Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Give money, not stuff, to help

Canadians are generous. At least that’s the cultural myth we hold on to. The evidence does seem to support the myth, but how we are generous needs some unpacking.

In 1992, during Hurricane Andrew’s destruction of Florida, Canadian generosity was called on. It was the early days of online communication. The internet wasn’t even public. People who owned computers were thought to be real geeks.

I was one of them.

In the days after the storm, there was all kind of help sent; some of it was quite strange. A colleague told me of a bunch of unmatched woman’s dress shoes. Others told of receiving expired drugs.

Hearing these stories and of how donated goods were left to rot in the hot Florida sun, I learned then that the best way to send assistance in any natural disaster was not to send stuff but send money. Donate to relief charities such as the Red Cross, the United Way or various religious groups who normally have low overheads.

Overheads? Every charitable organization has overhead. Use your cell phone to text a small donation? The phone company takes a cut. Donate by credit card? The card company charges a fee. Religious charities will often absorb local administration costs, but even they are subject to bank charges for currency conversion.

People, it appears, aren’t listening. In the wake of the Fort McMurray fire people are still sending “stuff”. And a lot of it is ending up in parking lots and warehouses where it gets in the way. Eventually it may end up in a landfill. That’s what happened after the 2011 fire in Slave Lake. Much of the donated stuff went to a Calgary landfill.

After the 2010 devastating earthquake in Haiti, concerned mothers sent bottles of breast milk. In a country that lost its infrastructure, including electricity, a perishable product like breast milk couldn’t be kept. You know the rest of the story.

Many Canadians seem to get it. We were incredibly generous to the Canadian Red Cross, which is the lead relief agency, for the Fort McMurray fire. Money is already being distributed directly to fire victims.

In the case of local disasters here in Grey Bruce, there is an alternative. Gift cards. They are as good as cash, carry no overhead, and can be used for food, necessities or gas. Just donate some gift cards, of any denomination (smaller is better). Use local outlets or chains. Drop them off at the Red Cross or the United Way or even mail them.

Disaster relief is best left to those with experience. And it’s one line of work which will continue to grow. Just remember, “Give money not stuff” to a disaster relief effort and do it through a registered charity or non-profit with full accountability. That’s the best way to help our neighbours locally and around the world.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A touch of redneck not so bad

I recently discovered that I’m a borderline redneck, not well insulated from mainstream culture.

I found that out by taking a survey at pbs.org, the American broadcaster, based on a book by American political scientist and author Charles Murray, trying to get a handle on mainstream white American culture. Some are suggesting it’s helpful in explaining the rise of Donald Trump.

The survey is easily translatable into a Canadian setting and in doing so I found out some surprising things.

I found out that like many of those in white mainstream culture, I’ve worked on a factory floor, I watch TV and drive a truck. I fish occasionally. I don’t drink beer, however, and I rarely go out to chain restaurants to eat.

My score was 65 out of 100. That makes me, in Murray’s explanation, “a first generation middle class person with working class parents and average TV and movie watching habits.”

That’s odd, because both my parents had university degrees, as did my grandparents. My father, as a minister, occupied a position of privilege in the community. At the same time, I have worked on a shop floor to put myself through university. I’ve worked hard enough that my whole body ached at the end of the day. Repeatedly. . I’ve cleaned urinals and feces-filled toilets. I have unloaded rail cars so filthy with charcoal dust, with no mask provided, that black tears came out of my eyes at night, staining my pillow.

Perhaps it was my early ministry days that affected me. I have picked potatoes in cold, foggy New Brunswick fields. I’ve sat around kitchen tables with the teakettle bubbling away on the wood stove, listening to heartbreaking stories. I’ve ridden in a log hauling semi, having important pastoral conversations over coffee in the truck cab while taking a quick break from loading or unloading.

Maybe it was the people who came through my office door with one story or another, most of which were fictitious, but who appreciated whatever I could offer. Which, sometimes, wasn’t much.

The point is that there is a huge amount of insulation between levels of society in white, mainstream culture. And that insulation prevents a sensitivity to the other person in our community.

We like to think we are different, as Canadians. But this survey showed me that while there may be culturally different specifics, they aren’t as significant as we think.

I learned something about myself in this survey. I’m more rural and a bit more redneck than I imagined and by golly, I don’t live in a bubble. For a pastor, even a retired one, that’s a good thing. But even if I could, I would never, ever vote for Donald Trump.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Our bathroom, ourselves

I want to talk about bathrooms. My apologies for being so forthright about this, but it is becoming a matter of life and death in some parts of the continent.

