I had never heard of journalist Ben H. Bagdikian until I read his New York Times obituary online this morning.

I was struck by his commitment to the integrity of his profession.

Here are two quotes – a version of which I wonder should apply to us who are pastors–whose calling differs from that of journalist, but who are also called to bear witness to life and truth.

The worst thing that can happen to a journalist is to become a celebrity. The honest job of the journalist is to observe, to listen, to learn. The job of the celebrity is to be observed, to make sure others learn a out his or her, to be the object of attention rather than an observer.

and this admonition to his students:

Never forget that your obligation is to the people. It is not, at heart, to those who pay you, or to your editor, or to your sources, or to your friends, or to the advancement of your career. It is to the public.

Same day as I learned about Bagdikian, I came across this review of the book, That’s Why I ‘m a Journalist

In one of the essays in the book, Paul Workman sums it up:

We are witnesses. That’s what we are. That’s what I’ve always considered by most important role…Witness whatever suffering, whatever happiness takes place on the ground…

 

 

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The $77 per month rate increase in disability assistance announced by the BC government on February 16 sounded like good news at first. But like a photograph that fades out toward the edges, the increase—the first in nine years—began to disappear the closer I got to the edges of the truth. The Times Colonist called it the “now you see it now you don’t” benefit increase.

Here are the facts:

The net increase People with Disabilities will receive will vary according to the cost of transportation supports they already receive from the government.

  • 45,000 British Columbians who do not receive the special transportation subsidy or live in areas not serviced by Translink or BC Transit or choose not to purchase the government subsidized bus pass will see a $77 net increase to their monthly benefit
  • 35,000 British Columbians who live in communities served by Translink or BC Transit currently receive an annual, “almost free” subsidized bus pass if they apply for it and  pay a $45 annual administration fee.  Under the new regime, if they want to continue to receive the bus pass, they will have $52 deducted from their monthly benefit and they will still have to pay the annual $45 fee. The result is that they will only see a small net increase of $25 to their monthly cheque.
  • 20,000 British Columbians who cannot take public transit, currently receive a special transportation subsidy as a lump-sum annual payment of $790.56 in addition to their disability benefit. Beginning in September, this benefit will be paid monthly by adding $66 to their monthly cheque. But because this is already a previous benefit, their net increase will only be a paltry $11 per month

The government summarized these changes in this misleading chart below which was removed from the BC Gov’t website here.

PWD_Rates

This chart is misleading because in the column “CURRENT UNEVEN RATES” the government includes the “Transportation Supports” in the monthly PWD amounts when in fact, monthly disability cheques currently do not include them. Those allowances and bus passes are administered and received as additional separate benefits. Currently the monthly cheque for a single person with disabilities is the same for everyone, $906.42 whether or not you qualify for a bus pass or other transportation subsidy.

No one currently receives a cheque for $958 or $972.

The Chart is confusing and obfuscates the facts.

PWD_Rates Edit 5.png

The government justifies these changes by saying they are about creating fairness and equity for the 45,000 people who weren’t receiving any transportation supports. But their attempts at equality, through monetizing the transportation supports and distributing $983 worth of benefits equally does not automatically create equal outcomes.

For example: people with disabilities who live in communities where a bus pass purchased directly from BC Transit costs less than $52 will have more money in their pocket for rent and food than their counterparts living in Metro Vancouver and other cities where the costs of living are significantly higher.

Where you Live

Monthly Benefit

Cost of Subsidized Bus Pass

Cost of non- subsidized Bus Pass*

Balance left for groceries and shelter after paying for transportation

Vancouver 

$983

$52

$931

Penticton

$983

$45

$938

Fort St. John

$983

$40

$943

Quesnel

$983

$35

$948

100 Mile House

$983

$28

$955

Hazelton/Smithers

$983

$15

$968

*Figures taken from BC Transit website

The government’s attempt to bring more equality has not erased inequities in the system. It has created greater inequity and injustice. This is especially true when it comes to housing costs.

Where is the justice in the system when a person with disabilities who needs a bus pass and who lives in Vancouver has less money for shelter and groceries than a person living in Smithers where shelter costs are significantly lower? If the government is truly committed to creating a level playing field, as Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell stated, disability supports should include “a portability that reflects regional variations in the costs of necessities like transportation and utilities”.

Using figures from 2011, the average rent for a bachelor apartment in Vancouver was $839. After paying $52 for a subsidized bus pass that leaves just $40 for food and clothing ($931-$839-$52). The gross injustice is apparent  even if you use the government’s own outdated Cost of Living calculator which pegs the average cost for a small 500 sq. ft apartment in East Vancouver at $645.  After paying rent and buying a subsidized bus pass, a disabled Vancouverite will have only $286 for groceries, grooming, clothing  and basic communication (telephone). According to a 2009 BC Stats survey of household spending the average costs for these after shelter needs was $602 monthly. This means a person with disabilities experiences a gap of over $300 between what they receive and what it costs to live. And yet the best the BC government can do after 9 years of frozen rates–among the lowest in the country–is to give people with disabilities less than $18 per week and then have the gall to clawback two thirds by charging them $12 per week if they need a bus pass.

