The horror that is taking place in Gaza is beyond words. We are witnessing a genocide. For those of you who may be reluctant to name it as such–as I was–please take a few moments to read this and inform yourselves on what constitutes a genocide. The bombing and shelling of a civilian population herded into a narrow strip of land behind closed borders with no avenue of escape cannot be described in any other way but as genocide.

When words fail, sacred scriptures and poetry step in to fill the breach. Thank-you Rabbi Brant Rosen for this work of soul and soulful weeping. May it help to mend our broken world.

Originally posted on Shalom Rav:


This Monday night begins the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av: a day of mourning for the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries. Among other things, the traditional Tisha B’Av liturgy includes the chanting Biblical book of  Lamentations.

Given the profoundly tragic events currently unfolding in Gaza, I offer this reworking of the first chapter of Lamentations.  I share it with the hope that on this day of mourning we might also mourn the mounting dead in Gaza – along with what Israel has become…

A Lamentation for Gaza

Gaza weeps alone.
Bombs falling without end
her cheeks wet with tears.
A widow abandoned
imprisoned on all sides
with none willing to save her.

We who once knew oppression
have become the oppressors.
Those who have been pursued
are now the pursuers.
We have uprooted families
from their homes, we have
driven them deep into
this desolate…

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If you cannot attend one of the many demonstrations happening today across Canada in support of the people of Gaza, take a few minutes to email or phone your MP and ask them to inform you on what steps the Canadian government is taking to end the suffering and loss of life in Gaza and Israel.

Originally posted on Building Bridges Vancouver:

Forward from CJPME:  Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Like us, many of you are probably upset and heartbroken by the recent violence which has resulted in over 213 Palestinian deaths, 1 Israeli death, and over 1400 injured. Worse, the Canadian government stands blindly with Israel as the carnage continues. If you feel helpless to try to stop the violence which threatens both Palestinian and Israeli lives, here are five things you can do from Canada:

1. Send an email to MP by clicking here.  You’ll see we suggest a text which you can edit to your liking. Our tool looks up your MP by postal code. Be sure to complete step 2 in the process to ensure your MP gets your email.

2. Call your MP. Click here to look up your MP by postal code, and then his/her telephone number. A call…

View original 212 more words

Indifference to evil is the enemy of good, for indifference is the enemy of everything that exalts the honor of the human person. ~ Elie Wiesel

I sat in mute disbelief as the first live tweets of the verdicts from the Egyptian courtroom appeared in my feed. Three journalists – Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years  on trumped up charges of “falsifying news” and belonging to or assisting the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. (Baher Mohammed received three more years  for apparently possessing a bullet shell). The convictions are seen as groundless and have been universally condemned  as an attack on freedom of expression.

In his post, “A Journalist’s Prayer” written on the first anniversary of 9/11 Gregory Favre reminds journalists of their purpose:

Let us remember to do our best to bring light where there is darkness, truth where there is falsity, joy where there is sadness.

As I read this prayer today, I thought that since it is journalists themselves who are now under attack and are being unjustly persecuted and prevented from doing their work, the charge given in the prayer is now meant for us to take up. It is now our turn to remember and not forget the grave miscarriage of justice that has been committed and to bring light and truth where there is falsity.

We in Canada, take our freedoms for granted, but human rights do not fall from heaven fully formed but are recognized only as individuals and societies advocate, struggle, and fight to have them accepted and respected. The following cartoon from the 19th century illustrates that freedom of expression has a long history of suppression by those in positions of power who fear their lies from being exposed by the light of truth.

PD – 1923
Caricature “the naughty children”, 1849. The inscriptions read: “Freedom of the press”, “freedom of petition”, “freedom of assembly”, “freedom of speech” and “freedom of association”.

My friends, let us not be indifferent to the plight of Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. It is all too easy to ignore it and dismiss it as “Egypt’s problem”. But we all belong to one human family. If we do not work to uphold human dignity and defend the human rights of others we have no basis to claim them for ourselves. Let us bring a measure of joy into their present sadness by helping to preserve the freedoms necessary for journalists to do the important work of bringing more truth into the world.
We can do this by supporting organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Do you know of other organizations in your region who are working to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right? Please share them in the comments section below and I will add them to the list.


