Monday, June 25, 2012

Rainmaker, Sunmaker

This morning, the sun is shining on everyone . . . in Rosthern, at least

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5: 44-46)

Interpretation, elucidation, discernment. Wrestling the true, intended meaning from a text.

The above passage quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount may seem simple at first reading. I’m not sure, though, that I’ve ever discerned its full intent, especially if I consider what “loving your enemies” does to the meaning of the words love and enemies

Unfortunately, furthermore, I can’t think of anyone in this world that is truly my enemy. Perhaps if I was a Christian living in Darfur, Nigeria, South Sudan or Egypt, or a Muslim in New York City, it might not be so hard to think about an enemy to love and pray for.
The temptation, therefore, is to apply it to someone else, not to me.

And what about context? How would the first hearers of this difficult passage comprehend it? How would Jesus have said it if he had been preaching to us . . . today?

And what is this about rewards? Is it for the achieving of rewards that one loves? That can’t be the intended message, can it?

And since we don’t have the tax collectors mentioned here as symbols of the dregs of our communities, what career choice would render the same meaning? Drug dealer? Prostitute?

There are plenty of excuses available to render this passage incomprehensible or impossible to apply.

Try on these two possible images of the gospel for size:
1)    The world is a sea. The gospel is a life boat. We are all drowning except that some have been pulled into the lifeboat and their task now is to pull as many as are willing into the lifeboat with them; to save them, in other words.
2)    The world is a sea. All of humanity is in a ship on this dangerous ocean. Some are “chosen” to be the crew on this ship, their task to enable everyone to reach the destination safely, although some go too near the rail and are washed overboard, some jump and others are saboteurs, but the “chosen” do what they can to guide humanity to the safety of the harbour.

Implied in the metaphor of “thinking as children of the creator” is a hurdle that’s understandably difficult for us to spring over, namely the blessing of the “righteous” and the “unrighteous,” the “good” and the “evil:” indiscriminately. It seems to point toward the second example above: we’re all in the same boat.

Or is this pushing the metaphor beyond what was intended?

It may seem at times that the Creator could better meet the objective of a safe harbour for all his children by raining selectively on only the righteous; that way the unrighteous would see their errors, their “evil” deeds would not bring them prosperity and they would change their ways. But every farmer knows (this is actually an agricultural metaphor) that where and when the rain falls is not influenced by the “righteousness” or “unrighteousness” of the region in question; it works on a model of indifference in that regard, apparently.

Without going too far afield into the conflicting notions of how much or how little the Creator actually interferes in the chaotic circumstances of our lives, in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, at least, we are meant to see creation as more than us versus them. If us versus them is the way we choose to see the world, then we are obviously harrowing its people with a finer-toothed harrow than the Creator him/herself. At least as regards sun and rain.

If you and I had control of where and when it rains, where and when the sun shines, what principles would govern OUR choices?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Walking the wires: high and low

A wire, yes, but not a high wire
Why would anyone want to write a book? Maybe the question belongs in the same drawer as the ones we chatted about the other day (I and my chicken friends who get vertigo tying our shoes). Questions like "Why would anyone willingly jump from an airplane," or, "Why would anyone walk from the USA to Canada on a high wire strung over Niagara Falls?" A friend and I discussed this on the street the other day. He's authored ten books, good books although fitting into niche markets. I think we concluded that if we worked hard and saved our money, we could probably each afford to write another one.

Ah yes. We carry impulses that are not easily explained! If writing didn't satisfy some need in me, I certainly wouldn't have written these lines and you wouldn't be reading them. At the same time, I can't think of any hunger that tying wings on my arms and jumping off a mountain would begin to feed.

There are, of course, some impulses that are more commonly held. S_x, for instance. And, of course, the hunger that causes us to salivate at the sight of money, the love of which is said to be the compost in which evil so readily takes root. Many take satisfaction in order, in military stuff, in art, in music, in old things or new things or things generally. A man interviewed on TV the other day

. . . runs. Marathon after marathon. Jerking along on knobby, aging legs, he has plans for running a few dozen more this year.

