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Musings

Donald Trump’s 3 Favourite Bible verses

As you can probably see just in the title of this post, and my spelling of the word ‘favourite’, I am Canadian, and so when I comment on American politics, I do so as an outsider, and that’s fine with me. Also, I feel that as a Christian, my primary allegiance is not to my own government either, and so when I discuss Canadian politics, I do so as an outsider here as well.

Recently, I was fascinated by an interview with front-running American Republican leadership candidate Donald Trump. Shortly before the interview, he had stated that the Bible was his favourite book. Using that as a springboard, the interviewers asked him what his favourite Bible verse was. Instead of answering the question directly, he insisted over and over that he didn’t want to get into it, and that it was very personal to him.

To me, we can take this exchange to mean one of two things. If we take him at face value, we have to presume that he is a man of faith, but that he feels his faith and his politics shouldn’t mix. This is a perspective we’ve heard before, but almost never from leaders within the Republican party. Is Donald Trump advocating the separation of church and state? So far he hasn’t been accused too often of being a liar. To a fault perhaps, he has been branded as a person who fearlessly speaks (what he perceives to be) the truth. So, maybe we need to take him seriously on this one. But, he operates in a political world where there are serious consequences to not knowing at least a little bit about his Bible, and so there exists the possibility that he might be lying. Maybe he has no favourite Bible verses. Maybe, just maybe, he was lying when he said the Bible was his favourite book. For a long time, people have been saying that America could never elect an atheist as president, but maybe Trump is about to prove that it is possible. Maybe.

As I reflected on this though, I wondered what verses he could have chosen. I came up with a few, just in case anyone from his campaign team reads this blog (they don’t) and in case he gets asked this question again (he will).

A verse that might actually inspire him, but he would never say

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42: 10 (ESV)
Isn’t Job his best Biblical parallel? Except, unlike Trump, Job only declared bankruptcy once (granted, he declared it literally, a la Micheal Scott, not legally like Trump) and, unlike the Donald, he only got a new and younger wife once.

A verse that he could have actually used as a joke

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” – 2 Kings 2: 23-24 (NIV)
This would have been incredible. It would have subtly communicated that he knows his Bible, that people should stop making fun of his hair (or lack thereof), and that there is a danger in picking a few verses here and there out of context. This is a tricky passage for sure, but it’s there for us to deal with, just like our politicians.

A verse that would have angered some (and surprised no one)

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” – Matthew 26:11 (ESV)
This is not a favourite verse of social justice minded Christians, understandably so. I see it as a rebuke of Judas’ hypocrisy, the treasurer who would siphon off a little for himself, and a logical statement about the definition of poverty (ie. No matter how much we help the poor, there will always be economic disparity and we will call the people with less ‘poor’). But coming from Trump, it wouldn’t be clear if this was going to inform his economic policy, if he was discrediting the work of charities, or if he was speaking about himself as much as he was quoting Jesus.

Do you have any other suggestions for him?

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Musings

Soccer, an exercise in empathy

As a family grows and ages, there are certain things that are perhaps inevitable that would have seemed strange before, like buying a minivan, shopping at Costco for practical reasons, and sitting in a lawn chair at the park three times a week watching kids play soccer. This is our first year registering our kids in community sports. It was the first year our son was eligible, and I didn’t really think that our daughter who is a few years older would be interested.

Trust me, I know how that sounds. It wouldn’t be the first time I was accused of having stereotypical views of gender roles, and at times I have earned those accusations. I recognize that I may have been working on underlying prejudicial understandings when I didn’t register my daughter in soccer, but at least that wasn’t my intent.

I like to think at least that I am a pretty engaged father. I know my kids. I watched my daughter interact with her friends, and I never really observed competitive instincts, and they would always default to imaginative play, never physical play. I talked to her about school, and the stories she told about phys. ed. class were more often about getting trouble for not paying attention than they were about enjoying the sports. When I would watch sports on TV or in real life, she was never interested, except she had learned that a trip to the arena often included a trip to the concession booth. If I want to motivate her to do a chore or task quicker, it doesn’t work to suggest that it’s a race (I’m not sure what works, but that certainly doesn’t). There are of course other benefits of sports, but my daughter was already getting plenty of social opportunities through school, church and other community stuff. We would usually go for weekly family bike rides through the park, so the athletic component was taken care of as well.

