Friday, February 17, 2017

Those Who Make America Great

Vietnamese boat people are pictured in an undated photo. A California Salesian priest who as a child was among refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat after the fall of Saigon recently wrote an open letter President Donald Trump offering to swap his own citizenship with a refugee from one of the Muslim-majority countries subject to Trump's travel ban. (CNS photo/Wikipedia)

Yesterday's hastily called press conference reminded us all of how unhinged President Trump of the United States is. He rambled and bullied, and raved, insisting along the way that he wasn't doing any of this. He offered the threat that another draconian executive order was on the way, and god knows who this one will affect.

In the midst of the mayhem it was meaningful to read about the action of a Catholic priest who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Vietnam as a youth. Many of us recall the Vietnamese "boat people" who were welcomed in Canada and the United States during the 1970s.

This Vietnamese refugee, Father Chuong Hoai Nguyen, has written to President Trump offering to surrender his American citizenship so that Trump could confer it on a Syrian refugee who would be barred under the president’s controversial order banning travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. He is even going to ask his religious superiors for permission to go live and work in one of the seven countries on the banned list.
In his letter to Trump he observed “I am an American and I have made America great in my own way for the 42 years since I was granted asylum in this great country. But now, I would like to relinquish my U.S. citizenship and ask that you grant it to a Syrian refugee."

I doubt any of us anticipate an empathetic, heart-felt response from the emperor...I mean the president. He seems incapable of genuine concern for others. But this is a powerful gesture and a reminder of what refugees and immigrants can contribute to the life of any nation.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Quiet Generosity

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“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

                                                                                                 Matthew 6:1-4 (NRSV)

Tycoon Mike Ilitch  died recently, and all I knew about him was that he built a business empire on Little Caesar's pizza. This allowed him to purchase both the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the Red Wings hockey team. Some team owners are self-aggrandizing meddlers but Ilitch was considered a model of successful ownership. Both teams had significant moments in the sun under Ilitch.

I'm even more impressed by the story which has emerged in the past few days about Ilitch's quiet generosity toward an icon of the civil rights movement in the United States.

(CNN)Those who knew Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers owner who died last Friday, have spent the past few days fondly remembering his impact on friends, on Detroit residents, and on the sports community.Ilitch also had an impact on the daily life of one of the most iconic figures from the civil rights movement.For more than a decade, Ilitch had quietly paid for Rosa Parks' apartment in downtown Detroit.
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Of course, as a multi-billionaire Ilitch could well afford this kindness, but it is the fact that he did this without expecting recognition is impressive. We've been spending time in the Sermon on the Mount these past few weeks and a passage we won't hear is Jesus teaching about keeping generosity discreet.

I have no idea whether Ilitch knew this passage, or whether he had any religious convictions, but he seems to have received the memo on authentic generosity.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sanctuary on a Cold Border

As dozens of clergy people stood behind JaNae' Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director of ISAIAH, as she announced 13 churches that have committed to being sanctuary and supporting congregations committed to protecting people who are in danger of deportation. Photographed at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, in St. Paul, Minn.
We've heard that frightened refugees and asylum seekers in the United States are fleeing the country to Canada and often crossing the border on foot. Doing so in the dead of winter is foolhardy and illegal but they fear being deported by the Trump government to their countries of origin where danger awaits. The federal government's ban on entry for those from seven countries has created wider chaos and uncertainty which has led to this panic. Some have lost fingers and toes to frostbite.

Social services in small border towns are overwhelmed by the challenge of providing adequate food and shelter. On the American side agencies are also scrambling to provide support to those who are considering the frigid walk to what the asylum seekers hope will be freedom. Churches in Minnesota are stepping up to be places of refuge and comfort under the auspices of a justice coalition called ISAIAH. Here is a report from a Minneapolis newspaper about what is unfolding:

Clergy from more than 30 congregations in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota vowed Tuesday to shelter immigrants facing deportation or to support other churches that do. Church leaders said they are forming a new network of sanctuary places of worship in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to step up deportations when he takes office in January. Organizers with the group ISAIAH said 13 churches have committed to shelter and feed immigrants in defiance of immigration authorities. About 20 additional congregations will provide financial and other support. “We will not let politics come before the sacredness of people,” said JaNae’ Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director for ISAIAH. “As a human being, you are sacred so you should be safe in our sacred space.”

