25 July 2006

The Great Elsewhere: 'Assurance'

The Great Elsewhere: 'Assurance'

This is a little gross, but wow, I so admire this guy's candour. :)

11 July 2006

My response.

This is just to follow up. Since it's my blog, I don't have to respond in the comments, but I did start to write it there, so catch up from there.

Great link, Tricky. I think the UMs should stand up for themselves a little more against what appears to be a misappropriation of their doctrine. If you didn't follow the link in her comments to Saturday's post, read it now.

I suppose I could have just as easily talked about military spending annoucements in Canada and how I think some of the money could be better spent on foreign aid that might (and studies show, probably would) decrease developping nations' hostility toward the West. I did mention said spending, I guess many of you assumed I meant the US because they're the highest military spenders in the world. It's an easy mistake to make.

My point about gas -- it's not just small talk. It's something that governments feel the need to act on in order to calm people down. In Nova Scotia, the government will waste millions of dollars to set up and maintain a price regulation that will be largely ineffective in keeping costs down. It will ostensibly provide 2 weeks of stability at a time, but, despite seemingly frequent fluctuations, we're now guaranteed a change 26 times per year. I'd love to see the data on whether this is more or less stable than non-regulated pricing.

I'm not trying to argue that people shouldn't believe in Jesus, and I apologize if it did sound that way. Quite the contrary, like "Me" says, I understand why and how people find comfort in Him, and also how belief in Him might inspire some people to act where they might not otherwise. I don't personally hold that exact belief, but I don't deny that my own Anglican upbringing probably has something to do with my passion for helping people now. Obviously, the Church can have an extremely good impact on people (both those who help and are being helped).

To be fair to everyone, as Tricky says, "people are lazy", period. That laziness frustrates the hell out of me. I guess it frustrates me more from a group of people who talk about how it's part of what they believe and they -- not all Christians and not just Christians, but anyone who does this -- have a nap while the shitty stuff happens anyway. Grrrr.

10 July 2006

Change in priorities

I just met some more of my neighbours. They're an older couple who live upstairs. Actually, I'm not sure he does as she introduced him as her "friend". I don't know the context exactly, but it made me think of my Uncle Tub (that's actually what we call him, it's not a pseudonym). He's had a "Lady-friend" for many years now. One would think that they just get married since they enjoy each other's company so much and obviously care for each other a great deal, but here's what the government doesn't tell you.

If you receive pension benefits, including death benefits from the loss of a spouse, you lose them or they're greatly reduced if you remarry. Uncle Tub's friend doesn't want to lose her income or her indeoendence. So, instead, they live next door to each other in the same seniors' complex, and see each other every day. I guess if I was choosing to live like that, I might reconsider what I was looking for in a partner.

I wondered what the story was with my neighbour, but I'm too polite to ask. :P

They were extremely nice. We had a short chat about how I like the place and the weather and barbequing. They said they watched me move in, and have been on the lookout for me. I met them because I decided to step outside to enjoy the sun. It was nice to talk to neighbours. I hope to meet more of them.

When I lived with my parents, we knew all our neighbours quite well. One by one, they have left/are leaving the neighbourhood and as my brother and I got older, we didn't meet the new ones, so the neighbourhood has shrunk. It almost makes me want to bring a caserole to some of the people in my building just as an excuse to say hi.

A man smiled at me on the street the other day. Andrew thought he looked a little crazy, but I think he was probably chuckling to himself about the amount of alcohol we were carrying. Either way, it's nice to share a genuine smile with people. I think it makes everyone feel good, and make people (except, apparently, Andrew) a little less suspicious of others.

07 July 2006

What good is Jesus?

Subtitle: What Would Jesus do?

Okay, here's my VERY IMPORTANT disclamer. If you didn't read my previous post, STOP. Read it first. No joke. These posts are so inter-connected that I actually wrote them on the same day, but don't like to post multiple blogs because it doesn't look pretty. So go read it.


Okay. Carry on. Disclaimer #2 follows.