My son on the other hand is constantly jumping off of furniture, bragging about how fast he can run, and walking around the house and our yard with plastic hockey sticks and golf clubs hitting balls, pucks, trees, shins and other assorted toys. He and I wrestle for fun. My wife and I have had to tell him more than once that a headbutt is not an appropriate greeting. Making a race or a game out of a task is a reasonably effective motivator for him. Soccer made sense for him, it seemed.

Fast forward to this past week, and you might understand my confusion. My son happily gets ready, is proud of his new cleats and shin pads (he can share the shin pads with his sister), and he might even run to the playing field, but the drills and the game itself soon outlast his attention span and his energy level. Not only that, but he still doesn’t quite understand certain aspects of the game. At home, we tell him to share, but on the soccer field he is supposed to take the ball away from people, but not from his own teammates. Four year old soccer players rarely pass the ball, but when his team has the ball I tell him to run up and help his team just in case some kid does get that inclination. There was one play in particular this week where he had the ball, and as the other team was collapsing in on him, he kicked the ball really hard, and it hit an opponent on the knee. The other kid wasn’t wearing shin pads, and maybe didn’t have the pain tolerance of other kids that age, but he started crying and got mad at my son. My poor boy was utterly confused. Hadn’t he done what he was supposed to do? Was hurting other kids a part of soccer? If so, he wanted nothing to do with it. Our team had fewer kids that day, and so sometime people had to play back-to-back shifts. He came off after and just wanted me to hold him. This isn’t what I thought soccer would look like.

Leading up to last night’s game, and a few games before that, my daughter had been complaining that all the other girls had scored already, but she hadn’t. Partly it’s because she younger and smaller than the other girls and lacks the speed and technical skill that the others possess. I also told her though that she is a responsible defensive player, and it’s tough to score when you run back to stop the other team from scoring, like you’re supposed to, and other players wait at half for someone to pass them the ball. Last night there was a play where a teammate was running up toward the net on the right hand side. I told Ruby to run up and help her team, even though 6-8 year old girls don’t really pass either. The other girl shot the ball, it bounced off the flexible post and rested in front of the net, and my daughter was there to tap it in. She didn’t really celebrate, except that her teammates all hugged her as they walked back to the sidelines. Other parents too were congratulating her. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen, but I didn’t think that’s what soccer would look like either.