I’ve had so little time for this blog this year, but I do not want to leave the year without acknowledging and giving thanks to both individuals and organizations–many of whom I have “met” on Twitter–who dedicate themselves to seek the greater good, working tirelessly to make this world a better place for all.

Each of us takes our inspiration from a variety of sources: books, movies, mentors, teachers. Having been born with a religious bent, my own desire to leave the world a better place–the selfish benefits of doing good notwithstanding–find their source in the Christian story, which opening chapter much of the world re-tells, re-fashions and celebrates this time of year.

On a rare morning off from both my work as a chaplain of sorts or spending time with my grand-children I indulged in my favorite pastime–you guessed it–exploring the inter webs, and discovered this online exhibition of crèches from around the world. One of my favorites is the one above from the Czech Republic.

I love how this scene pulls in men and women of goodwill into the event. The artisan has placed Jesus at the head of the procession, and in doing so conveys the fundamental movement of my faith, that God is always coming toward us–in spite of evidence to the contrary. But Jesus is not alone, following him is a large procession. As people of faith, as those who believe in the fundamental goodness of creation, we are not only to be passive receptacles of his love, but are called to follow Him into the world with our own particular gifts harvested from our life, the gifts of the rich having no greater status than those of ordinary folk, but all joined in common purpose to create a world, as one preacher put it, “where everyone can find abundant evidence of God’s love.”

So my dear brothers and sisters, thank-you for all you do–providing affordable housing, preserving our watersheds, fighting for refugee rights, advocating for prison reform, working to preserve an open and affordable internet, exposing government lies…the list goes on. In spite of setbacks and discouragement, remember that the good will prevail, a more just, equitable and peaceable world will sprout from the seeds of justice, truth and love you scatter in the fields each day.

I recently learned of the plight of Jose Figueroa, a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador and a long-time resident of Langley, BC, who has come to the difficult decision to claim sanctuary inside the safety of the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church.

Jose, a father of three children–who all have Canadian citizenship–is fighting an unjust deportation order. Langley M.P. Mark Warawa could not explain why his government would deport Jose based on his past affiliation with a group which is now the democratically elected government of El Salvador. Warwara stated:

Under these same immigration policies, Nelson Mandela would not be accepted into our country either.

You can read the full story here.

Please support Jose and his family in their claim for justice by:

1) Following @wearejose on Twitter or “liking” the *We Are Jose* campaign on Facebook.

2) Sign the petition to the Hon. Steven Blaney to reverse the deportation order to Jose Figueroa.

3) Visit the We Are Jose website.

4) Learn more by reading the editorial by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group here.

The most poignant memory for me from today’s Walk for Reconciliation was Chief Robert Joseph’s call at the Opening Ceremony for a moment of silence to remember and honor the memory of the children who suffered and those who died in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.

Later, as I was crossing the Georgia Street overpass I noticed a small group of people who had stopped walking. Three of them had their arms around a fourth man in an effort to support him. As I walked past, wondering if the man needed medical attention, I looked back to take a closer look. I was arrested by the site of Arnie, an old friend whom I had lost track of (I wrote about Arnie in this post). It’s been three years since I last saw Arnie.  Back then, he was trying to get home to his reservation in Saskatchewan and wanted my help in getting him in touch with a counselor there who had worked with him before. I helped to facilitate the connection, and then soon after resigned from the little church where he would visit and lost touch. I prayed against the odds that he would make the journey home. Instead, as was apparent from the rough shape he was in today, his “hungry ghosts” came back to haunt him and he felt compelled to feed them. And so, here he was on the Walk, and although surrounded by so many of his relations, he was feeling alone and despondent–the events of the day triggering memories and emotions too painful for him to control. With the sound of traditional drumming in the background, Arnie told me he also was a victim of the residential school system. After chatting for a few more minutes and no longer in a position or locale to be able help him, I left him with his new found friends and supporters,

Filled with sadness and my own sense of  powerlessness in the face of hungry ghosts and not knowing what else to do–I join my heart in this prayer for him and all the countless children who suffered.

It is a hard truth to grasp…to say…to write…but the evidence points to the disturbing fact that Canada, the country I love, was founded upon ethnic cleansing. As if this truth is not horrific enough to digest in recent months fresh revelations surfaced that the Federal Government carried out inhumane bio-medical experiments on indigenous children in several provinces. I am deeply disturbed to learn that malnourished children—innocents, who were wards of the state—were used as guinea pigs and kept in a state of near starvation by nutrition experts who in some cases were employed by the Red Cross whose purpose is “to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being.” As the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada observed in his statement on the issue, “It is another tragic chapter in the long once-hidden story of the Indian Residential Schools.”

