Sunday, August 26, 2012


A gift in honour of our fiftieth . . .Thank you, Zachariases

Another great tomato year!

What much boils down to is this: do we as a global village think long term, or short? 
            CBC's The National showed a computer-generated animation last night that condensed the time required for matter to coalesce into present galaxies after the Big Bang; 13,750,000,000 earth-years of cosmic activity in a one-minute video animation.
            I'm not talking about that kind of long term.
            A year ago, Jack Layton died and the country mourned the passing of a man who was to become a legend. In a matter of mere weeks this robust, energetic man was overtaken and defeated by a particularly aggressive cancer.
            I'm not talking about that kind of short term.
            My point is modest in comparison to these two examples: can we visualize the results of today's choices for our descendants 100, 300 or 500 years from now? And if we can, can we also find the courage and energy to act decisively in the interest of a future beyond our own? 150 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay called “Compensation” in which he pointed out—speculatively—that everything we do has a compensatory opposite. This is not news: the pleasure of smoking tobacco is paid for in diminished health; the ability to drive here and there in a car is paid for in pollution, etc.  
            One of the tragedies of our day is the degree to which the major exploiters of nature's largesse are passing the compensations on to others, present and future.
            And another tragedy is the ease with which the public (some of the ones who will pay for the exploitation) are bought off. Stephen Harper's recent tour of the Arctic was primarily in support of the exploitative extraction of wealth; the public was diverted from the obvious compensations this would require with a national park announcement (albeit with a big chunk of the recommended area excluded for future mineral extraction reasons) and—of all things—a government-sponsored push to find the sunken ships of the ill-fated Franklin expedition. Thrown in was that other Canadian shibboleth: sovereignty over the Northwest Passage and the polar seas and islands.
            The Arctic and its people pay an inordinately high compensation for wealth extraction in that fragile environment. We know this, but some of us just don't give a damn. Summarize that with an obscene quote from Kevin O'Leary in a promo for the CBC's “The Lang-O'Leary Exchange:” I'm happy to be a communist if I can make a buck! Reminds me of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9:22 (NIV): “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some make a buck!”
(Shame on CBC for opting for showmanship instead of objective honesty . . . again!)
            But to end on a less pessimistic note: Wednesday night we got our weekly basket of produce from a small, local market garden. It was a heaping cornucopia of potatoes, tomatoes, celery, beans, cabbage, beets, Kale, carrots, and turnips, all raised “by hand” without the crap that commercial food production is required to add to make it transportable.
            Compensations for our gardener friends’ modest living? A great deal of hard work under a Saskatchewan sky, I guess. But for us, the taste alone is reward enough for the extra washing, preserving, etc. And the ecological footprint for feeding us is small indeed!
            I wonder where Stephen Harper, Brad Wall, Vic Toews, John Baird, etc.—the ones in charge of our economies currently—get their vegetables? Not on King William Island, for certain.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On bylaws, creeds, confessions and handbooks

