousafzai: One of Today’s Heros

A commentary on the impact of Malala Yousafzai

On April 12, Malala Yousafzai became a honourary Canadian in a ceremony in our parliament in Ottawa.  That is when Canadian citizenship is bestowed upon a foreigner for extraordinary distinction. It is purely a symbolic honour as recipients do not take the Oath of Citizenship or receive rights, privileges, or duties typically held by a Canadian citizen. Only five other foreigners have received honorary Canadian citizenship before Malala. Two notables are Nelson Mandela and Tenzin Gyatso. In 2001, Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, former President of South Africa, and recipient of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize became a honourary Canadian citizen. In 2006, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize also became a honourary Canadian citizen. Malala Yousafzai became the sixth person in history to receive such an honour.

Ms. Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist who was born July 12, 1997, making her a mere 19 years old. She is known for her crusade for girls’ and women’s rights, most especially for a girl’s right to go to school. Sadly, she was a victim of a gunshot attack in October 9, 2012, when she was shot by the Taliban. The Taliban are a radically militant Islamic group that controlled some 90% of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000. They set out to create the world’s most pure Islamic rule by introducing a disturbing and deeply revolutionary form of Muslim culture. Under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work outside the home, were forced to wear a head-to-toe covering known as a burka, and could not leave the home without a male guardian. The Taliban also prevented women from having access to health and education. After the assassination attempt, Malala was given emergency treatment in Pakistan and then moved to Great Britain for more medical treatment.

Malala Yousafzai is one impressive young lady. For a person who has only lived 19 years, she has had an enormous impact on this planet. At age 11, she became known because of a weblog published by BBC News. The BBC issued translated writings about her life under Taliban rule. In October 2013, a book about her life I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was published, with her help. This is a very educational and inspiring book, so I would encourage you to read it. Yousafzai was chosen by TIME magazine as a candidate for 2013’s Person of the Year. She was nominated for the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child in 2014. Also in 2014, Yousafzai has won a Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to do so. She will also be given a Doctor of Civil Law degree by the University of King’s College located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m sure her list of accomplishments will grow. This is a person I have grown to admire and in fact consider a hero. If you haven’t heard the speech she delivered on April 12, here it is.

I happened to be waiting for our SUV to be serviced in a waiting room in the car dealership with the TV on. At that moment, a news channel was broadcasting Malala’s speech. Two parts of her speech caught my attention. The first was:

The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim — but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims, living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam — a religion of learning, compassion and mercy.

I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore.

He did not share my faith. Instead, he shared the hatred of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.

The same hatred as the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.

The same hatred as the men who killed 132 schoolchildren at Pakistan’s Army Public School in Peshawar.

The same hatred as the man who shot me.

Malala is confirming what I have stated before in posts such as; Are All Muslims Extremists? Contrary to the rhetoric we’ve heard south of the border, all Muslims are NOT terrorists. Most Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding individuals. As Malala says, “when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim”.  The same holds true for Christians as well. When a person picks up a gun in the name of Christianity and kills an innocent person(s), you are not a Christian. In fact, the same is true for any world religion as when you get down to the core beliefs or practices of any world religion, they all advocate for peaceful coexistence. It is when people start interpreting religious sacred scripture in ignorance that the true teachings of the religion become warped.

The other portion of Malala’s speech that caught my attention is:

I have travelled the world and met people in many countries. I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls.

Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world. Here’s what the statistics say:

  • If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add 92 billion dollars per year to their economies.
  • Educated girls are less likely to marry young or contract HIV — and more likely to have healthy, educated children.
  • The Brookings Institution calls secondary schooling for girls the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.
  • When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half.

Education is vital for security around the world … because extremism grows alongside inequality — in places where people feel they have no opportunity, no voice, no hope.

When women are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. When mothers can keep their children alive and send them to school, there is hope.

But around the world, 130 million girls are out of school today. They may not have read the studies and they may not know the statistics — but they understand that education is their only path to a brighter future. And they are fighting to go to school.

Now as an educator for 35 years, I know this to be true. Secondary education, not just for girls, but for all people can transform communities, countries and our world. I especially was struck by her statement, “When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half”.  It seems to me that the cure for violence and conflict is education. This makes sense to me as through education we can teach tolerance and understanding. It is ignorance, and especially fear, that breeds tensions and conflict. It is education that will decrease a fear of Muslims. It is education that will prove to sexists and misogynist that the sexes are equals. Science has unequivocally proved this. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So as Malala says, “Education is vital for security around the world”.