It’s a big issue in that boiling cauldron to the south of us. Several states have put laws in place regarding bathroom use. In order to “protect people”, you have to use the washroom of the gender which is listed on your birth certificate. In other words, men (according to their birth certificate) and women (according to their birth certificate) have to use the specific gender identified loo.

That poses a problem for a number of situations.

Men who are out with their female children, can not, under this law, change their children on the change table in the men’s washroom. Mothers can’t do the same with their male children.

As a parent of six children, both male and female, I have been in the position of being with a child of the opposite gender and heard the plaintive wail of “I gotta go!”. Fortunately, help was at hand and the problem was resolved to everyone’s  satisfaction.

This matter is a real problem for those who are transgender or those who visually identify or dress as the opposite gender. It is also an issue for those who dress outside of culturally acceptable stereotypes.

A friend of mine, a pastor in the US and former US Marine officer, prefers pants, slacks and jeans to dresses, especially as she grows older. She finds it a lot more functional. Another pastor prefers khaki pants, dress shirts and bow ties. She has had several difficult encounters in women’s rest rooms, although she is a woman.

I have seen American media reports that some people are intending to carry a gun into the washroom to “protect themselves from perverts”.

The bottom line is that people just want to use the facilities. Heck, we all need to use the facilities. Is that too much to ask?

The rural church is light years ahead on this matter. I have served rural congregations where it was expected that you used a bush behind the church or an outhouse. In churches where there was a washroom, it was exactly that. A washroom with one toilet. Behind the furnace. Everyone used it. The unwritten rules were that the men put the seat down and wiped the sink afterwards. The women kept it clean and the men fixed the plumbing problems. And no one got twisted out of shape about who used it. People recognized we all have the same human need.

I have known at least one transgender person in Grey Bruce who told me she never really had any serious issues with washroom use. I hope she was right and telling me the truth as she knew it. Just remember, we’re all human and at some point, we all gotta go.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Back to Hydro One-derland

Just like Wiarton Willie showed up on February 2 with his spring prognostication, the Ontario Energy Board announced in mid-April that effective May 1, rates for customers of Hydro One would be going up. Again.

So what else is new? Actually, the reason rates are going up is worth looking at. It shows the ongoing Alice in Wonderland world which customers of Hydro One have to live in. To put it succinctly, rates are going up because electricity use is going down. That’s right. Electricity use in Ontario is declining, so rates paid to Hydro One are going up to cover their costs.

When I bought my house a year ago, I took the opportunity to do a complete review and assessment of the house’s energy efficiency. Insulation? Check. Weather stripping? Check. Quality thermal windows? Check. Gas heat? Check. Energy efficient appliances? All but an electric hot water heater and clothes dryer. All lights either fluorescent or LED? Check.

Pretty good, I thought. The house is as energy efficient as I can make it. And the electricity bills this past winter reflected that. I wasn’t displeased. I mean we have been told for years and years to conserve, conserve, conserve. You will save money, Hydro One told us.

Not anymore. If you read the report the Ontario Energy Board makes to support Hydro One’s request for a rate increase, the justification sound like this. It was a minder than normal winter. Customer are using less electricity; so much less that Hydro One can’t cover their costs of production of that power and their support costs for the electrically system. They need more money.

The OEB supports the request. They have revised their profile of their “average consumer”. They say in their recent report supporting Hydro One’s rate increase request, “ Since late 2009, the OEB has defined the typical residential customer as a household that consumed 800 kWh of electricity per month. A recent review indicates that average residential consumption has declined significantly since the standard was last established. As a result, the OEB has determined that the standard used for illustrative purposes should now be 750 kWh per month.”

In other words, Hydro One customers have been good stewards of their resources, conserved energy, invested in energy saving technologies and reduced average consumption by almost 10%. Now have to pay more for that same electricity?

I have a suggestion for Hydro One. Instead of looking to their customers to pay for your failures, how about looking at all the employees who are on the Sunshine List? How about finding management efficiencies or changing plans to save costs, as most  businesses do? Just stop with the Alice in Wonderland logic. We are doing our best to conserve electricity in our lives. We deserve the benefits of being good energy stewards, not having to pay more for the privilege of buying our electricity from Hydro One.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Little faith in do-it-yourselfers

A 16th century fresco inside a Naples, Italy church was damaged last week when someone drilling next door accidentally punched a hole through a wall, perforating the valuable artwork. Pictures show a hole in a stone wall above the shoulder of an image of St. Peter in the Basilica of San Giovanni Maggiore. Fortunately the drill missed St. Peter’s face, but the incredibly valuable artwork has been badly damaged. The perpetrator was an overzealous do-it-yourselfer who lived next door.

The risks of enthusiastic but unknowledgeable renovators knows no bounds.