(It is my experience that when talking about religion, people get upset. I fully expect that to be the case here. I do apologize in advance if I upset anyone with the below commentary. Sometimes I'm serious; sometimes I'm flippant. I'm not trying to pick on Christians because they're an easy target, I'm picking on Christians because it's what I know, what I grew up with. I welcome comments, but if you're going to criticize what I have to say, please be respectful and back up your opinions with examples. I'm interested in different perspectives on my thoughts, but if you can't follow the rules to the right, I'm not going to entertain flame wars.)

In light of yesterday's blog, I had a thought. While I know that there are lots of staunch human rights defenders who subscribe to one religious doctrine or another, my experience to date is that they fall in the "other" category.

It got me thinking rhetorically: wouldn't our efforts be better spent making sure that people aren't jailed for wanting the right to vote than convincing people that Jesus is The Way?

Hear me out. The current POTUS, George W. Bush, is a self-professed Christian. When he turned away from alcohol, he turned to Jesus, his personal Lord and Saviour. This is a man who's political policies are unabashedly rife with his belief that God is on his side. And he's also the same man who has been allowing the ongoing detainment of Arabs in Guantanamo Bay for the past 4+ years. This is a man who wants to defend his country's "right" to use torture on other human beings. Who cuts taxes for the wealthy (seriously, watch the video -- it's hilarious), while urging against raising the federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 US). Because rich people need to buy a boat more than poor people need to buy groceries. Ahem. Sorry. Bitter.

I realize that all denominations of Christianity focus on different parts of Jesus' message. Frankly, I don't strongly remember what message my particular parish advocated, but I think it was something about being an example for people to follow so they too could enjoy what Jesus teaches. Or something.

But if following Jesus leads us to spend more time trying to convince other people to follow Jesus, and less time helping people (which are the stories I remember from the Bible), then how is a belief in Jesus helping make the world a better place? If I'm a "heathen" living in a developing country that's crippled by foreignly-held debt, suffering a drought because of CO2 emmisions caused by smoke stacks in an industrialized nation, and cowering in fear lest my neighbour rat me out to the local dictator that I criticized my inability to vote, then believing in Jesus isn't going to solve all my problems. Sure, I might be able to focus on what's promised me in heaven, but I might also be contemplating how I can get there faster, since life can't get any worse. Until my husband is up and "disappeared" (a human rights term for people who are taken covertly and held without official charges or any communication with loved ones) because he had the audacity to ask for seconds at the food ration station.

Seriously, I know that there are lots of Christians who do wonderful things in the world, and help many people regardless of race, religion or creed. I know of many soup kitchens run by local parishes; my mother's church volunteers for a school breakfast program, and the shelter I wrote about in the previous blog is run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. But overall, what good is Jesus if so many people who believe in him can't stop complaining about the price of gas long enough to really look at what they can do to help? Heresy, I know.

As for my subtitle, the Jesus I learned about in church healed lepers and blind people, he raised Lazarus from the dead, he turned water into wine so the party could keep going. He talked about compassion, turning the other cheek (as opposed to an eye for an eye), getting the whores and money changers out of the temple (oh, wait -- not my point), and tolerance. He was non-violent (let's call him a forerunner of Gandhi). In fact, he really just wanted the freedom of his people (who were the Jews, by the way, not Christians) from the oppression of the Romans. He taught people about God's extreme makeover; no more pestilence, plague and wandering the desert -- His love is for everyone!

So, what do I think Jesus would do if he were walking down the street in an industrialized nation (I think that's unlikely -- he didn't show up in Rome, he showed up in Bethlehem, a Roman-occupied territory; it's more likely he'd show up in Iraq or Tibet these days)? I think he'd remind people that the price of gas isn't worth a hill of beans, unless those beans are being sent to people in Africa to help them grow bean crops (give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish). I think he'd say, "Okay forget all that earlier stuff aboutnot spilling the seed and help prevent the spread of this disease." And if you need some further convincing, let's say his reason is, "God sent this as a test of human tolerance and a lesson for the wealthy to reach out to the disadvantaged and save the world." (Note: I DO NOT believe that HIV/AIDS is a disease sent by God to punish anyone. I think it's something that popped up when people were eating an endangered species. Please don't quote me out of context.) I don't think Jesus would think it's a good idea to bomb civilians (even if those civilians are in a wealthy country), nor do I think he would advocate retaliation (he might not say, "Offer up the subway line, too," but I doubt he'd think that destroying infrastructure in struggling nations is a good idea either).