The Hideous Consequences of Political Rhetoric

A commentary on the increase in “hate crimes” due to political rhetoric.

rhetI am deeply disturbed by some of the events occurring in my beloved country of Canada. I have always been proud of the fact that Canada celebrates cultural diversity. Multiculturalism in Canada is the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.  The Canadian federal government, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, put forth the ideology of multiculturalism which places emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is a law that was passed in 1988 and it aims to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada. When I taught high school social studies I always proudly emphasized this fact to my students. So, when I learn of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration views expressed in my country, I am alarmed and angered. These are some of the things that have happened in Canada.

In early March, Montreal police arrested a 47-year-old man hours after a bomb threat targeting Muslim students forced the evacuation of three buildings at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Apparently, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4, which claimed that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings on the University. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students. The email also began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda (see CBC News).

Also in early March, a late-night fire at an Islamic information centre and mosque is being investigated by Toronto police. A police spokesperson said the fire is considered “suspicious” and being investigated as arson. It was not ruled as a hate crime then, but it certainly “smells” like a hate crime (see CBC News).

The Globe and Mail is reporting that police are investigating the discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week which left some students feeling distraught; the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti”. The news report says the police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at the time of the article. Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario told reporters, “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.” Hillel Ontario is an organization that strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students attending Ontario’s colleges and universities (see Globe & Mail). Sure seems like a hate crime to me.

Far right groups opposed to a federal government motion condemning Islamophobia took to the streets of Montreal in early March. On the opposing side were around 100 representatives of anti-fascist groups, carrying signs saying “Make racists afraid again” and chanting “Immigrants in, fascists out.” Tensions between the groups quickly flared despite a police presence (see CBC News).

Then there was the Quebec City Mosque attack that occurred on January 29th. Alexandre Bissonnette, only 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm. During that attack, six men died in the shooting while evening prayers were underway at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) [see CBC News].

A Winnipeg business owner who identifies herself as a witch says her store has been repeatedly vandalized over the past six years and she wants police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes. Dominique Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop Inc. Smith sells alternative spirituality products such as herbs, crystals, incense, books and tarot cards. She also teaches classes out of the business and occasionally has gatherings for worship and rituals. She says her shop’s window has been broken three times. She has had people come into the store harassing her and her staff, telling them that we were evil and needed to repent. Ms. Smith says she’s had to clean spit and urine off of her door and windows countless times over the past few years (see CBC News).

Now I ask the question: what has happened to “tolerance and understanding”? Why does it appear to be disappearing? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that naive. Canada has always had its share of racists and bigots, but for the most part my country is seen as a tolerant, multicultural society. In fact, analysts at the London-based think tank, the Legatum Institute, ranks 142 countries based on their economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital.  In 2015, the Institute ranked Canada as number one for being the “freest country in the world” with its tolerance of immigrants, minorities, freedom of expression and beliefs. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians (92 %) agreed that their country is a good place for immigrants. The United States was ranked 15th for personal freedom (see CTV News).  In 2016, Canada dropped to second place and the United States dropped to position 26 in terms of personal freedom. (see Legatum 2016).

mother-teresa-beautiful-words-love-thy-neighbor-quotes-if-you-judge-people-have-not-time-acknowledge-them-caring-givingCanada is predominantly a Christian country. In the 2011 National Household Survey, two-thirds of Canada’s population reported affiliation with a Christian religion. Christianity is a religion that follows the teachings of Jesus whose teachings focus on the themes of love of God and love of neighbour. In fact, Matthew 22:36 – 40 in the Christian scriptures says, ‘Teacher [Jesus], which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He [Jesus] said to him,” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ If Christians believe this, then I do not understand why Canadians (at least some of them) are becoming (maybe they’ve always been so) increasingly intolerant and bigoted. At least this is what the various news articles are suggesting is the trend. It just doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.