In one church I served, the oak pews which were over a century old, began to split. A zealous church member, according to the story I was told, said he would fix the splits and fixed they were. With monstrous screws with massive heads. And instead of fixing the splits, the repair made the splits worse and the pews unusable.

I saw one church basement renovation where the floor beams below the sanctuary had been cut out to fit low doorways for halls and classrooms. I would not have wanted to been in that church with a full congregation present.

One of my colleagues was telling me of the acoustic problems they were having in their church. No one could hear without a lot of amplification and speakers. A lot of money had been spent and no one was happy.

“You went to a split chancel, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, we did. A few years ago we moved the furniture around and made a flat performance floor. The central pulpit was taken out and the pulpit and lectern were placed on each side of the platform.”

“I hate to say it,” I said, “But knowing the original design of your church, I think you may have ruined the acoustics. Those old churches were well designed for the human voice. You could speak for hours without using a microphone and everyone could hear you.”

Church renovations are tricky. Changing sanctuary design to conform with a modern style of worship is very risky business. Make a mistake and you could end up with a very expensive mess than makes no one happy. You could even punch a hole in a valuable piece of art. But then you could have the result of an amateur artist who recently tried to repair an early 20th century fresco of Jesus in a church in Spain. It failed. Horribly. Her unskilled attempt went viral on the internet and was mocked as a bad restoration. But since then 150,000 tourists have flocked to the town to see the image, causing a tourist boom. New restaurants opened and local museums had the largest number of visits in years. Sow’s ear meet silk purse.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Atheist minister a distraction

From time to time I am asked about “that United Church minister who doesn’t believe in God.” That United Church minister is The Rev. Gretta Vosper, who has made headlines in Canada and globally by calling herself an atheist. By that she means that she does not believe in a supernatural, interventionist god called God.

I am not going to argue for or against her theological position. I find my own understanding of God may have some small point of common ground with her, but as I read more and more of her material I find far more points with which I don’t agree.

About a year ago, a formal question regarding Vosper’s suitability for ministry was raised with Toronto Conference, the body which oversees United Church ministers in this area, including Grey County. That started the process of what is called a “review”, in which questions are asked of the subject; in this case, Vosper.

Because this was such an unusual situation, guidance was sought from the General Secretary of the United Church, who proposed a process for the review through what is called a Ruling.

Vosper, in turn, appealed the ruling. The appeal was considered by the Judicial Committee of the General Council. They issued their decision just before Easter. They turned down all five points in the appeal with the brief words, “The grounds for the appeal are not met.”

So what happens now?

Briefly, the review will proceed. Toronto Conference will ask their Conference Interview Committee, the group who interview ministers about their beliefs prior to ordination or commissioning into ministry, to nominate several members to form a review team. There will be ordained and commissioned ministers as well as experienced laypeople involved. They will meet with Vosper and write a report.

One the report is finished, it will be submitted to the conference executive for their final decision.

It would be reasonable to say that all the reviewers will be screened for conflict of interest and apprehension of bias. They will be trained in the review proceedure. They will do their work in isolation, with no interference. They do not make any decisions; only report findings. I expect the review will be conducted this spring. I would not be surprised if it was completed by the end of June.

The final report of the review will go forward to the conference executive, a group of a dozen or so elected lay persons and ordained and diaconal ministers. They will consider the report and make their decision.

I don’t know what the final result will be. But I believe the process will be as fair as possible. I look forward to the result, no matter what it is. The United Church needs to move on from what is, I believe, a distraction. We don’t do theology by popular vote and there are more significant matters the United Church needs to attend to.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.



Monday, 4 April 2016

Church of hockey wins out

Last weekend, the church of hockey won out. Canada’s other primary religion, hockey, took the game of the Easter celebration over the Christians.

You might not have noticed; churches are getting older and grayer these days. But in one small, rural church I serve, kids are present. When they aren’t there, they are missed.

In this case, the question was whether or not to hold an Easter sunrise service. Usually the kids, with help from adults, serve breakfast afterwards. It was, I am told, one of those wonderful, fun intergenerational experiences.

About a month ago, some parents realized that there were hockey playoffs on Easter Sunday morning. Some of the games might be out of town. Even games at local arenas demanded early rising, travel and time to dress.

This hadn’t happened in a while because Easter usually came later in April and hockey was finished for the year. This year, Easter was early, March 27, although not as early as possible. It hasn’t been as early as March 22, the earliest possible Easter date, since 1818 and won’t be again until 2285. On the other hand, it won’t be as late in the year as possible, April 25, until 2038.

Given that the worship schedule of the church of hockey conflicted with the worship schedule of the Christian church, the Easter morning sunrise service was in doubt.