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Musings

Gardening as an exercise in empathy

Unlike the last few years, this spring I planted some seeds. I thought it would help me connect with the land, and maybe it has and will continue to do, but I’ve already been surprised by how well it has connected me with other people and their stories.
I planted my seeds in what not so long ago was the territory of the Blackfoot people. As nomads, they relied far more on what grew naturally on the land than on what they had planted themselves. I’m not suggesting that the development of agrarian societies wasn’t good and/or necessary, but it does seem to represent a time when people switched from trusting the land and its Creator to relying on their own hard work and planning. I was trusting my seeds to the soil and its natural processes, but perhaps some people who had walked this land before me had demonstrated a greater level of faithfulness.
To do my planting, I set aside half an hour to scrape away the grass that was growing there, lay my new soil on top, plant my seeds, and then water them. However, that thirty minutes of labour actually represented a break. The rest of my morning involved reading, writing and communicating, all while seated at a desk. My time with the shovel and watering can was a welcome interruption, one that actually got my heart pumping and my skin perspiring more than anything else I would do that day. What a luxury it would seem to many of my ancestors that I could approach the task of turning and seeding the land with this recreational mindset. Pioneers and others, toiled away all their lives to clear and work the land, and they would have felt there was a nobility to their work, but the sense of duty they attached to their work was a stark contrast to the optional and novel approach that I was taking.
To complete the job that I had given myself, I had to draw on skills that were taught to me by my father. I wasn’t doing anything terribly complex, but I only knew how to plant a garden because my father taught me how. I did the planting myself, but even as I was doing that I was thinking about what kind of tasks I could invite my young children to help me with down the road. My father didn’t ask me to help in the garden because I brought with me some kind of expertise, or because my participation would speed up the process. The utilitarian value of bringing my children to help with my little patch would be small, but inherent in these tasks were important life lessons about hard work, the cycle of life, and so on. As I planted my seeds, I could identify with the man who tried to teach me these values.
With soil covering my seeds, I walked back to the shed to return my spade and to pick up a watering can. In between, I stopped in at my desk again where I found a few new emails that invited a reply. It took longer than I initially planned before I returned to water my soil. I hadn’t put much thought into the importance of the timing, until on my walk back to my patch I observed a number of birds sitting in nearby trees. I realized that my newly unpacked and loosely turned soil served as a fairly weak cover from hungry beaks. Maybe as a pastor I should have made the connection a little sooner, but in my worry about birds I remembered the words of Jesus about a farmer who sowed his seeds and some fell on the path where they were trampled by human feet and eaten by birds. Jesus told stories of farmers and seeds because it was a language that his first audiences would most easily connect with. My work as a teacher and sower of spiritual seeds can be no more effective than the proverbial sower whose seeds were eaten, choked, and under nourished as much as they were embraced and supported by good soil.
Recently, the people of nearby High River, Alberta were victims of a major flood, and for many residents, there was sitting water on their land and in their homes for weeks. If it was just water, that would have been bad enough, but these waters had picked up chemical and organic toxins further upstream, and when the waters eventually receded, these toxins were left behind. In the following spring, some residents were encouraged to plant sunflowers because these plants are particularly good at drawing those toxins out of the ground. I was planting sunflowers too, partly as a show of solidarity, but it struck me as I reflected on this story how far I was from that reality. My soil was not contaminated. No nearby buildings were water-logged. No nearby residents were kept from their homes. My ability to show solidarity in some ways depended on my privilege of not being affected by the flood in the first place.
I’m sure that if gardeners were surveyed, very few would list “solidarity” as their primary motivation. I wasn’t growing plants for food or even for beauty. In no way was I relying on them to grow for my own well-being. The pioneers of this land, and every farmer that have lived on it since, need their plants to grow and produce food. Without that, they and their customers would have starved.
Finally, I watered my seeds the first day. I came back the next day and watered them again. Then, the third day, and the fourth and the fifth, I was away, and it was hot. Was the land too dry? Would my new seedlings be parched before they could even get started? I was reminded that all of those times I had weekend plans that I didn’t want cancelled by rain, I was hoping against the deep desires of farmers all around me. It is easy for me to drive within my city, and from my home to another city, and completely ignore the dry fields and the farmers that are anxious about them. I can water my small patch, but large scale farmers face limitations that I do not.
Time will tell if my labours will be rewarded with healthy plants and flowers, but already the roots of this exercise have stretched out to connect me with the Blackfoot, the pioneers, farmers, flood victims, Jesus and my own father. So far no green sprouts have appeared, but the fruit may already be evident.
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Musings

The Political Matters (or does it?)

One of the ways that I annoy my wife, is that when people call the house to ask if I want to take part in a survey, I almost always say yes. I agree, not because I’m a pushover (that’s debatable) or because it allows me to shirk other responsibilities at home, but because I am a numbers guy. While my profession and the degree I eventually got may not back this up, I am still very much interested in statistics and in statistical tools. A survey is simply a statistical tool designed to determine what a group of people thinks, and the outcome of the survey is the most reliable when participants like me are willing and honest. An election is really nothing more than a survey with more pressure to participate and more concrete results. That is really the extent of my political engagement.

During campaigning season, there is a lot of pressure on people like me to assign much more value to an election than that. They will point to the most recent election here in Alberta as proof that each vote does have the power to bring about change. But the power of each vote is the same, no matter what the election results are. At least the “your vote has power” message is the same from year to year. But it isn’t so much the power to change that I disagree with, but the value of the change or even the value of the status quo.

