Monday, 25 November 2013

Beyond Words in Beautiful B.C.

Mile after mile, acres and acres, as far as the eye can see -  such clich├ęs are pitifully weak for the grandness of this western landscape.  Millions of spiky fir trees cover valleys and swarm up mountain slopes, cloaking a vast Canadian wilderness.
It is autumn. Here and there the grey-green forested slopes are lightened by buttery yellow patches of aspen or tamarack, holding onto summer’s sunshine until winter arrives.
Jagged snowy peaks, true skyscrapers, dwarf man-made cement towers, even those named CN or Trump. Each row of these granite giants is backed by other innumerable crags. Mere humans gasp at such magnitude. Our eyes and minds strain to cope with the views, and our spirits soar with joy.

Thousands of narrow waterfalls plunge down impossibly steep mountainsides into rivers that twist their way through narrow gorges. These streams rush and race toward icy lakes and on to the oceans west and north. Here is its source, faithful quencher and cleanser, the watery miracle that keeps us alive.
Seen close up, the rivers’ turquoise waters ripple over sculpted rocky beds; scarlet salmon idle in the current. 
Why turquoise? Why scarlet? Glorious art.

Away from the exhilarating sound of running water, there is different music. In this remote wonderland, small birds chirp, tweet or screech: midnight-blue western Jays, black and white Magpies in their formalwear, tiny round Chickadees all singing. Quails, wearing white clerical collars above their brown tweed vests, coo and cluck, a one-feathered “fascinator” springing hilariously from each head.
Human giggles add to the birdsong.

 And the animals: taupe mountain goats graze in groups, white-tailed deer nervously raise their furry oval ears, casual coyotes trot by in the dusk, and elk loudly clack their antlers, male to male. None of these is tamed; any might be dangerous. Oh, their beauty, their wild life.

Beyond words there is deepest, reverent gratitude.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Shouting Out Truth

On a chilly November day I stood with a large crowd in front of a stage near Toronto City Hall, listening to speeches about the wilful failings of our current mayor. 
He admits to having bought illegal drugs. He sometimes shows up drunk at his workplace and in public places.  He casually flings slurs and swearwords at various groups of people and refuses to consider any opinions that do not mesh with his own. Despite urgings by his municipal colleagues and  his friends, he denies that he needs to take time off for addiction treatment and stubbornly refuses to step aside from his position of city leadership. He cannot see that he is hurting the very community he claims to love.

As we heard such truth spoken at the downtown rally, we applauded, cheered, booed, and cried out “Shame!” Drummers added to the noisy protest. When the speeches ended, as one body we spontaneously turned away from the stage and slowly walked toward the front doors of City Hall where dutiful police waited for us behind metal barriers. Contrary to one media report, we did not “storm” City Hall. I know. I was there. It’s a good reminder that what the media report is not always exactly accurate. ;-o 

At this protest there were no violent infiltrators so we law-abiding (unlike our mayor) but frustrated Torontonians stood as close to the government building as allowed, yelling at the top of our lungs. We wanted Rob Ford to give up his position as mayor of our city. Subsequently the huge majority of City Council passed an official recommendation that the mayor step down from his office. Neither they nor we have any power to force Mr. Ford to leave. And he still refuses. So what's the point?

Many scoff at all such protests. If you can’t force change, why waste your energy parading and shouting? Many look down their noses at the “Occupy Movement” and “Take Back the Night’s” annual march, seeing such public displays as utterly useless. What good does it do? What effect do such brief demonstrations have?

It occurred to me that many would say the same about church services and other worship gatherings. What good does it do getting together to listen to yet another sermon telling us that there is a transcendant and loving Someone beyond human kind; that we are called to love our enemies; that Jesus welcomed the broken and lost, saving his criticism for show-offs? What good does it do to sing and pray words like “Your will be done on earth” or “Oh God, our help in ages past, our hope in years to come”? 

Like our attendance at church gatherings, joining such non-violent protests first of all reminds us about our personal values and our goals in life. 
Secondly it provides a chance to publicly express our refusal to conform. We reject our culture's priorities of greed, coercion, and selfishness. When I am part of a crowd shouting, “Hey Mister, Mister, get your hands off my sister!” or “Whose streets? Our streets!” or “Rob Ford has got to go!”, I am calling aloud what I believe to be truth. 
Thirdly, when we join others who are like-minded, we see that we are companions on the slow journey to peace and justice. 
Instead of muttering alone at home, by participating, I am helping to fight feelings of despair and powerlessness in myself and in others. When the gathering ends, I leave feeling stronger and more hopeful about taking my next small, practical step for change, instead of giving up. Maybe spectators, as well, will find new motivation for positive action.

Dear Reader, I invite you to join me. In one way or another, shout it out!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Remembrance Day used to delight me as a child, with its pageantry and solemn rituals. I especially liked the dramatic moment of silence, and if it was followed by a trumpet’s lament, even better. 
Even in shopping malls, at 11:00, on 11/11, shoppers stopped in their tracks as a reverent hush fell over the crowd. 

When I was young there were still many WWII veterans we could hear tell about the monumental battles to keep Germany from taking over all of Europe. We listened to Jewish survivors of the holocaust and trembled at the horrors. 

Slowly those generations began to disappear and by the late1960’s Vietnam’s mess turned the idea of heroic battles on its head. In the decades since, I, like you, have seen TV reports of war, after war, after bloody war, until a sense of futility has usurped any drama or glory.

Millions now live amid dangerous conflicts, whether tribal in Sudan, religious in India, or political in Syria. Here in Canada, I find it hard to even respect the military, let alone glorify it on Remembrance Day. In fact, whereas uniforms used to impress me, now, having encountered riot police during the G20 in Toronto, those insignia make me shudder. 

I used to hear stories about Canadian soldiers putting themselves between warring factions and felt so lucky to be born into a country whose army brought peace instead of war.  Now guns are appearing in my own city and our politicians think that more police with guns and taser weapons will solve the problem. 

Surely we must each do our part to turn this tide.
Let us make Remembrance Day a day to honour peacemakers. 

Let us remember that wars sprout from a lustful greed for power. 
Let us remember that violent opposition should be only a desperate last resort when all other options have been tried. 
Let us remember Christ’s radical alternative to war: “Love your enemy and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6)

How different life would be if we chose this way, instead of posting nasty comments on blogs, cursing anyone who gets in our way, despising those who disagree with us, taking revenge when we’re cheated, or caring about only our own.

Let us remember Ephesians 2:
Jesus has abolished [religious] law with its commandments, so that he might create in himself a new humanity in place of [warring factions],
thus making peace
and so that he might reconcile [all] groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death hostility through it. 
So Jesus came 
and proclaimed peace to those who were far off 
and peace to those who were near, 
for through him we all have access in one Spirit to God the Father/Mother. 

Let us remember God’s promise to humanity: Micah 4 
In days to come…many peoples shall say,
“Come, let us go…to the house of the [one] God;
that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” 
God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. 
Come, let us walk in the light of God!

May it be so.