So the decision was made. The youth would serve brunch on the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, after church.

How Canadian.

This battle isn’t new, though. In 734 AD, the Venerable Bede penned these lines to Egbert, Archbishop of York: “This kind of observance and devout sanctification to God has been so long absent from nearly all the laymen of our province, through the carelessness of teachers, as to be almost foreign to it, so that those among them who are more religious do not presume to participate in the sacred mysteries unless at the Lord’s Nativity, Epiphany and Easter, though there are numerous blameless people of chaste conduct, boys and girls, young men and maidens, old men and women, who could without a grain of doubt participate in the celestial mysteries every Sunday...”

In other words, clergy (and church members) have been griping about half-empty pews for a long, long time. The Venerable Bede blamed it on teachers. In 2016 it was the church of hockey. Next year, who knows?

I refuse to get wound up over who is in church and who isn’t. Reasons can change, lives can change and situations can change. The Christian church was around long before hockey was ever imagined and will, in all probability, be around long after Canadians have found another national pastime to turn into a near-religion. As for Easter, next year it will be on April 17. Hockey should be over by then.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 28 March 2016

A good budget for the poor

There has been a lot of talk in the past week about the latest federal budget. Some are apoplectic that it increases the government’s deficit. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough. My experience suggests that when neither polarity likes a budget, it’s probably a reasonable Canadian compromise.

Like you, I depend on the media for understanding these kinds of events. But for the first time, I attended a post-budget briefing offered by one of our local accounting firms.

I learned a lot. And it wasn’t dull or dry, either. This was the kind of expert opinion that is really useful. The devil, as they say, is always in the details, but I want to share with you some of my learning about the effect of the budget on ordinary people.

The Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Credit are being replaced a new Canada Child Benefit. It’s universal, geared to income and tax free. The Child Disability benefit, which you have to apply for, will be continued.

Family income splitting is removed except for seniors with pension income.

Education and textbook tax credits are gone, but more student grants for tuition as opposed to loans are available.

Seniors at the lowest end of the income scale will see an increase in their Guaranteed Income Supplement by 10%. That will be adjusted quarterly and linked to changes in the cost of living. Eligibility for Old Age Security and the GIS starting at 65, reversing the plan of the previous government, is being phased in by 2023.

Another important measure, and one which will make low income taxpayers and my friends at the United Way of Bruce Grey happy is that amounts received from the Ontario Electricity Support Program will be exempt from income calculations in any social assistance plan in Ontario. This starts in 2016 and will apply to the subsequent tax years.

Another change which affects many people is that the HST has been removed on insulin pens and pen needles, as well as on intermittent urinary catheters if prescribed by a medical professional.

Is this a good budget? I think so. More support is promised for indigenous communities, affordable housing and public transit. People on the margins and edges of society will see positive change. Of course all of that is dependent upon filing a tax return. It makes sense to do that. Help is available in the community if you need it. Just call 211 and ask.

And the deficit? I don’t believe it is the end of the world as some politicians like to say it is. Bank economists are suggesting that in times of record low interest rates and high need it makes a lot of sense to increase government spending. Time will tell us if that opinion is right.


Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Call for charity tax change

It’s tax time. If you have ever paid attention to your tax return, you may recall that there is a tax credit for contributions to political parties. There is also a tax credit available to anyone who contributes to any registered charity. But did you ever look at the actual amount of the tax credit?

If you were to give, as an example, $400 to any political party in Canada you would have received a tax credit of $300 or 75%. The actual cost of your donation would be $100. If you were to give that same $400 to any charity, you would receive a federal tax credit for $88.00 and a provincial tax credit of 33.30 for a total of $121.30. The actual cost of your donation would be almost triple that or $278.70.

This has always bugged me. Why do political parties skim the cream to raise funds for their particular political purposes?

Recently I received an e-mail from a Conservative Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, who represents the riding of Provencher in Manitoba. Falk is proposing a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons which will level the playing field for charitable gifts. The bill, C-239, titled The Fairness in Charitable Gifts Act, needs all party support to receive First reading in the House of Commons. And it may not proceed to Second and Third reading unless our Member of Parliament agree.

Falk says in his e-mail, “...federal tax credits for political contributions far exceed the federal tax credits for donations to registered charities in Canada. That's just not right.”

I agree. His proposal is to bring the tax credit for charitable gifts in line with that credit for political parties. He says, “... charities all across Canada will benefit greatly as more dollars will be freed up for donations. This will make it easier for small donors to become larger donors, and for people who do not currently donate, to start.”