As I was thinking this through, I devised a test for myself. Whether you agree with my premise or not, you can follow along.

  • First we need to think of a few parallels. An election puts someone in power for four years, give or take, and maybe they stay in for longer. So we need a parallel thing that is part of your life for that long. It might be the vehicle you drive, the house or apartment you are living it, who your neighbours were, etc.
  • Then, think back to some of the biggest moments in your life. Think back to a new job offer, a graduation, a big trip, a religious conversion/awakening, the birth of a child, a marriage proposal or wedding, etc.
  • Then for each event that you think of, try to visualize it and see which details you can remember.
    • You might be able to remember the personal, ie. who else was there and maybe even what clothes you were wearing.
    • Can you also remember the secondary, ie. what vehicle you were driving, where you were living and maybe who was living beside you?
    • Now, try to remember who was in power, at a civic, provincial or national level.
    • For all of these questions, don’t think backwards. Don’t first think what year it was and then get your answers based on what you know was happening that year. Is there something inherent to your memory that brings those details out?

My guess is that many of us will be able to remember some of those personal and even secondary details, but unless a politician was part of the day, we won’t be able to link the political.

The obvious response would be that just because we don’t remember something doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, but I think that it does help to recontextualize the kind of importance they have. Regardless of whether or not we are supportive or even aware of what they are doing, they are working behind the scenes (often behind closed doors) to ensure that we have new job opportunities to accept, schools to graduate from, hospitals in which our children can be born and roads on which our more memorable vehicles can drive on. The changes that happen on election day are much less drastic than ruling or opposition parties want us to believe. I’m happy to acknowledge that they are still important, but I would prefer to have their kind of behind the scenes importance be reflected in election ads.

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UP in spiritual terms

Have you heard the conspiracy theory about Disney’s UP? If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a beautiful story of an old man who, as a child, dreamt of being an explorer like his hero Charles Muntz and is now living that out by floating his home down to South America with the help of helium balloons. He accidentally brings a child along for the ride, and the two enjoy the adventure together. It’s cute, it’s fun, and nobody sings. I’ll try not to give away the storyline, but it’s pretty predictable. The old man and the boy bond after enduring each other’s quirks, and they find an obstacle that they need to overcome together.

The new and uncommon approach suggests that there is sometime else going on. The idea is that the night before Carl is supposed to move into the nursing home, the night before he secretly plans to fly his house down to South America (spoiler alert), he actually dies. That might sound a little dark for Disney, but consider that the first five minutes of this movie take the audience through an emotional roller-coaster that can leave most adults winded from the heartbreak. It’s almost like it’s a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in reverse, where Russell, the boy, is actually a guardian angel type figure sent from above to prepare him for the afterlife, by helping him take care of some unfinished business.

It seems like an odd idea at first, but this is precisely when the movie switches from reality to fantasy. There are a lot of questions that a person grounded in reality might ask, many of which build on each other. For example, what kind of materials is Carl using? Regular balloons, thread and helium certainly wouldn’t accomplish the task. Once the house is in the air, how does he avoid detection from the presumably numerous countries curious about who is occupying their airspace? Given the distance they cover, how could they travel so fast without any evidence of consistent strong wind? Also, Carl looks like he is at least 75, so Charles Muntz was either a ridiculously young world famous explorer, or it’s a miracle that he is still alive.

I’m guessing that at this point you are either nodding and saying that these inconsistencies ruined the movie for you too, or you are ready to reassure me that it’s a kids’ movie and I shouldn’t take it too seriously. But, remember, there are all sorts of interesting real life stories that happen all the time that don’t get made into movies. People write fictional stories all the time that don’t get made into movies (for example). So, every story that gets told on the silver screen, is told carefully and intentionally. Like any good storyteller, they set out a clear path the tale will take. The story arc here is that Carl wanted to be an explorer, then life happened, and then at the end of his life (or maybe the beginning of his next life) he finally gets to be one. Then, while he is exploring, he makes a discovery, accidentally and inconveniently for him, but a discovery nonetheless. He discovers, and then sort of befriends, a new and undocumented species of bird.