In Agnes' Garden.
A charitable organization operates under strict federal and provincial laws which must be satisfied if it's to maintain its charitable standing (I can already see you yawning). Underneath these imposed laws, it generally creates bylaws and a procedural handbook, partly to ensure that the provincial and federal laws are satisfied from generation to generation of boards and partly just to make it easier for newcomers to leadership to understand the history of “the way things have been done up to now.” That's simplified but will have to do for today's purposes.
    Although I've never heard it in this way before, I think it's a usable analogy to the writing of creeds, confessions of faith, even the hymns and sermons in our churches. Historically, the Holy Bible has been the federal/provincial “law” that over-arches common faith and practice; creeds and confessions have been the bylaws that have sought to regularize their application and the hymns and sermons are, let's say, handbook material.
    One would think that if the over-arching “law” remains the same, the subsidiaries should also be static, but in the case of a charitable organization, almost every membership meeting includes tinkering with bylaws, and handbook directives are even more fluid.
    Without stretching the analogy too far, can creeds and confessions also be seen to be tentative and subject to amendment, not because the “law” changes necessarily, but because the understanding of the “law” changes in response to scholarship and the passage of time? It's no surprise that since they are interpretive of the Bible itself, they carry the aura of sacredness and their rethinking is undertaken only reluctantly and with appropriate gravity. But clearly, whatever view we take of the inspiration of scripture, creeds and confessions are man-made.
    Let's go back to bylaws and handbooks for a moment. My experience has been that occasions arise—and not infrequently—when it just seems right to take an action even though it's not prescribed or sanctioned by the “rules” we drafted last year, and so we break (or bend) them to fit what seems right at present.  History has shown that the sky doesn't fall at the circumventing of a “rule,” say, to hold the annual meeting in February when bylaws specify January.
    Does the same apply to confessions and creeds?
    There's a case study on the horizon for many churches. The law of the land allows for same-sex marriage; if the Confession of Faith of a certain church says that God has ordained that marriage is a union between one man and one woman and the license to perform marriages is granted or withheld by the state, and a loving gay couple asks to be married in a church, what's a pastor to do? (That's a rhetorical question; the answer is already proving to be different from denomination to denomination, from congregation to congregation.)
    Typically, the circumventing of a bylaw or handbook provision draws protests from those who take comfort in rules, especially written ones. “You can't do that; it's not in the bylaws,” is a typical response and the protestors have a version of right on their side: if you don't follow your own rules, why write them in the first place?!?
    One answer to that is that we draft creeds, bylaws, confessions to slow down change, to prevent precipitous adaptations that might incrementally draw us away from our goals and mission, or put us in opposition to the over-arching law of the governing body—the Bible in the case of the church. Another answer is that the slavish adherence to rules set at a given time is retrograde to progress; every bylaw, handbook, creed and confession is, in effect, an anachronism—a thing out of its time—precisely because it was written for a day that is not now.
    Critical to the change vs. stability tension is not so much the question of what precisely we believe on a subject (like same-sex marriage, let's say) as is the approach by which we contemplate, debate and decide what action we will (or will not) take together. The adversarial system in which we live has pervaded every facet of our lives; typically, we fore-go real, discerning debate and go straight to picking sides and working to see that our side wins. Or we keep silent on tense issues in order to preserve unity. Neither approach is salutary in the long run.
    Ideally, when pressures of one kind or another suggest a possible “bylaw” change, a process of consideration should exist to guide us; would the person who can teach how this is done well please step forward.
    The analogy breaks down, of course, as all analogies do if stretched too far. The law of the land changes with time; the Bible is “written in stone,” for all intents and purposes. The strain on scholarship and “interpretation for our time and situation” has caused some of the tensions we're experiencing right now; unable to anticipate any adaptations in The Book, we must decide if same-sex marriage, for instance, is retrograde-to or supportive-of the spirit of the will of God, which is clearly to rescue people from the tentacles of evil and to restore creation to an Eden-like harmony.

    At least, that's my understanding . . . today.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Number 18

Beware the Castor Bean
Andrew Kooman titled his play, She has a Name, an odd name until you realize early on that the subject of the play—a fifteen year-old prostitute in a brothel in Bangkok—has for five years known herself only as “Number 18.” 
   Burnt Thicket Theatre in conjuction with Raise Their Voice is on the road this summer, travelling the Fringe circuit and stopping over at other venues where possible to present a message through Kooman's play: "The trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide."
    The play was read by the actors at Ebenezer Baptist on Monday night; it was a one-performance stop so a full staging was likely impossible. Even so, a superb cast told the story of Number 18 and the aid workers who try to save her with such passion that it hardly mattered.
    A business? Really? Doesn't a business imply entrepreneurs? shareholders? managers? capital? consumer/customers? Well, actually, the play presents a set of characters who are most of the above except—and I wondered about this—the North American or European customer who will pay big money to rape a child, double if he's the first. There's the pimp who is Number 18's ruthless owner; the Madam who is the perverted foreman, and hovering just offstage are the police who are silent-partner shareholders, their silence their investment, the pay-offs their dividend cheques. 
    As I understand it, the business plan goes something like this: find a destitute widow with children but no means to support them, entice her to sell one of them for an amount that would be a pittance to many but seems like salvation to her, take the child to Bangkok or Phnom Penh and offer her for rent to the tourists crowding the street in the brothel areas. Chances are the price will cover both her purchase and transportation, and renting her out thereafter will be clear profit.
    Director Stephen Waldschmidt writes in the program: “[I want] my two little boys to grow up in a world where men are not conditioned to demand access to the bodies of women and children, [and] for the name, Number 18 . . . to resound in the ears of every girl on earth.”
    At the very root of the sex-slave horror is the little boy in the first world who may become an enabling customer when he grows up . . . with the means to purchase whatever he desires. Waldschmidt's emphasis is correct; the means to the end he seeks, though, remains as elusive as it ever was.
    There are a number of NGOs working on the rescue or recovery of these exploited women and children. Raise Their Voice ( and A Better World ( are partners in these efforts, and Ratanak Internationl ( is “a registered Canadian charity working on the front lines in Cambodia to rescue and rehabilitate children sold into slavery.”
    Maybe you and I can begin to help by checking out their websites and giving their work a boost. If you know of other ways to help in combating the atrocities of sex slavery, let me know and I'll post your information. Send a note to
    She has a Name is at the Calgary Fringe August 3 – 11, in Victoria August 24 to September 3, in Kelowna from September 18 – 21, in Edmonton from September 25 – 30 and in Red Deer from October 2 – 6. Unfortunately for those of you in Manitoba and east, that part of their tour is done.