This would be good news for any charitable organization in Canada, no matter what cause they serve. Cultural groups like the Tom Thompson Gallery would benefit. So would the United Way, the Salvation Army, OSHaRE and many, many more.

Charitable giving, according to Statistics Canada, has been in steady decline since 1990. If we are to continue to have the charitable sector be a part of our community, that trend has to change. This bill is the perfect way.

Please take a moment and call or e-mail your MP and ask then to support Bill C-239, The Fairness in Charitable Gifts Act. You can also e-mail the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition as the Leader of the NDP and Green parties.

This has the potential to change our community for the better. And you can make it work. Just do it.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Mincome is the way forward

If you didn’t catch it, there was a very significant paragraph in the last Ontario budget which bears our attention.

While the fiscally conservative are bemoaning the state of the Ontario deficit, the radical revisioning of social service supports in Ontario was largely overlooked.

The budget said, “One area of research that will inform the path to comprehensive reform will be the evaluation of a Basic Income pilot. The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports. The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to design and implement a Basic Income pilot.”

In other words, Ontario will be doing the basic research for a system to replace the current broken social assistance system with a “mincome” system. Mincome is a general term which means that every person or family unit receives a guaranteed amount of money, higher than the pittance of social assistance. That amount is gradually clawed back as work income increases.

Canada has had one mincome experiment, in the 1970's, in Dauphin, Manitoba. Under the Liberal Trudeau government and the NDP Schryer government, the mincome experiment ran for five years. The election of the Lyon Conservatives and the Clark Progressive Conservatives terminated the program. Even the data was not released for twenty years. But by 2011, the data had been analysed and the results were clear. Mincome made an amazing difference.

The only negative effect observed was that employment dipped slightly, which was largely attributed to mothers staying home longer with children and people returning to school to upgrade their skills. Positive results included a lower dropout rate in the school system. Hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidents of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. In addition, there was a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization, and in the number of mental illness-related consultations with doctors.

For decades we have operated under the neoliberal ideology that no one has a right to a government benefit unless they have proved themselves to be deserving or worthy or have earned it. Mincome tosses that outdated idea out the window and rightly so. Our assumptions about poverty and government benefits are about to be turned on their head. Simply put, mincome works. People are better off.

For all the whining and complaining of the fiscal conservatives, this will have a beneficial effect on our community and our province. I’m looking forward to it because it’s the right thing to do.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

ARC will have ripple effect

Like many of you, I have been watching the Accommodation Review process conducted by the Bluewater District School Board with some interest. A lot of interest, to be truthful.

I have seen these reviews come and go over the years. I think the first school closure in the city, Victoria, happened shortly after I arrived here. One of my children was part of the last class at Strathcona, when it was closed by the Accommodation Review process. Now all the schools my children have attended in Owen Sound are proposed to be closed.

When I think of these changes, I don’t just see the dollars and cents. I see the people, the kids and the community environment.

We haven’t heard all the details of the plan, but it looks like it will happen very quickly. Students will be going to new schools in the coming year or so.

But there is another factor at play here; one that is, for me, entirely self-serving. I live within a block of two of the schools which will be staying open and changed; Hillcrest and West Hill Secondary. And I am worried for student safety.

One of the things I have noticed about the traffic on my street is that at certain times of the day it is incredibly heavy. As the buses arrive, delivering students to both schools, the traffic volume increases significantly. And that can be risky for anyone out walking.

What is most risky is being a pedestrian and crossing the street. And that’s when you cross at a four way stop.

I’m not worried about the school buses. Their drivers are professional and watch out for and respect pedestrians. But it seems everyone else in Owen Sound, including city bus drivers, are completely ignorant of what a stop sign means.

In case you missed it in the Driver’s Manual or failed the driving test, a big red octagonal sign with the word STOP on it means you must come to a full, total stop. California rolling stops are not legal in this province. That seems to be completely lost on most drivers in Owen Sound. City police watch those four way stops in my neighbourhood and speak to drivers who forget their responsibilities. Business, they tell me, is good. Too good.

The impact that the accommodation review will have on the neighbourhoods around the schools affected will be significant. I trust plans will be made for the traffic changes the review results will bring.

Many years ago I conducted the funeral of a woman who had lost her husband who had been a crossing guard at the corner of 3rd Ave West and 10th St. West. He died when a car didn’t stop at the stop sign at the corner and hit him. Traffic lights were installed shortly thereafter.

I hope it won’t take the death of a child at a four way stop intersection around a local school to make a difference. And if your daily travels take you near a school, watch out. Remember, stop means stop.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Pope and The Donald

Oh my. Pope Francis and Donald Trump have gone at it hammer and tong.