It seems to me that Carl has a revelation. Of course there is the over-arching, moral of the story kind of revelation, which is that he and his wife have already lived a grand adventure, and that with friends like Russell, he can continue to live one. That’s great. But the one that I find more interesting is in his identity as an explorer. Initially he had set out to see Paradise Falls with his wife, but Paradise Falls wouldn’t have been their discovery, they would have been exploring Charles Muntz’ discovery. If Carl had helped Muntz capture the bird, he would only have been a part of another of Muntz’ discoveries. At this point, Carl is much more comfortable with Russell’s plan of saving the bird from Muntz, except that Muntz is Carl’s hero and Russell has been annoying Carl for the whole trip. Will he reject his dreams and follow the whims of a child?

I suspect the Magi asked themselves the same question. Little is known about what led them to Israel? Did one of their own prophets or visionaries receive a divinely inspired word? Did their people interact with the Jews at some other point in history, in the desert, in Assyrian or Babylonian captivity, when a prophetic message was transferred? Either way, these people were probably sitting on this prediction for a long time, and when it came true, there must have been a lot of excitement. What were they expecting? Did they foresee the political turmoil their presence would create? Did they predict the detour after not finding the baby in the royal palace in Jerusalem? Were they expecting a poor family with a surprisingly young mother? Probably not. We can only speculate on what they were thinking, and it might not be the most fruitful process, but they must have been surprised once or twice on the trip and needed to adjust their plan accordingly.

Our journey’s might not be as adventurous as either Carl’s or the Magi’s, but along our various journeys (geographic, spiritual, metaphorical) we will certainly find surprises and setbacks, but we continue forward adjusting accordingly. We cannot know the true nature of the journey until we are living it. We cannot know what destination awaits us until we fully invest ourselves in the journey. God has set a larger mystery in motion, and to engage ourselves in it, we must allow ourselves to be surprised by it.

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‘Cause they’re not hip with it

From time to time I’m in a position where I’m asked to defend the church. Sometimes that means that I have to try to give an intellectual defence for the content of the Bible or my interpretation of the content. Depending on who is asking the question, it’s not always easy, but those kinds of questions are more or less in line with my education and training. Sometimes it means that I am asked to defend the validity of the church in society, and in the challenge it is directly or indirectly stated that I need to defend my position of leadership within the church and the salary that I collect as pastor. I might need to set my ego and emotions aside for that one, but that is also more or less within my professional capacity. It gets tricky when I am asked to defend the people of the church.

It likely doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that churches are often accused of housing hypocrites. Ie. that there are people in our churches who claim to live a life of piety and yet their words and actions tell a different story. Maybe it’s some people in the church that get that label, and maybe it’s everyone in the church. It’s most damning when that accusation comes from former members of the particular church, children of members of that church, or current attendees whose loyalty to the church and the faith is wavering. This sense is so strong that there are a large number of people who claim a Christian faith, who are happy with the contents of the Bible, and who strive to follow Jesus, and yet they refuse to congregate with other Christians because they don’t think they can find a group of other believers that isn’t full of hypocrites.

I hope they are right. I hope that every church they find, whether it meets in a sanctuary, in a home, or in a bar, whether it’s part of a denomination, entirely independent, or some officially interdenominational, whether it is led by a pastor, a team of volunteer, or a speaker who only ever connects through a video screen, is full of hypocrites. I hope they meet a group of Christians who set as their example and guide the most perfect human being that’s ever lived and then are honest about not being able to live up to their claim to follow that example.

Every church that I have ever attended or worked at has been full of hypocrites, full of people who seek to follow Jesus’ example and still allow hatred, discontent, strife, impatience, bitterness, animosity, harshness and sin rule their lives. Some of these people, by choice or circumstance, have their hypocrisy revealed to the rest of the church.