It’s hard to understand why the outcry over the #buspassclawback took the government by surprise. When people have a sense that they are at an unfair disadvantage relative to others, or that they have not received their “fair share,”  they will challenge the system that is responsible for the injustice. This is especially likely to happen if a person’s or group’s fundamental needs are not being met, or if there are large discrepancies between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

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Photo credit: @couragesings

It is past the time that the BC government heeded the evidence-based recommendation of disability advocacy groups and raised the PWD benefit to $1200–a level that begins to approach the true cost of living in this province and would reduce the gap between what people with disabilities need for basic essentials and what they get.

The last word belongs to InclusionBC

The Minister is correct when he says, “The measure of any society is reflected in the degree to which it is willing to help the most vulnerable and create the kind of supports that will truly make a difference in their lives” (budget speech). By this measure, BC is failing our most vulnerable.

Friends, you can make a difference by signing the petition here to restore the $45/year bus pass and raise the PWD benefit rate.

Alongside the Christmas carols going around in my head is another song,

Draw the circle wide. 

No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. 

Draw the circle wide; draw it wider still. 

Let this be our song! 

These words by Gordon Light invite us to broaden our circle of care and concern. If we imagine our relationships as a series of concentric circles, we usually place our concern for our own well-being at the centre. In the next circle are our close family and friends. The next circle might include our work colleagues, sports or service club, or church and neighbourhood. In the outermost circles we might put our city, country and all other human beings. Each of us has reasons to draw the circle of our attention narrower. It is not easy to bring more people into our circle of care because it means that we become vulnerable and risk heartache and disappointment.

The Christian tradition teaches that God—in risk-taking vulnerable love—spread wide the circle of peace and salvation through the coming of Christ into the world. I am glad that you and I are included in God’s embrace.

Fischer Price Nativity scene

Often, it is children who have a better grasp of the meaning of these wonderful mysteries.

There is a story of three-year old child who listened and watched as his parents brought out their nativity scene: Here is Mary, the mother. Here is Joseph, and here is baby Jesus. Here are kings bringing their gifts. Here is the shepherd and the lamb. Here is the donkey and there is the cow. Having completed the scene the parents moved on to other Christmas preparations.

The next day, the parents noticed a striking change in the nativity scene. Their three-year old had set all his favourite figures into the nativity scene. Alongside the shepherds and kings were Minions and dinosaurs, bears and Donald Duck, Luke Skywalker and Thomas the Tank Engine. They were all included by the child. The circle was spread wide, wider.

 

(This post was originally published in “The Minister’s Minute” column in the South Delta Optimist on December 18, 2015)

Refugees Are Human Beings

My local newspaper the Delta Optimist ran a front page story on Prime Minister Harper’s recent campaign stop in Ladner. In light of the refugee crisis in which more than 19 million people have been forced to flee their home countries because of war or persecution, it reported him stating that the Conservatives had already pledged greater refugee assistance.

This is simply an empty election promise.

Here are the facts behind Harper’s pledge.

Every year, the government estimates how many immigrants it plans to take in the year ahead. The quota has been stuck at between 11,000 and 14,000 refugees selected from abroad (not just Syria)  annually for years, including 2015. What Harper promised if elected is to take in 10,000 more refugees from Iraq and Syria over four years. While this number sounds impressive at first sight, as the UN refugee agency’s top representative in Canada Furio De Angelis noted, this number is actually within the annual quota numbers already established before the current crisis erupted.

The Optimist story highlighted how the Conservatives take pride in freeing entrepreneurs from the burden of red tape. The current government should take the same pride in coming to the aid of refugee children and their parents and cut the red tape involved in sponsoring Syrian refugees.

It needs to take decisive action now and commit to a minimum of 10,000 Syrians to be brought to Canada immediately.

Photo credit: Freedom House on Flickr

MCC Ottawa Office Notebook

This week’s guest writer is Eileen Klassen Hamm, program director for MCC Saskatchewan. The photos were taken by Alison Ralph of MCC Canada during KAIROS’ Time for Reconciliation gathering and the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, May 28 to June 3, 2015.

More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.

More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.    	At the start of the walk, organizers arranged for several notable people to speak, encouraging walkers for reconciliation.RS50673_IMG_2515-scrMore than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.RS50971_IMG_3107-scrJustice Murray Sinclair addresses walkers and those gathered at Marion Dewar Plaza in Ottawa. More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.

More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.    	At the start of the walk, organizers arranged for several notable people to speak, encouraging walkers for reconciliation.I
I am a woman born blind
socialized into a colonial story
with church collusion
was it my sin
or my parents’
but now my eyes
have been washed
with the mud of survivors’ stories
and I am beginning
to see

II
in front of me
sit rows and rows
of survivors
I receive the words
of the commissioners
filtered
through these now old bodies
which carry within them
child bodies
taken
from circles of love
humiliated
abused
buried in unmarked graves
a massive test
for something so small as words
to ring true
Hundreds of people particpated in a mass blanket exercise on the steps of Parliament Hill, lead by members of Kairos. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.through the bodies of children
listening for
acknowledgement
recognition
dignity
love

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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.

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.  http://www.cjpme.org/ActionAlert.aspx?AlertID=121  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 http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC to look up your MP by postal code, and then his/her telephone number. A call…

View original post 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.

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Friends,
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.

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