It had to happen. Pope Francis, when asked by a reporter about Donald Trump at his traditional end of road trip press conference said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,”

One of Trump’s signature policies is that he wants to build a wall along the US Mexico border to keep Mexicans out.

Francis made a point of celebrating Mass a stones’ throw from the US border in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Before the Mass he walked to the edge of the Rio Grande, watched by American border officers, and laid flowers at a new memorial commemorating those who have died trying to cross the border.

Trump, in turn, called the Pope’s remarks “disgraceful”. He also accused the pope of being a pawn of the Mexican government before dismissing him with “Now it’s probably going to be all over the world. Who the hell cares? OK? I don’t care.”

Trump’s religious crudeness has been evident throughout his campaign. In a speech at the evangelical Liberty University he referred to “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians”, and later that month he tried to put cash on a communion plate while attending a Presbyterian worship service in Iowa.

While in the great scheme of things this doesn’t amount to much, the polar opposites of the two men is evident.

Francis, on one hand is an inclusive, theological liberal. His call for compassion and care across all of the global community is modelled on a regular basis, whether it is in his practice in worship or  living in a Vatican hotel instead of the private Papal apartment.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. He is richer than Croceus, successful (although he has been through multiple bankruptcies) and preaches isolationism and exclusivity. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” resonates with voters who fear loss of privilege both at home and in the world.

Against Trump, Pope Francis has Christian Scripture and the words of Jesus. The Great Commandment says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I suspect Donald Trump wouldn’t know much about those ideas. Nor would he understand these words of Jesus; “... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ... ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

His response would probably be, “You’re fired!”

Pass the popcorn.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Praying for Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has suffered a stroke and the Anglican Church is praying for him.

If that sentence makes no sense to you, let me explain. Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. He is also a self-described atheist and critic of religious literalism. He is a prolific author whose primary point is that a supernatural creator does not exist and all religion is a delusion . He has made a recent career of strong criticism of all religious belief. At the same time, Dawkins also describes himself as a “cultural Anglican” who has an appreciation for Anglican rituals and liturgy. In early February Dawkins suffered a minor stroke, from which he is expected to make a full recovery.

Just before Valentine’s Day the official Church of England Twitter account posted a brief thought; “Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family...”.

Social media exploded.

Some chastised the Church of England for trolling Dawkins. One news site suggested that the bishops of the Church of England, by offering prayers for Dawkins, had surely been “at the sherry”.

None of that is true. The Twitter post was a simply expression of the Church of England’s best wishes for a prominent citizen who had suffered ill health and saying that the church was doing the one thing it could do. Pray.

Some criticized the church for praying for someone who was so opposed to the Christian faith. But that is what the church does. Sometimes that is all it can do. But the roots of the call to prayer go back to the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, verses 44 and 45. Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

In other words, Richard Dawkins is no different from anyone else and prayer is always the appropriate response for Christians, no matter what the situation.

As The Rev. Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England said, “Christians pray for all kinds of people. They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community. They pray for the Government (of whatever persuasion). They pray for terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers. They pray for criminals as well as giving thanks for saints. Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray. And they love.”

I don’t think there is a better way to say it. Christians pray. And they pray for Richard Dawkins. I pray for his recovery and his return to good health myself. That is what I can and will do, as a Christian. Always.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Chicken roundel insulting

One of the hobbies I have returned to in retirement is building scale plastic models. It was something that got put on the back burner twenty years ago, but I have unpacked boxes and rebuilt my workbench tools and paints.

I like scale modelling because it gives me a sense of accomplishment and can be combined with my love of history and technology. Which I why I was astonished by an editorial cartoon in this newspaper last week about the change of mission by the Canadian Forces combating ISIL in the Middle East.

The cartoon, which depicted a petulant RCAF pilot in the cockpit of a CF-18, had a red, white and blue roundel painted on the aircraft. But instead of the usual maple leaf centre, it had the image of a chicken.

I find that disgusting.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that the members of our Canadian Armed Forces, no matter what the branch, are absolutely not chickens. They are professional soldiers, sailors, pilots and technicians, men and women, excellent and incredibly skilled, regular force and reserves. They do what they are ordered to do by the government of the day. That is their job. And it means stepping into harm’s way without a thought or question. Inferring that anyone who flies a CF-18 in a combat environment is some kind of sulking chicken is just ignorant.

Slapping a chicken on a roundel (that’s what it is called) is a defacement of an honoured national symbol. Not even the RCAF does that. Back in the 1960's when RCAF Otter and DC-3 aircraft were painted for United Nations duty in the Sinai, the silver aircraft had traditional roundels and big, bold red markings with the words “United Nations” written across the fuselage and wings. For obvious reasons the RCAF informally referred to the colour scheme as “Don’t Shoot Me”. But the roundel still had a proud maple leaf.