I know it sounds like I’m making light of this major problem and very legitimate complaint by disenchanted. The problem with hypocrisy in the church isn’t in the presence of sin, but in the claims of its absence. As long as there are fallible human beings in your group, there will be sin, and any church worth attending will have people striving to attain the ideal. So, yes, I hope your church is full of hypocrites. Not the kind that hide their sin and celebrate their own goodness, but those that strive for goodness and own up to their failings.

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My yesterday

Like many Canadians, I spent much of yesterday morning reading updates and following developments from our nation’s capital. The photos brought me back to the four months I spent living in the city doing a co-op job with Revenue Canada. Ottawa, despite sitting on political, cultural and linguistic fault lines, is a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people. I spent a lot of time on Parliament Hill, walking around the buildings, admiring the architecture and appreciating the view of the city. Behind the Parliament buildings, close to the beautiful National library, is a little gazebo that is part of a tribute to police offers that have fallen in the line of duty. It provides a beautiful view of the Ottawa River, the surrounding valley, and a number of other beautiful buildings and statues. It was probably my favourite place in the city, and it is the one absolute must-see destination when I make return visits.

Even though the city is full of nationalistic identity and symbols of the country’s identity and power, it’s easy for tourists to forget that and get lost in the beauty of the buildings, the natural surroundings and the people. So, it was painful to see yesterday’s transformation in Ottawa. Certainly the loss of life and the ensuing fear that gripped the city and the nation is tragic, but it is part of the transformation from a place of beauty and tranquillity to a place of power and politics.

What hasn’t been talked about much so far is the symbolic nature of the attack. We have no reason to believe that this shooter had any specific vendetta against the soldier he killed or against the politicians he was pursuing. He was attacking what they represented. So, among the loudest voices, we will hear from other people who represent the same things, about how they too are in danger, and how they now refuse to be afraid, etc.  But the outpouring of grief from this country is not about offices or symbols or representation, it is about people.

I think it is natural, but misplaced, that today we celebrate the resilience of our country, the principles of our armed forces, and the integrity of our national law enforcement agencies. These make great headlines and rallying speeches, but they do not reflect where people’s sentiments reside. Nathan Cirillo is a person. He leaves behind a young son, a person. Sure he wore a uniform, but primarily we mourn the loss of a person.

Our new national hero, Kevin Vickers, the parliamentary official entrusted for the safety of our government officials, is also a person. Today he walked into the House of Commons, the house of common people making public policy of other common people, and received a standing ovation. Were they celebrating his office, his uniform, or his ceremonial position? No, they were saluting a person. Watch the video of that ovation here. What do you see in his eyes as he receives that ovation? Stoic pride in his office, in his country, in the duty to uphold an institution? No, he is humbled. Humbled because he is merely a person, seeking to protect other persons.

The shooter too was a person. A person with the same intrinsic value and rights of any other person, as enshrined by the laws of this country. If in his pursuit of terror he had been captured instead of killed, he would have had his medical bills paid for by the government, and he would have been afforded a fair trial for his crimes, because he is a person, and we Canadians believe this is the way things should be. This shooter did not understand that. He lost sight of the value of all people. But it wasn’t that he ascribed too little value to people, but that he valued symbols and uniforms too much.

This shooter refused to see past the uniform. He refused to acknowledge that behind the uniform, behind the political office, was a person, created in the image of God, loving and beloved by an endless circle of other humans, capable of showing and infinitely deserving of our love, respect and honour.

Let’s not make the same mistake. For the betterment of our country, our communities and our families, we need to look past partisan political labels, look past national, religious and cultural identities, and look past the facades of office

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Idly by

Maybe you’ve heard the news, our government refuses to stand idly by. Our Prime Minister has said it, other ministers have said it, and so, we will join another military exercise, because our government refuses to stand idly by. But even though it might not often look like it, and they usually don’t want it to look like it, these words are very carefully chosen, because of the obvious and even subtle messages it sends. I think it is worth fleshing out what these messages are and assessing whether or not they are correct.