The last of Canada’s residential schools closed in 1996, but most of us—two out of every three Canadians—don’t know the full extent of their dark histories. In our ignorance it is too easy to make false assumptions about the causes and solutions to the problems still facing Canada’s indigenous people.

From 1831 to 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their communities and sent to one of the 130 federally-funded boarding schools administered by Catholic, United and Anglican Church authorities. For decades there was no choice: if families did not hand over their children, they were forcibly seized.

Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. The goal was to “kill the Indian in the child.”

The following comments to a CTV News story by “Elk Woman” poignantly convey the harmful legacy and human cost of residential schooling:

It took away our dignity, our way of life, our livelihoods, most of our languages, and so ever tragically, it separated us from our families. The residue of the schools still lingers in our communities, the dysfunction is alive and well. We are still fighting for wellness, to attain balance, to learn how to parent again, to touch, to feel, to love, to trust, to feel human again. Our youth have paid a dear price. They live or have had to live with dysfunction of all sorts, to not feel love from ones parent is abnormal. Self-hatred is prevalent for many of our people, but we are working on it. Give us time, help us to be who we once were, a proud and dignified people. This is what we are fighting for, dignity, respect and to take back what was rightfully ours, our dignity, our livelihoods, our land and our language. Residential school is only a slice of the pie that we have had to endure. Native people have always endured hardships, it has never been easy to be a Native person. I can’t think of any other culture whose abuses are continually on-going. It has never stopped. But we are getting stronger day by day. So next time you see a Native person, maybe give them a pat on the back and say, wow, you are still standing…

On September 22, residents of the Lower Mainland are invited to walk alongside our indigenous neighbors in the Walk for Reconciliation. Bishop Michael of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster as well as Bishop Greg of the BC Lutheran Synod have stressed the importance of the participation of Christian churches in the Walk. Through our willing participation we will send the message that we are ready and willing to face the truth about the systemic racism and discrimination that was part of our nation’s history, and by our actions send a message of encouragement to our indigenous brother and sisters,

…Wow! You are still standing, and we stand together with you in remembrance of your painful past and in your struggle to heal and work towards a more hopeful future.

Some of us are afraid to go to rallies or talks on First Nations for fear of how we will be perceived. Where grace has made forgiveness possible, we need to accept it with humility and gratitude. Where the pain of suffering still cries out in protest and hot anger, we need to lay down our defensive shield, hear our brothers’ and sisters’ anguish and allow the flaming words of accusation to piece our hearts with compassion.

Our culture promotes a cult of “privatism” that draws us away from one another and promotes the belief that we are rugged individuals only responsible for ourselves and no one else. But our identity in Christ puts us in relationship to our neighbor with whom we are called to walk in truth. “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25) As Christians we are called be reconciled to our brother and then bring our gift to the altar. To participate in The Walk for Reconciliation is to move beyond shame and guilt. It is a walk in solidarity with our indigenous neighbors, acknowledging the sins of the broader Church and asking God to free our relationships of the consequences of those sins so that we may build a healthier future together.

In his first letter, John the beloved disciple of Jesus tells us, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech but in love and action.” (1 John 3:18).

Have you got your walking shoes? See you on September 22!

[This post is adapted from an article by the same author published in the Summer 2013 edition of The Beacon, the newsletter of St. David's Anglican Church, Tsawwassen, BC.]

“Reprehensible! Debasing! An affront to human dignity!”  The outcry has been vociferous and swift in response to  the City of Abbotsford’s dump of chicken manure on a popular gathering place for the homeless. While news outlets and blogs have registered the public’s outrage against the city’s tactics, I haven’t seen much analysis asking the deeper question of what  lurks underneath the city’s campaign to want to drive away the homeless from their midst in the first place.

Pastor Christoph Reiners of Peace Lutheran Church–who was asked by city officials to stop feeding Abbotsford’s homeless–touches on an answer when he names the discomfort of city officials and citizenry to admit that their idyllic community includes those who are homeless and those who suffer from drug addiction like any other city in North America.