The cartoonist also forgot that our armed forces do not act unilaterally. They operate and execute the orders of the government of the day, under the governance of rules of engagement. Usually the mission is debated in parliament, allowing all parties to have their say about placing Canadians in danger.

Suggesting the move by the current government from an air combat mission to a ground support and training mission in combating ISIL is a “chicken” move is ignorant and insulting. Sending our young men and women into a potentially deadly situation is probably the most significant and difficult decision any government can make, no matter what their stripe. It is doubly so for our current government, as the Minister of Defense himself has served in combat and is a decorated and high-ranking former soldier. Making that decision takes courage and commitment.

Chicken? I think not. Not from this country. Let’s remember that when casualties start down the Highway of Heroes from CFB Trenton.


Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Can't cut corners with water

Several years ago I came to work to discover that the city was digging up the church’s yard. This was a serious dig. I knew we didn’t have any water supply problems, so I asked that was going on.

“We are replacing your water supply pipe. It is old and made of lead.”

That’s interesting, I thought and went about my business. We had a plumber come in and check the rest of the water connection, which was fine. No lead.

But why would the city want to replace a lead pipe?

In two words, lead and children.

This came to public attention recently when a federal emergency was declared in Flint and Genesee counties in Michigan because of extremely poor water quality and the real possibility of lead poisoning of children. Over 8,600 kids were exposed to hazardous levels of lead leeching from water supply pipes, largely because of intentional cheapness of the city of Flint.

Flint, Michigan is a largely black industrial city. Much of the auto industry and associated suppliers have closed up and left, leaving one General Motors plant and not much else.

This resulted in the city ending up in serious economic difficulty and the state appointing a manager, taking over the operation of the city.

Flint got its drinking water from Detroit, but had to pay for it. They sought a cheaper source through a pipeline consortium to purchase water supplied from Lake Huron, but that project fell behind schedule.

In early 2014 the city started to draw water from the Flint river. But the river water was heavily contaminated and deemed corrosive. That caused lead to leech out of old water pipes and enter the drinking water stream.

There is no safe limit for lead in drinking water. Exposure to lead affects children and their brain development, even in the womb. They end up with damaged brains.

General Motors complained that the water quality was so poor that it was ruining their steel tooling. The city gave them a new water supply from Detroit.

The local hospital complained that their instruments were being ruined by the water. They got a new water supply, too.

The children of Flint got nothing.

Today, the city is living on donated bottled water supplies as the state and city figure out what to do. Service clubs have committed together to establish a community foundation to support the delivery of critical public health, medical, and community-based services and interventions that address and mitigate the short and long term impacts of exposure to lead by families and children.

As we learned here in Grey and Bruce in 2000 at Walkerton, water is our most precious resource. It has to be protected at source and guarded jealously. Although our city has removed lead feed lines, old homes may still have lead plumbing. And lest we think we are any better than Flint, let’s not forget the hundreds of boil water orders still in place in indigenous communities across Canada.

The lesson from Flint is that we can’t cut corners over water. If we are to live with respect in creation as Canadians, then we have to protect our water. At all costs.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Poverty study head scratcher

Some days I scratch my head. I did that recently when I read that according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian business think tank, poverty in Canada was declining and that only a very small portion of the Canadian population was stuck in poverty. Poverty, they said was a transitory state.

Really? That’s not what I have seen in Grey Bruce.

The Fraser Institute went on to say that “The root causes of poverty are complex and varied, meaning the solutions for how best to provide assistance are also likely to differ. Simple proposals, such as increased cash transfers, may not help particular groups and could, in some cases, be detrimental. For instance, cash transfers could be detrimental for someone who is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction if they use the additional monetary resources to feed and reinforce their addiction. If the addict’s problem is maintaining stable employment, the cash transfer does not necessarily help their situation.”

Experience in Canada says something very different. In Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970's a five year experiment of increasing cash transfers to the bottom 30% of the population by income helped improve the quality of life significantly.  No, people with that additional money didn’t go sped it on booze and cigarettes. In fact, between 1974 and 1979, the community’s population who did received cash payments found more useful things to do. That went to school, improved themselves and became more active. As a result, doctor and hospital visits declined, mental health appeared to improve, and more teenagers completed high school.

Recently I read a Statistics Canada analysis of people on low income in Canada. The Fraser Institute is partially right in that low income is indeed transitory. Statistics Canada says that one third of those in low income have moved out of the category by the next year. But the problem is that the number of people dropping in income is the same as those entering. In other words, there are still a lot of people moving into poverty at the same time people are moving out. We need to find out poverty and reduce it or stop it, not minimize the reality of poverty.