“We as Canadians refuse to sit idly by”

Across the country, there is support and opposition for military action, across party lines. Canadians recognise the gravity of what is happening in the Middle East, but we also recognise the failure of past military actions and the inter-connectedness of Western intervention and eastern uprisings.

“We refuse to sit idly by … and anything short of military intervention would be sitting idly by”

This message is at the core of the statement, but if we are supposed to believe this, I feel like we are entitled to know what other options were considered and rejected. Have we punished all of the suppliers of arms for equipping ISIS with weapons? Have we aligned ourselves with Arab allies to see if ISIS militants can be shamed out of Muslim holy sites? Have we demonstrated to the young men being recruited into ISIS that democracy and secular free market capitalism are good and incorruptible institutions? If military action is our only viable solution, what are the ways in which the other alternatives have been proven to be non-viable?

“We refuse to sit idly by … as a general principle”

If we’re defining ‘sitting idly by’ as observing human suffering and not sending a military force in response, then why didn’t we send troops to Sudan? Why aren’t we also sending troops to Ukraine, Syria, North Korea (the list is depressingly long)? Obviously there is a very real humanitarian crisis happening there now, but the situation is more complicated than that, just like each of these other crises were/are complex and so our government chose/chooses to “sit idly by.” If it was just about moral principle, we would have sent troops out so often that we would have none free to fight against ISIS.

“We refuse to sit idly by … unlike the previous government”

Remember the last time the west undertook military intervention in Iraq? Yes, there was a recent attempt, and at that time there had been a very recent attempt before that. The last time the west went to war in Iraq, the Canadian government refused to participate. Unlike some of our closest allies, we refused to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ This was not well received by our neighbours to the south, and some of the members of the party in power now were vocal in their disagreement with that choice. However, anyone old enough to remember that time will know that this was not a decision made lightly or quickly. History too has already shown that decision was probably wise because nobody has been able to draw a direct connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein, the world is even more convinced now than we were then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it’s pretty clear that either what’s happening there now is a direct/indirect result of previous western interventions or as bad as Hussein was (and he was) this kind of thing didn’t happen under his watch.

 

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I refuse to complain about the weather

As I write this, the forecast low for tonight is -8C.  So much snow has fallen here over the past few days that tree branches aren’t able to bear the load of the uncharacteristcally sticky white stuff, and so they are falling. Branches are falling onto sidewalks, onto power lines and onto cars.  City crews have been constantly busy keeping up with the aftermath, and until the snow melts, we won’t know the damage that has been done.  Those details alone are odd, but it doesn’t stop there.  Today is September 10th, so we are still technically within summer.  My kids built a snowman in the back yard today, and when they were done, it looked around and said, “I’ve been sadly misinformed about summer.” Not only is it this cold now, but it was 25C on Sunday morning. I was sweating at the pulpit, and I wasn’t event talking about sex or money.  The five day forecast for this coming Sunday is 21C as well.

Still, these temperature fluctuations and the concept of snow in September aren’t unheard of in this part of the world. The altitude, the jet streams, and our Canadian citizenship mean that we locals should be used to this.  I’ve only been here for four years, and I’m barely phased by this. Still, a lot of people are doing what I refuse to do, and that’s complain.

It isn’t that I’m entirely unaffected. My walk to and from my daughter’s school left me with wet socks and shoes and stiff muscles from navigating the slush and the ice and the hills. There are tree branches and whole trees down in my condo complex, on the streets and in the parks of my town, and all along my commute to my office. My winter hat, boots and brushes were hard to find and will now be in the way for the next few months before it snows again, and it isn’t worth fully putting them away in the meantime. We had to turn the heat on yesterday, and my forecasted utility savings will have disappeared. Still, I won’t complain, and here’s why:

1. It isn’t actually that bad – I’m guessing if you are dealing with the same things, you’re probably looking at this list and asking why that isn’t a good enough reason to complain. But, if you are reading this in another place or even in this same place a few months down the road, it will look like a pretty pathetic list. These are minor things for us.