Sadly, this trend seems to have begun when the US presidential campaign began and much anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexico rhetoric began filtering into Canada’s news. Middle East Eye, an online news organization that provides news from a Middle Eastern perspective, reports that Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a ‘spill-over effect’ in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike (see MEE). Even some of our Canadian politicians are now spewing toxic, divisive rhetoric. I truly thought Canadians were different; that Canadians were more tolerant because of our multicultural diversity.  In fact, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during an address in London, United Kingdom, in November of 2015 said, “Diversity is our strength.” Now I always thought so, but perhaps I’m just naive.  It was Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher, who once said, “It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling”. He is so right! I still choose to believe that the majority of Canadians are tolerant and welcoming people no matter what race, religion and belief a person may have. The individuals carrying out these despicable hate crimes act out of fear perpetrated by rhetoric. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and an historian of the Roman Empire, once said, “Fear is not in the habit of speaking truth.” People are acting out of fear and thus executing heinous, hateful, acts because of lies spread by toxic political rhetoric. This has to stop!

Why is the Vatican Still Stonewalling Pope Francis?

A commentary on the sexual abuse scandal in religious institutions

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)CBC recently had a story that caught my attention. The story was called, Leading member of pope’s sex abuse panel quits, says Vatican is stonewalling. I haven’t heard much about the sexual abuse scandal in a long time, so I naturally assumed that the church had dealt with the issue. It seems I was wrong.

The news article reports that Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, quit out of frustration because of the lack of co-operation from other Vatican offices, known as the Curia. Ms. Collins claims there is “cultural resistance” at the Vatican that include some officials refusing the pope’s instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors. Collins wondered if the continuing reluctance to address the problem is “driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience?”

clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdNow I applaud Pope Francis as I sincerely believe  he is trying to correct a wrong. A CBC article, Pope condemns “evil” child abuse, reports that in 2014, Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children. He then stated, “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests… [committed]… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children.” He went on to say, “The Church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem…” It was then that Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a commission whose job was to propose the best initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, so that everything possible was done to ensure that no more children are abused by predator priests.

Historically, there was a systematic cover up by bishops and other Catholic hierarchy in many dioceses around the world to cover up the crimes of pedophile priests who raped children and committed other sexual abuses. This was done by moving allegedly abusive priests to other parishes, where abuse often continued. Protection of the institutional church became of all-encompassing importance to the Catholic hierarchy. Here is a brief history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, reports of clergy sexually abusing children first surfaced in the mid 1980s. In the mid-1990s a number of books were published on the topic. The topic became the focus of intense scrutiny and debate after the Boston Globe published a series of articles covering cases of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese.

The National Catholic Reporter reports that in January of 2002, a Judge ordered Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to turn over 10,000 pages of records. The Boston Globe used this evidence to initiate an extensive series on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese. It was the Globe and Mail that revealed that John Geoghan, a former Boston priest, who was accused of abusing more than 130 children during his 30 years as a priest and as a result was convicted of molesting a child in 1991 and sentenced to 9-10 years in prison where he was killed by a inmate.

According to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, about 4% of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002. However, it should be noted that the graphs and statistics sited in the report end before the Boston scandal.

The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has been reported in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia as well as other nations throughout the world. Many of the cases spanned several decades and were brought forward years after the abuse occurred.

This abuse is not unique to the Catholic church. Wikipedia has a list of abuse allegations that occurred in Jewish communities, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Anglican Church, as well as other religious institutions.

It isn’t just prevalent in religious communities. In Portland, Ore, a jury reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a trial that showed that since the 1920s, Scouts officials kept “perversion files” on suspected abusers but kept them secret.

The Huffington Post reports that in June 17, 2012 then Pope Benedict XVI told Irish Catholics that it is a “mystery” to him why priests and other church officials have been abusing children entrusted to their care for at least the past several decades.

Much of the abuse in the Catholic church was directed towards altar boys. I was an altar boy in the 1960s so I could have easily been one of those victims. Thankfully, I wasn’t. I can easily see how the abuse occurred. In the 1960s it was taught that the “holy fathers” (priests in other words) were directly consecrated by God.  These men believed they were Christ’s representatives on earth and were acting on Christ’s behalf.  These men were often put in charge of large numbers of children who have been taught that priests are God’s representatives and must be obeyed in all matters. You can see how easily abusing young children would have been. Talk about a “betrayal of trust.” I personally knew some of the priests who were accused of sexual abusing children.