I'm grateful that these Christians are going against the tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia in the U.S. Have you heard about this sanctuary movement? Does it encourage you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sinful Sixties Scoop

Marcia Brown Martel was removed from her family's home at Beaver House, near Kirkland Lake, when she was 4 -- one of thousands of indigenous children to be taken from their homes in what  is known as the Sixties Scoop. She is part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government, arguing Ottawa robbed them of their cultural identities.

I have been waiting this morning to hear the outcome of a class action law suit involving the Canadian government's program of removing aboriginal children from their homes and placing them with non-aboriginal families. This was different than the cultural genocide of the Residential Schools yet the "Sixties Scoop" was devastating in its own right.

A decision in favour of the plaintiffs has been reached which will affect thousands who were the children cruelly apprehended in the manner, but the person who was the lead plaintiff  is Marcia Brown Martel. I heard her interviewed this morning and it was heartbreaking. In 1967 she was removed from her parents and extended family at the age of four and placed with a non-aboriginal foster family which did not speak her language, the first of several. She was  nicknamed "Sad Sack" because of her downcast demeanour.

Sixties Scoop, Adopt Indian Metis program

She returned to the Beaverhouse First Nation near Kirkland Lake at eighteen, and is now a chief, which is a statement about her strength of character. Today she is celebrating the vindication which this judgement represents. Here is a portion of the CBC News coverage of the outcome:

Canada failed to take reasonable steps to prevent thousands of on-reserve children who were placed with non-Indigenous families from losing their Indigenous heritage during the Sixties Scoop, an Ontario judge ruled Tuesday.The ruling in the long-running and bitterly fought class action paves the way for an assessment of damages the government will now have to pay.In siding with the plaintiffs, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba found Canada had breached its "duty of care" to the children.

The lawsuit launched eight years ago sought $1.3 billion on behalf of about 16,000 Indigenous children in Ontario who claimed they were harmed by being placed in non-Indigenous homes from 1965 to 1984 under terms of a federal-provincial agreement.The plaintiffs argued — and Belobaba agreed — that Ottawa breached part of the agreement that required consultation with First Nations bands about the child welfare program. Belobaba was scathing in commenting on the government's contention that consultation with the bands would not have made any difference to the children.

As Canadians we can solemnly give thanks for this decision, realizing that it should never have been necessary. As members of a Christian denomination which was part of the overall travesty of  removal through the Residential Schools it can serve as a reminder that the work of Truth and Reconciliation is far from over.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bible History

 Artist renderings of the exterior of the Museum of the Bible set to open  in November in Washington, D.C.

If I visit the States during the reign of Emperor Trump (I'm reluctant to do so) the trip will likely include time with extended family in Maryland. That would give me the opportunity to take in two museums in Washington DC. One is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which all reports say is spectacular.

The other is the privately funded Museum of the Bible which is the baby of Steve Green, an evangelical Christian and president of Hobby Lobby, an American arts and crafts retailer that boasts $4 billion in annual sales. Green has amassed one of the most comprehensive private collections of Biblical artifacts at 40,000 pieces. The museum alone will cost a staggering $660 million.

I have mixed feelings about this one. You might recall that I wrote about the museum some time ago and mentioned that a noted biblical scholar is overseeing the collection, which is good. I'm pleased that a visit would not frustrate me because of the touting of a particular theological approach. But I'm not impressed with the legal battle Hobby Lobby engaged in over paying for contraception as part of the health care package offered to employees. The company successfully argued that because it is owned by the Green family it could be exempted from this requirement on the grounds of freedom of religion. Do I really want to support an institution funded by a company and it's owner which has taken this stand?

Mind you, how else would I get to see one of Elvis' bibles? Actually, there are many items and exhibits I would appreciate viewing when the museum opens in November. There is also a Babe Ruth bible, although with his reputation he may have been like WC Fields on his death bed, searching for loopholes.

A Gutenberg Bible fragment, containing the complete epistle of Paul to the Romans, in Latin, from Mainz, Germany, ca. 1454. Printed by Johannes Gutenberg and Johann Fust.

Would you be inclined to visit the Museum of the Bible? Does the bible still matter for you historically and/or devotionally?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Limits to Forgiveness?

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Most of us are aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which crossed Canada listening to the powerful and often tragic stories of those affected by the Residential Schools. The schools were run by the federal government and different denominations, including the United Church. Too often the schools perpetrated cultural genocide and many children were subjected to terrible emotional and physical abuse.