Steve Kimes who pastors Anawim Christian Community, a church of the homeless and mentally ill in Portland, not only names our our discomfort with the poor, especially with those who wear their poverty publicly–such as the homeless or beggars–but digs deeper and proposes that we actually punish the poor for making us feel bad.

The main reason we punish the poor is because–for many of our society [they perceive that] the poor punish them. First of all, the poor make our society look bad, as if our society has done something wrong by having the poor. “Of course,” many think, “our society is well-functioning. So the poor don’t need to be there.” But there they are, the blight on our economic statistics…In our intuitive moral systems….those who make us feel uncomfortable or guilty should be punished for imposing those feelings on us.

For those of us fortunate enough to have the means to feed clothe and house ourselves and  our families, we should never forget that…

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody bent down and helped us up.

~  Thurgood Marshall

It’s time we stepped down from our perches of privileged power and examined what spiritual dis-ease fuels our thirst for unwarranted retributive justice toward those less fortunate who have little or no power to challenge the injustices we inflict upon them. It’s time we stopped punishing the poor with chicken poop as well as the many other tactics we use against the homeless to rob them of their means of survival.

 If you take a poor man’s tent or sleeping bag or coat, even in the name of a government, that poor one will cry out to Me and you shall be homeless and helpless. For what else are they to keep warm in?

- Exodus 22:22-27, paraphrase by Steve Kimes


Judy Graves, advocate for Vancouver’s homeless has announced she is retiring on May 29.

After converting to Christianity, Judy Graves attended a United church, then Unitarian, Baptist, Catholic, and now Anglican. From her perspective, threaded throughout the Bible is a message about looking after the stranger. Jennelle Schneider // Province


In 2007 while a pastoral intern at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. I had signed up to help out with the homeless count in North Vancouver.  I had the privilege of meeting Judy at the volunteer orientation session.  As our trainer, her goal was to equip our well-meaning but variously inexperienced group of recruits with enough “street smarts” to stay safe and practical wisdom to get the job done. I’ll never forget her “a candy and a cigarette” approach to help us establish trust and rapport with our clients. While some may think that offering a homeless person a cigarette in order to earn the right to interview them smacks of Machiavellian utility,  at the heart of  all that Judy taught us was a profound conviction of our common humanity and the right of each person–regardless of their circumstances–to be treated with respect and dignity. Peter Ladner captured both her practical approach and heart of compassion in the song he wrote,  Angel of Broken Wings

I wish Judy, recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal,  a well earned rest,  fun with a crochet hook,  and time to play with her grandchildren.

In the meantime it is up to us to run with the baton Judy has handed off to us.

Here are some ways you can help end homelessness:

  • Each of us can get to know the name of the homeless person that lives near them and say hi to them every day, which will change everything in their world.
  • If people say they’re hungry, take them out for a meal.  And instead of just buying the meal, maybe sit down with them for 10 minutes and just talk with them about what brought them there.
  • It is your responsibility as a citizen of a democracy to go to everyone who is running for office or has been elected into office and let them know that you hold them absolutely accountable for the suffering of every single person that is on the street.

For more ideas on how you can help, check out this End Homelessness Now activity page.

Arnie (not his real name) was a regular visitor at the little church I pastored. I often welcomed him into the church boardroom which functioned as a vistor’s parlour where I would offer him a cup of tea or coffee and something to eat…sometimes it was a slice of pizza leftover from an earlier committee lunch meeting.

picnic pizza

But Arnie rarely had an appetite for food. His suffering was too great, intense and immediate to enjoy the simple pleasure of food. What he wanted was whatever money I could spare so that he could go to the liquor store. He needed the alcohol to numb the unrelenting pain.

Then, without warning, a week passed and then another with no sign of Arnie. I wondered what had become of him.  He had talked about wanting to go back home to his people’s First Nation Reservation in Saskatchewan, and so I hoped against hope that he had finally got his “ducks in a row” in order to make his dream come true. But I also I feared the worse. You see, Arnie was homeless and it was getting cold at night. I imagined him lying dead in an alleyway after succumbing to hypothermia or worse yet, beat up and left for dead in a ditch. I finally called the RCMP to put in a missing person report. The officer informed me–with a prejudicial tone and sarcastic edge that shredded any remaining vestiges of my idealized hero’s image of the RCMP–that Arnie was staying warm and dry at a regional correctional centre at taxpayers’ expense. The officer assumed I shared his jaded view, that Arnie was not one of “us” but rather a free loading criminal who belonged to the world of “them.” But to me, Arnie was a friend, a child of God, and I was simply relieved to learn that he was alive and relatively safe.