The world is in crisis: Europe, Libya, Syria, Africa, America--need I say more. I just got well into John Ralston Saul's The Unconscious Civilization, a book some might consider as prophetic for our times as Isaiah's was for his. It chronicles the emasculation of the citizenry of Western democracies by corporatism; it's an enlightening read. What it doesn't do, though, is explore the source of the greed and the appetite for power behind the destructive, compulsive behaviour patterns that have the potential for destroying economies, environments for healthy living, the fabric that holds together functional societies. It's not good enough to proclaim that "it's greed, of course!" Greed itself is not a cause, but a symptom.

Over time we've gradually been seating biological, anthropological, psychological explanations in the chair where the devil used to sit enshrined. Now we smile ironically when we say, "the devil made me do it." Seems to me if the root cause of engrained, compulsive-impulsive behaviours is ever authentically isolated, the remedies will be found to lie with parenting, teaching and a warmer embrace in the arms of truly functional families and communities.

But please, don't find a cure before I finish this novel that nobody wants to read!

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Message from the Leader of the Opposition

Surveying the prairies ca. 1860 Photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives Board.

(Recently, I wrote Thomas Mulcair chastising him for the clumsy way in which he introduced the subject of "Dutch Disease" into the Canadian dialogue and informing him that if he meant to garner votes in the East by playing on Ontario suspicions of Alberta, I would have to reconsider my support. He responded to me as follows below; I'm flattered that he did, although this may well be a form letter sent out to a bunch of people who had problems with the way that unfolded here in the west.)

" [George];
Thank you for writing. I welcome this opportunity for an open exchange on how best to develop our natural resources.

As you may know, I recently did a western tour that included key stops in all three Prairie provinces. This included a tour of the bitumen sands operations and a discussion of oil sands development with the Deputy Premier of Alberta and the Mayor of Fort McMurray.

Whether in Yellowknife, Red Deer, or Miramichi, I have been clear about my intentions to work with all those - across the country - who support a vision of long-term, sustainable development that will create wealth and prosperity for generations to come. My focus is on the Harper government's failure to make polluters pay and on the serious consequences for our environment and our economy.

Further, there is a growing body of research supporting the claim that the failure to make polluters pay is having a negative impact on our economy. One report sponsored by Industry Canada says that - at least - one third of job losses in the manufacturing sector were caused by Canada's artificially high currency. You can read it here:

Another report, Overview of the Economic Survey of Canada, by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found that the run-up in commodity prices is leading to an uneven economy in Canada. It goes on to say that Canada needs to do more to develop non-resource sectors of the economy. Read more here: (,3746,en_2649_34111_50538526_1_1_1_1,00.html).

Further, the NDP is proposing a balanced strategy for our natural resources that would include:
(1) the need for a made-for-Canada energy strategy that prioritizes the interests of Canadians;
(2) the protection of quality, value-added jobs in the refining sector;
(3) the need to ensure sustainable energy security in all parts of the country; and,
(4) the importance of responsible, sustainable resource development and a robust environmental assessment process.

In a recent Regina Star Phoenix article, economist Eric Weir said that this is a "balanced approach to resource development that would generate more public revenue, a more competitive exchange rate, and more manufacturing jobs."

Once again, I appreciate having this opportunity to address your concerns on this very important challenge facing our country.

All the best,

Thomas Mulcair, M.P. (Outremont)
Leader of the Official Opposition
New Democratic Party of Canada

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You give that thing back, or else!