We are less likely to have heard about the abuses at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. It was established in the 1920s at a time when black children were not allowed in orphanages for white kids. Oh, Canada.

In 2014 the Nova Scotia government issued an apology, settled a class action lawsuit with former residents, and set an inquiry in motion.

This restorative justice inquiry is now underway but many former residents of the school want nothing to do with it. "Some people just feel that no matter what you say, no matter what you do, you can never ever replace that pain. I don't forgive you. I hate you. That's just the way some people are," said Tony Smith, inquiry council co-chair.

We would hope that there are opportunities for reconciliation with those who have been wronged, yet we must realize that we can never orchestrate or impose forgiveness or reconciliation. Unfortunately we want happy endings, and over time religions have, at times, created unfair and na├»ve expectations of forgiveness. Yes, God's forgiveness in Christ is at the heart of the gospel. No, we cannot insist on particular timelines or outcomes. We can only pray that the grace of God is at work in the uncertain realities of remorse, restitution, and reconciliation.

One of the many books waiting for my attention (retirement?) is The Limits of Forgiveness
Case Studies in the Distortion of a Biblical Ideal by Maria Mayo. This is a thought-provoking description of its contents:

Maria Mayo questions the contemporary idealization of unconditional forgiveness in three areas of contemporary life: so-called Victim-Offender Mediation involving cases of criminal injury, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, and the pastoral care of victims of domestic violence. In each area, she shows how an emphasis on unilateral and unconditional forgiveness is often presented as a Christian (and Christlike) obligation, putting disproportionate pressure on the victims of injustice or violence.

What do you think about the various commissions and inquiries in Canada? Do you understand the challenge of forgiveness for those who were wronged? Do you struggle with forgiveness in your life? Has it been freeing to forgive, or does it seem like a burdensome obligation of our Christian faith?

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Good Samaritans and Refugees

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This afternoon there will be a meeting at Bridge St. of those interested in participating in the support teams for the two Syrian households soon to arrive in Belleville. They are coming under the auspices of the multi-denominational and multi-faith coalition which made the commitment to sponsor a total of twenty-three members of one extended family living in Lebanese refugee camps. With the arrival of this family of five and the two grandparents all 23 will be safely in Canada, something of a miracle which has involved relentless work on the part of a dedicated group of caring sponsors.

Of course all this has happened with the blessing of the Canadian government and is perfectly legal. What if this was not the case? What if the government had discouraged family reunification and we had felt compelled to act in a clandestine manner to bring others after the Al Mansour family arrived in December of 2015?

I've noticed several articles in recent months about people in European countries being prosecuted for helping asylum seekers outside the law, because of their sense of compassion and justice. They have been charged with criminal offences for doing so. Here is one example:

PARIS—It was a split-second decision that would land Pierre-Alain Mannoni in court facing charges normally associated with human trafficking.Returning home from an evening out in La Roya — rugged, mountainous back country near his home in Nice, inland from the Mediterranean Sea — his friends invited him to see an old building appropriated by activists and NGOs. They were using the space to shelter migrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who had crossed the nearby Italian border.
With more than 50 people in the abandoned SNCF railway building, they were running out of space. Mannoni was asked if he could take some people back to Nice for medical care.
“I hesitated because I was working the next day, but when I saw them the answer was clear. Three Eritrean girls appeared. They were all badly injured, one wearing a cast, another could barely walk. They had come by foot. You could see they were cold, frightened and in pain. They needed help.”
They didn’t make it far. Stopped at the highway toll booth, Mannoni was arrested under Article L622-1 of France’s immigration law. It says anyone who “facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of €30,000.” Often referred to as the “crime of solidarity,” the law has been used to prosecute people who support migrants and asylum-seekers.

It's interesting that while these compassionate people are being charged, judges are choosing to either dismiss charges, or refraining from fining them upon conviction.  In a public statement, Mr. Mannoni, said his action was “neither political nor militant, it was simply human; any citizen could have done it, and whether it be for the honor of our motherland, for our dignity as free men, for our values, our beliefs, for love or for compassion, we cannot leave victims to die on our doorsteps."

As a law-abiding guy I wonder to what extent I would go to live out my compassion for refugees and asylum seekers? What about you? And what are your thoughts about these situations in Europe?