I also personally know people who have experienced sexual abuse, none of which were by priests however. Nonetheless, I’ve seen firsthand what this abuse has did to them. People who were abused as children become damaged adults. Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) is a provincial membership organization that supports agencies who offer services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. This organization says survivors experience many of these responses after sexual assault or abuse:

  • Diminished self-esteem with frequent feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, and powerlessness
  • Negative self/body image and feelings of ugliness associated with shame and embarrassment of body
  • Physical symptoms of stress – such as headaches, stomach upsets, eating and sleeping problems, lethargy
  • Increased anxieties or tendency towards depression or depressive behaviour
  • Feelings of anger, fear, rage, couple with numbness and disconnection from shock
  • Increased isolation from others, withdrawn or difficulty trusting others
  • Erratic mood swings from hyper-alert to inconsolable grief to aggressive
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings and memories
  • Self-harm such as cutting, burning or scratching as way to numb or cope with feelings
  • Difficulty in returning to usual behaviours with inter-personal relationships
  • No or little desire for sexual intimacy
  • Increase in risky sexual behaviours
  • Flashbacks of the incident(s) and fear of being alone
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • Loss of employment or school time due to inability to concentrate

This is why, in my view, sexual abuse by clergy is so difficult to comprehend. These men were supposed to be holy folks; people who carry out God’s work, yet they carried out heinous acts. This is why, in my view, crimes by the priesthood or a minister are so much graver and need to be taken seriously. Furthermore, those at the top of the hierarchy who knew of these scandalous acts, and yet still protected the abusers, should be even more shamefaced. I applaud Pope Francis for trying to prevent these atrocious crimes from happening again, but it seems there is still resistance within the church to deal with the issue seriously.

weeping-jesusThe Guardian quotes Father Thomas Doyle, a former canonical lawyer at the Vatican’s Washington embassy, as saying, “One of the massive holes in the Roman Catholic church’s approach to this issue, still today, is a failure to completely comprehend the depth of the spiritual damage that is done to the victims, to their families, especially their parents, to their friends and to the community itself.”  It is not difficult to understand why the faithful are confused when they were taught that sexual acts outside of marriage were intrinsically evil, always a mortal sin (an action that leads to a separation from God’s saving grace), and never moral, regardless of intention or circumstance. To preach one thing and act in opposition to what was taught would confuse anyone. I’m sure Jesus must be weeping.

Christmas Controversies 2.0

A commentary on Christmas controversies.

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Christmas 2015 Starbucks controversy

During the 2015 Christmas season, I wrote a post titled Christmas Controversies. One of the quarrels I talked about in that post involved the Starbucks company, a disputation known as the Red Cup Controversy. Previous to 2015, Starbucks had red holiday cups decorated with snowflakes, Christmas ornaments or reindeer but in 2015 the company came out with red cups with just its green logo on it. Starbuck’s reason for the change was to embrace “simplicity and quietness.” As with any controversy, the Christian traditionalists saw this as an attempt to diminish the importance of Christmas.

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2016 Starbucks controversy from Huffington Post

It seems Starbucks is once again surrounded with Christmas controversy in 2016. The Huffington Post has an article called, People Are Raging Mad That Starbucks’ Newest Cups Aren’t Red, that reports Starbucks introduced a new green cup featuring a “mosaic of more than a hundred people drawn in one continuous stroke,” which the company says represents community and unity in a time of political divisiveness. Like last year many people are reacting with anger claiming this year that the holiday cup is threatened. Personally, I like the message that Starbucks is attempting to deliver. If you think about it, the message of “community and unity in a time of political divisiveness” is an appropriate message during Christmas. Thomas S. Monson, an American religious leader, says, “the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things”.

Now I agree with Mr. Monson. If this is what Christmas is about then Starbuck’s message of unity is very much a Christmas message. It’s important to understand that the kind of love that Mr. Monson is talking about is what the Greeks call agape love. This is the highest form of love. It’s the kind of love that the Christian bible speaks of. It’s the kind of love that Jesus spoke of and modelled. It is selfless love. Agape love is unconditional love; a love that transcends and operates regardless of circumstances. It should not be confused with what the Greeks called philia, which means brotherly love.   Divisiveness can only be overcome with unconditional love so Starbuck’s message of “community and unity” is most certainly a Christmas message.