2. It sets a bad precedent –  If we all complain about this storm now, then when there is a freezing rain storm in Saskatoon in October or a hail storm in Kamloops in November, or a swarm of lucusts in Houston in December, then they will be just as insufferable then as I want to be now. And if you’re using your good weather as an excuse to tease people about their bad weather, you’re inviting that much more ridicule and that much less sympathy when your storm comes.

3. Our ability to tolerate weather isn’t a contest – If I make a big deal of this storm, and then someone in a warmer climate without snow infrastructure is impacted by a less intense storm, my comments now will make me much less sympathetic then. Plus, it will also invite unsympathetic comments from people who deal with similar storms more often than I do.

4. I see the big picture – One isolated storm does not serve as proof or counter-evidence of anyone’s understanding of climate change. If that was the case, larger scientific studies wouldn’t need to be done, and my wet socks would be the equivalent of a Master’s degree in science.

5. I’m not that important – I can handle a longer commute or even a day working at home. If I miss a meeting, someone can email me the minutes. If I miss an appointment, it can be rescheduled.

6. Other people have it worse than me – I’m not even talking about people in a poor country far away. If you’ve got 160 acres of barley sitting under 3 inches of snow at the beginning of September, you could be in trouble. A tree damaged car pales in comparison to that kind of agricultural economic impact.

7. I choose to be content – Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives is a pretty lousy way to live your life. I’ve got a great family, a good job and I’m relatively good health. It’s going to take a lot more than climate fluctuations to bring me down.

Now, I get it, this is light-hearted enjoyment for some people. It’s fun to complain. I’m complaining about complainging right now. Some people argue that there are therapeutic properties to it even, but that’s really just a “two wrongs make a right” kind of philosophy. The concept that your negative attitude about negative circumstances can somehow produce a positive outcome is theoretical at best. But if you have the mental capacity to choose to be happy, you should give it a shot. Somebody else getting bad weather won’t cheer you up (and it shouldn’t anyway), your own weather improving won’t always cheer you up either. So if you can’t find your happiness in weather, you shouldn’t find your sadness there either.

Categories
Musings

Canadian Camping

One of the family traditions that we are trying to start is regular camping trips to familiar campsites.  This year we visited three different campgrounds; two of them were national parks and one was more locally administered. We hiked,  we ate smores, we splashed in the water and we took pictures. Except for when we got rained on, the kids did remarkably well.  The people around us varied quite a bit, some were younger and some much older, some lent us things we needed and some needed to borrow from us, some had more luxurious RVs and cabins than us and others … I don’t know, can you get any less comfortable than a tent?

We had blow up mattresses and extra blankets, so we were fine, but I was personally surprised at the number of non-Canadians who were tenting it. And I don’t mean that I walked by a campsite and could tell that they were cooking curry so I assumed they couldn’t be Canadians. No, I talked to people who were visiting from various other countries and had chosen to spend their international vacation sleeping on thin foam mattresses on rock hard ground. Don’t get me wrong. I love camping, but if I’m crossing an ocean, I expect to sleep in a bed.

And these weren’t isolated cases, there is a whole industry around this. One couple rented a kit with a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove and anything you could think of for a camping vacation. Another group had a tour guide that camped with them and lead them on hikes and little daytrips from their campsite. I don’t know if being this kind of professional camper would be a good job or a bad one.

I asked a few of them why they had come all this way to sleep outside with only a synthetic fabric protecting them. Their answer was simple. “Because camping is the best way to experience all of this.” And they would gesture around at the mountains, the forests and the lakes. It was obvious.

It struck me that these people were camping for the same reasons that I was camping.  They knew that if you just wanted to see the mountains, you could look at pictures on the Internet, but if you wanted to experience the mountains, you have to sleep in their shadows.

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These people loved the mountains as much as I did, or more, and had sacrificed more to experience them. And maybe they were in fact more Canadian than the people who live here but have never seen the sunset behind the moutains or the morning mist lift from a lake. This was a reminder to me that the insiders often have as much to learn from the outsiders as the other way around, especially when it comes to appreciation, love and even worship.