Lake of the Woods country

Western Newfoundland country
Note: Most of you are readers, so you might be interested in a new blog I've started. See the note in the right-hand column.
With Bruno Klassen's permission, I'm publishing his letter to me in response to the last blog -- as my first "guest blogger." (Others are welcome to submit, of course). Bruno has gone from retail grocer in Rosthern to other pursuits in the last decade or so and his comments are recollections of incidents of "petty crime" in his store. Restitution is often a sore point and largely unresolved. Levitical law said that if a man killed another man's son, he was obliged to give his own son to that man in restitution. But let's let Bruno tell us about more modern times from his perspective.
A topic [crime and punishment] was
quite important to met at one time. One of the objects of sentencing that seems to be ignored is restitution. After twenty five years of trying to nab a very skilled, known thief, I finally did catch him and for all my trouble, he paid a $50 fine and I got nothing. I apprehended a thief that had stolen a dress from me, the dress was taken as evidence, returned to me two years later, and there was no restitution.
    I'm not an advocate of imprisonment, but I am an advocate of dealing with crime. I recall making an effort to help a disadvantaged shoplifter and when I mentioned this to the police, they advised that this not be put in the report because the courts frowned on the perpetrator and victim dealing with each other. (Italics mine, ge.)
   I used to try to be "redemptive" by not charging shoplifters, but it became apparent that in many cases the only way to make people face up to their problem was to charge them. There are people whom I did not have charged, and regret it to this day because they have never faced up to their issues.
  Two things did work well. One was offering a shoplifter the chance to make restitution. The first case [I recall] was a known thief, and when given the chance to make restitution brought in $1000. (The lawyer said it was not blackmail, but compensation for stolen goods!?) Our relationship was maintained, and he continued to shop - but hopefully not lift!
   The other was a lifter who was known to have stolen at several businesses and I caught her at our store. I decided to have her charged so she would have to face up to her problems. She had a "sentencing circle" arranged at which her family, the other businesses, her pastor and several friends attended. It was good for all involved.
   I recall a man who stole cookies from the store and was finally turned in by his wife: "I don't care if you put him in jail, I want it stopped!" We caught him and when I asked how long he had lived in town, he said 8 years. We calculated that to be about 2400
business days so he would have stolen 2400 cookies over the years. To his shock this came to several hundred dollars, but I loved his first line of defense, "Some stormy days I couldn't come in!"


Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jails, Gaols and Healing Lodges

Sky, sea, land - nature's lesson in harmony

Harmony in small things
A visit to the Willow Cree Healing Lodge on the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation got me thinking again about the three legs of sentencing: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence. Typically, these are given as the three primary goals of punishment for crime.
·        Retribution: “You do the crime, you’ll do the time.” “An eye for an eye . . . “
·        Rehabilitation: “We’ll make a better, law-abiding person of you.”
·        Deterrence: “We’re making an example of you so others won’t make the same mistakes.”
Of course, we use other terms as well.
·        Penitentiary is one whose root—penitent—Oxford defines as “feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong.” Ostensibly, this could align with rehabilitation, particularly under the Christian concept that penitence must precede rebirth.
·        Then there’s jail, or gaol, whose origin is given by Oxford as “Middle English: based on L. cavea (see cage); the word came into Engl. in two forms, jaiole from OFr. and gayole from Anglo-Norman Fr. gaole (surviving in the spelling gaol).” If you drive Highway 1 to Winnipeg from Regina, you’ll pass a sign that points to “Headingly Gaol.” The word is related to cage; an interesting association very much in line with retribution.
·        Correctional Facility is a euphemism, a term that softens impact, like “passing away” serves as a euphemism for “dying.” The term also serves to emphasize the rehabilitation goal of incarceration.There's a mile of semantic difference, though, between correction and healing.
·        Prison conjures images of cages, like jail or gaol.
·        There is any number of pejoratives, some harking back to the Wild, Wild West, Like hoosegow. Slammer, Big House and a host of others spring to mind.
·        And then there’s Healing Lodge, a term that diverges radically from the traditional and the typical, and leads us to see the rehabilitation goal most emphatically.

I find the interplay between cultural practices and values and the words we use to talk about them fascinating. What major change in cultural values would have to take place before we would begin calling the Prince Albert Penitentiary the Prince Albert Healing Lodge?
As I understand it, the concept of the healing lodge emanates from the First Nations value of harmony among all aspects of being. Defined in one study, “healing is ultimately about the reparation of damaged and disordered social relations. The individual, through outwardly and self-destructive behaviours, has become disconnected from family, friends, community, and even his or her heritage. The reason for undertaking healing is often found in the clients’ desire to make amends and to be accepted back into the web of relationships. Healing, then, speaks to a form of Aboriginal sociality that reduces the degree of self-indulgence and self-pity and frames one’s problems and the solutions in broader, collective terms.” (
               Victims of crime can hardly be faulted if, in their bitterness, they can only visualize justice as served if the perpetrator is made to feel suffering to a similar degree that they are suffering. But surely the goal for a national justice system can’t be focused just on making sure retribution happens. Prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration have been undervalued and I would hope that all the efforts made by those who work at restorative justice will eventually produce a vibrant cultural value affecting how our justice system sets goals.
               May all our gaols finally have healing lodges attached.