Emily Starr talked about "Father's God" vs. "Aunt Elizabeth's God." I actually quite liked this idea when I first read it. I think you should have to read the book if you want to know what I mean, but let me summarize: "Father's God" was good and kind and compassionate; "Aunt Elizabeth's God" was tyrannical and fierce and rigid. Maybe L. M. Montgomery was a bit of a prophet when she characterized these two very different beliefs in what God wants and how he operates.

I just don't think there's anything in the Bible about letting people suffer to the extent that they do while worrying about whether a billion dollars should be spent on air transports for the military or on subsidies for wheat farmers.*

*I love farmers because I get to eat, I'm not a fan of subsidies that make it harder for those in the 3rd world to make a living.

06 July 2006

My Father Never Held a gun to my Head

I named this post two months ago and haven't done anything with it. I don't even remember my original motivation for it.

But in light of a recent blog about stalking, coupled with some horrible human rights infractions, I feel like now might be a good time to bring this up.

Three years ago, I went to LA. I stayed with Monique, who at the time was working with a Catholic order that helps women and their children escape domestic violence. It's an incredibly progressive organization that will help women get the legal advice they need, help them prevent pregnancy (some of these women had 5 or more children), and give them job skills training so they can support themselves. They also help them recognize the cycle of violence so they can avoid/escape in the future.

At the shelter (where I went to help every day), I met lots of amazing children. Some were obviously more traumatised than others, but they all seemed aware that they were now living in a secure place and were learning to enjoy being children. Monique taught in the shelter school, which was kindergarten to grade 6, plus a pre-school. She worked with the kindergarten class, teaching them their letters and numbers, plus some ESL instruction (a lot of the mothers were Mexican immigrants and spoke Spanish at home). She actually picked up quite a bit of Spanish herself.

Among Monique's kids, there was a relatively new girl who was quite withdrawn. She was the target of some taunting at times, because she didn't like to speak up. She was obviously extremely sensitive and would sometimes cry if things went awry. I rarely heard stories about the kids and the situations their mothers were in, but I did hear about one incident with this girl.

I don't know how long the abusive situation went on for this girl's mother, but at some point she must have decided enough was enough. She either threatened or tried to leave with her two daughters.

I don't know how things escalated, but somehow the older of the two girls (the one in Monique's class) ended up being held by her irate, desperate father. He held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if the mother tried to leave. The mother gave in.

I don't know how she finally got out of the situation, but she must have done her planning very carefully, because she did finally end up at this shelter getting help for both herself and her two little girls (all are required to go to therapy while at the shelter).

This story struck me powerfully. I can't conceive of the level of desperation and need for control that would drive someone to threaten their daughter's life with a gun. I can't imagine how someone gets past the feeling that their life is dispensible if that power is threatened or questioned. I'm sure the therapists would have worked hard to help this little girl understand that she was a pawn in her father's game, that her life did have value, and that she was in no way responsible for what happened that day; still, the memory must be quite jarring.

And so, I do try to keep in mind how lucky I am. That, even in countries where humans rights and civil liberties are more accepted and respected than in others, atrocities happen; life is sometimes devalued for personal gain. I read and hear about horrible things happening in this country, and south of the border, on a regular basis, but it's not happening to me.

My father never held a gun to my head, no matter how angry or frustrated or scared he could have been about any situation. My mother never had to threaten to leave for the safety and security of herself and her children.

As I write this, I realize that it's not just about how lucky I am, it's about why I do what I do. It's why I actively support human rights. It's why I don't want to let governments become that father with the gun, threatening the rights of one in order to scare another into submission.

So I guess I'm not just lucky; I'm also motivated.