I would eventually see Arnie again, at his request. This time, however it was me who came knocking on his door, or rather his warden’s door at the correctional centre. Had Arnie been at his home in Saskatchewan I’m sure he would have taken great pride in saying, “Welcome to my parlour,” or something equivalent. Instead, with his head down, a prison guard ushered him into a visitor’s cubicle very similar to the one pictured below.


Photo credit:

Recently, Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety–in response to the public outcry over his knee jerk reaction to cancel takeout pizza food orders to prison–defended his decision by saying that he wants to ensure that prisons act as a deterrent. He’s afraid that prisoners once released will commit further crimes in order to come back to the warm pizza parlour atmosphere of prison. I kid you not, this is what he said:

A primary goal of any correctional system is to ensure that prisons are places no one wants to go to and to which no one would want to return. That’s why we feel it’s not in the public interest to provide pizza parties to criminals. –Globe and Mail, January 5, 2013

Vic Toews is right to be concerned about recidivism ratesBut it’s not the pizza parties that keep some coming back. Arnie taught me that something much more basic is at stake.  In our visit, Arnie admitted that he deliberately got himself arrested in order to have shelter and safety during the wet and cold west coast winter. And he is not an isolated case. It’s not the pizza that keeps repeat offenders coming back, but a respite from the streets – especially in winter.

Photo credit:

Whether or not they get “coddled” by the occasional pizza or chicken takeout dinner will make not an iota of difference to these repeat offenders. Even restrictive regimes become tolerable for the sake of shelter from the elements.

In the government’s eyes, the world is simple: there are “bad” people (those who have broken the law), and there are “good” people (everyone else).  –Edward Greenspan and Anthony N. Doob

Our government–through its “tough on crime” agenda” wants us to view all offenders through the lens of uncomplicated evil provided by the Paul Bernardos of this world.  But as Daniel Baird points out in Rough Justice, “…petty thefts, street-level disputes and drunken episodes do not exactly involve big-time evil,” but they are the crimes that “most often get punished because these are the cheapest and easiest to prosecute. This weights the brunt of the justice system against the poor, the underprivileged and minorities.”

Rather than giving us a picture of uncomplicated evil, Aboriginal inmates–who continue to be over-represented in Canada’s correctional system (27% in provincial custody and 20% in federal custody) illustrate the complicated sources of crime. All share a background of childhood deprivation and trauma characterized by parental absence, severe poverty and physical and sexual abuse.

Using language such as “ordinary Canadians” versus “criminals” Vic Toews makes it all too easy for us to cast our punitive gaze solely on the offender rather than seeing “the offender in relationship to Canadian society of which he or she is a troubled part,” as Baird rightly points out. It was not always so. Back in 1971,  Eldon M. Wooliams, the justice critic for the Progressive Conservative party recognized that crime is a community problem and the community needs to participate in the solution.

 …crime is not just a sordid happening but rather a result of human behaviour brought about by our economic and social conditions which we have failed to change.

 ….crime is not only the fault of the prisoner but the fault of society as well. Everyone is born as clean as a white piece of paper. It is society that creates the environment which leads to crime.

You can read more excerpts from Wooliams speech here.

Last Friday, in his announcement of legislation that would make it tougher for high risk offenders with mental illness to get unescorted day passes, Prime Minister Harper spoke of the unbalances in the justice system when it focuses solely on the rights of the person convicted of the crime while ignoring the rights of victims. While I support our government’s desire to make the justice system more equitable, I pray that its field of vision continues to expand beyond the “offender – victim” dichotomy to encompass the responsibility Canadian society bears in creating the conditions, such as poverty and homelessness, that contribute to incarceration in the first place–especially among our aboriginal citizen population–and to work towards solutions to eliminate them.

Other links of interest:

Mr. Toews Doesn’t Understand Prisons

The Ethics of Pizza, Prison and Punishment

Aboriginal Incarceration in Canada A National Shame

The Justice System and Aboriginal People


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