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Scene from “Hipster Nativity” set

Crux, an independent Catholic news site, has an article called, Retail ‘Hipster Nativity’ scene stirs controversy. This controversy is most interesting. This Nativity set, called the “Hipster Nativity” set features Joseph sporting a lumberjack beard as well as a man bun while using his iPhone to selfie the moment as the Segway-riding wise men present baby Jesus with amazon.com boxes. Now I can understand this controversy and why traditionalists might be angered by it. Upon first reading about this controversy, my reaction was, “this makes fun of the manger scene, a sacred Christmas symbol”. But then I thought about it. Maybe we North Americans are just too uptight. Maybe we just need to relax and look at things differently. So, that is what I did. Firstly, if you think about it, this nativity scene is a true commentary about our society. We are a technological and materialistic society. Maybe there is a message for our Western civilization. Maybe the “Hipster Nativity” set is a metaphor reminding us that consumerism is the cause of our divisiveness.  Secondly, if God is a loving God (that is what Christians believe, isn’t it?) would God care about such dissension? The Christian scriptures tell us in 1 John 4:8, “whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”. Think about that. God’s very essence is love. Now we’re not referring to romantic love here. The kind of love that the biblical passage is referring to is agape love which means unconditional love, the kind of love that God has for humanity. The bottom line is, if God is an unconditionally loving God, then God would not be offended by the “Hipster Nativity” set. In fact, God is likely having a good laugh. Maybe we should too.

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Santa VS Jesus card game from Amazon

Another interesting controversy is reported by Yahoo News called, This Season’s Most Controversial Holiday Card Game: Santa verses Jesus.  This is a “tongue-in-cheek” card game based on the question; who actually rules Christmas? Is it Santa or is it Jesus?  The creators of Santa VS Jesus Card Game, one of the top-selling card games on Amazon.com in the United Kingdom, splits players into two teams which go head-to-head in an attempt to win the most believers. This determines who will rule Christmas. The two sides, Team Santa and Team Jesus undergo Christmas themed challenges (puzzles, riddles, brainteasers) to win over believers. IBT’s article, Is ‘Santa VS Jesus’ Board Game Blasphemous? discusses the controversy. The article quotes Danny Webster, a spokesperson for the Evangelical Alliance UK, who says the game “trivializes Christian belief and equates them both as fictional characters.”  So once again I ask; Are we North Americans just too uptight?  Let’s look at this controversy differently. Maybe this game is really a blessing in disguise. Maybe it forces people to take a good look at Christmas and what the holiday is all about. Is it a holiday about gift giving, which is what Santa is all about, or is it about Jesus, a holiday where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus? Whether you believe Jesus is the son of God, as Christians do, or that Jesus is one of many ascended masters (spiritually enlightened beings) or just a man who had a message worth paying attention to, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is Christmas is about the “Spirit of Christmas” which is about love; agape love actually. It is a season to remind us that we humans need to be inclusive, joyful and most importantly unconditionally loving.  In other words, the very message Jesus delivered.

We can get so caught up in the mentality that Christmas is being attacked instead of paying attention to what is important. What is important you ask? I think the Baha’i faith has it figured out. This is a faith that emphasizes the unity of humanity transcending all divisions of race, nation, gender, caste, and social class, while celebrating its diversity. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote, “The earth is but one country, and [hu]mankind its citizens.” Abdu’l-Baha’s, his eldest son, enhanced the message with the “unification of [hu]mankind” has now become “the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world.” If we look at what has been occurring in our world recently we can clearly see that divisiveness is alive and well. The American presidential election was one of the most divisive in history. Brexit is another example of European divisiveness rather than unity.  I believe the Baha’i faith has the true Christmas message. We are all part of the human family and therefore we are called to unite through agape love. That is what Christmas is about!

We Shall Never Forget!

John 15:13 of the Christian Scriptures says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Always remember that this is what those who died fighting for our freedoms did.

Sommer Season all year

As I’ve mentioned in my first Remembrance Day post, November 11th is an important day to observe as it marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I. That war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month thus explaining why Remembrance day is November 11th.  When in France recently, my wife and I visited the Normandy D-Day beaches. In case you don’t know the significance of those beaches, here is a history lesson.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, “Operation Overlord”, the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe started at 06:30. The target was an 80 kilometre (50-mile) stretch of the Normandy coast, which was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach. The Utah and Omaha sectors would be assaulted by the American Army, Gold and Sword beaches by the British troops and Juno beach by the Canadians. We visited the British, Canadian and American beaches. The success…

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Legalized Discrimination

I’ve always held the belief that at least in the developed world human rights were considered sacred. I wanted to believe that because we live in the 21st century we had moved beyond discriminatory practices and racism. I thought the human race was evolving for the better. It seems I’m naive and that my assumptions were wrong.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document listing universal rights entitled to all human beings. A human right is a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Article 6 of UDHR states, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7 of that document states, all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

So why am I bringing up the UDHR? Well it appears that even in this modern era where we have an international declaration enshrining our human rights, that there are still people hell-bent on denying certain groups of people their rights.

On March 30 of this year, the State of Mississippi in the United States passed an Anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) Bill. Some of the law in Mississippi states, so long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviours would be considered legal by the government:

  • Religious organizations can decline to honour any same-sex marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
  • Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs, basically protecting those who carry out above mentioned actions towards the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter to namely the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
  • Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counselling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.

On March 23, North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act that states, All public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” stated on their birth certificate.

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from nohatespeechmovement.org

Clearly the laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi are in violation of UDHR, namely article 6 and 7. In essence these states have legalized discrimination.  Now this is not without consequences. The Guardian says President Barack Obama has called for North Carolina and Mississippi to overturn state laws that affect gay and transgender residents. The United Kingdom Foreign Office issued to its citizens a statement warning LGBT tourists of the dangers of visiting North Carolina and Mississippi after both introduced “anti-LGBT” laws.

According to BuzzFeedNews entertainers such as Pearl Jam, Cirque du Soleil, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams have cancelled plans to perform in those states. The Corporation PayPal cancelled its plans to open a new global operations centre in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. The German Deutsche Bank announced that it was freezing plans to create 250 new jobs in North Carolina due to the state’s anti-LGBT law. At least 13 conventions in Charlotte were cancelled over concerns over the bill. Actress Sharon Stone, scheduled to film a movie in Mississippi, decided to change the location after the passage of the controversial law.

NewNowNext reported the corporation holding the rights of the musicals West Side Story and Footloose have withdrawn permission for their musicals to be done in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi, because of the anti-LGBT laws. The Blue Man Group tour was also withdrawn.

These anti-LGBT laws were passed despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court of the land, ruled that same-sex marriages  were legal throughout the entire country.

Now the justification for these laws is based on religious beliefs; the beliefs of Christianity. Yes you can find passages in the Christian scriptures supporting the belief that homosexuality is sinful. Having said that you can also find numerous passages in scripture justifying slavery as well. Does that mean that we should also pass laws legalizing slavery? I think there would be a huge public outcry if we did. Slavery was a socially acceptable practice in biblical times but now it isn’t. Perhaps the beliefs about homosexuality shown in scripture are also reflecting the social norms of day. From what I’ve learned about LGBT, it is not a choice. Their sexual orientation is a part of their genetic and/or spiritual makeup. They can’t help who they are.

First Nations or aboriginal people use the umbrella term “two-spirited” to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance. The term refers to a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit. I first heard of this term many years ago when I was teaching a scripture course to a group of aboriginal people. From what I was told, the LGBT community is much more accepted by the First Nations people.

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from joshuanhook.com

Moreover, if Christianity is going to be used as justification for these laws, then all of scripture must be considered. Christians are called to follow and emulate Jesus. In John 8:1-11 is a story about Jesus who sat down in the temple to address a group of scribes and Pharisees who confronted Jesus. They brought up the issue of an adulteress woman, and invited Jesus to pass judgment upon her when they asked the question, should she be stoned, which is what the Law of Moses instructed. Jesus responded by stating that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. The religious leaders then departed, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus then asked the woman if anyone had condemned her. When she answers no, Jesus said that he did not condemn her either, and told her to go and sin no more. This story clearly shows that Jesus did not judge or condemn others for their lifestyles. NOR SHOULD WE.

No one should be denied their human rights no matter what their sexual orientation is or what the colour of their skin is or for any other reason for that matter. If the makers of these laws truly proclaim their actions are rooted in Christian belief, then they should take heed to Luke 6:35 (NRSV) where it says, But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting in any way that the LGBT community is wicked. I am only trying to get across the point that God treats everyone with kindness, even the wicked. As far as I’m concerned, LGBT individuals are like you and me. They are merely trying to happily live their lives like everyone else. No matter what our beliefs are, we must still learn to be tolerant and understanding of all people.