Another concern in Canada is that the richer are getting richer. They are. Statistics Canada says that After Tax income rose among the wealthiest in Canada by 37% between 1989 And 2013. Among the lowest income? After Tax income rose just 9%.

This is why we need a tax system which evens out those differences and a minimum income system to bring up the wealth and health of those on the bottom of the income pile. The nonsense that giving tax breaks to the wealthy will allow them to create jobs has been thoroughly discredited. The wealthier simply get wealthier.

We need to be cautious of the arguments the Fraser Institute is selling. They are based in stereotypes and selective interpretation of the facts. They misunderstand poverty (which is actually complex) and try to make a case for discredited stereotypes. It fails. Better for us to understand poverty and its foundational issues than try to make one size fit all. We can do better.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Christianity is about inclusion

There are occasionally events which happen in this world which have such sharp significance that they cause me to stop, think and realize that I am hearing a truly Divine-inspired voice.

Such an occasion happened recently when I heard the response of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church in the US to the decision by 38 of his fellow bishops to sanction his church for changing their rules for marriage, called Canons, to include both opposite and same-sex couples last year.

Bishop Curry, in a video recorded on January 15, shortly after the decision said,  “This is not the outcome we expected, and while we are disappointed, it’s important to remember that the Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; relationships in companion diocese relationships; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. That’s what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.”

It hit me square in the face. The way of Jesus of Nazareth, for those who follow that way, is not about right belief but about right relationship. It's not about jots and tittles of specific passages of scripture but about how those of us who say we follow Jesus, and I count myself among those who do, live out that relationship with others in the world.

Bishop Curry makes it clear that church relationships will continue and will not change. I suspect it’s kind of like a family. You love your brothers and your sisters and your kids, even though they may do things you disapprove of. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to their behaviour, but it doesn’t mean you love them any less.

The Anglican Church in Canada is looking at similar changes in the Canons on marriage at their upcoming General Synod this year. It was proposed that they also be suspended, but that proposal was withdrawn as no changes have been made to their marriage rules.

I have to agree with Bishop Curry. I believe in his vision of inclusion of all. This is what the Christian faith is all about.  Although I am not an Anglican, “...we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on. And so we must ... claim the high calling of love and faith; love even for those with whom we disagree, and then continue, and that we will do, and we will do it together. We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated. God love you. God bless you. And you keep the faith. And we move forward.”

And the people said, “Amen”.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Lottos sign something wrong

So, did you win the Powerball lottery? I didn’t think so. There were just three winners for the grand prize of $1.6 billion dollars and seventy tree new millionaires. But not you or me.

The odds of winning the Powerball lottery were very, very slim. Apparently the odds of winning the top prize were 292.1 million to one. That’s 292.1 followed by six zeros. It was three times worse than the odds of successfully contacting Kim Kardashian by dialling a random cellphone number, and then hoping her phone happens to ring. Or if you are a 20-year-old man, the odds of your ticket winning were somewhat worse than the odds you will die in the next two minutes.

A bakery in Toronto gave away $2 Powerball tickets to the first five hundred customers who bought $20 worth of baked goods. That’s $10,000 worth of sales for a cost of $1,000. And they did it a couple of days in a row.

I could never figure out what the attraction of lotteries was. I think I’ve bought one lottery ticket in my lifetime, way back when Wintario was the only game in town, but of course it never won, so I never bought another.

Lotteries depend on human greed. We think we will get something for nothing (or a huge return for a minimal investment). But we don’t. For every winner, there are, in the case of Powerball and every other lottery, millions and millions of losers.

Well, that’s not true. There is one real winner. That’s the state governments who take a share of the Powerball profits.

The same is true in Canada. Lotteries, which were started back in the 1970's to fund the Montreal Olympics, are now an essential source of government revenue. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Ontario lotteries contributed $2 billion dollars to the public coffers and were the single largest source of non-tax revenue to the province.

 What governments have finally figured out is that in sponsoring and legalizing lotteries, citizens are now paying a voluntary tax. Every time you buy a lottery ticket, a scratch ticket or place a sports bet, you are paying a government levy. And what’s even better is that no one complains.

Given that fact, along with the huge odds against winning anything, some have called lotteries a tax on stupidity.

What’s worse is that this voluntary tax is paid by people the least able to afford it. Repeated studies in the US have shown that the largest spenders on lotteries, proportionally by income, are the poor. They spend more of their scarce dollars on chasing lighting, hoping to win big and get out of poverty.

What’s driving lotteries spending then is nothing more than despair; a dream; a false hope of winning big. For people stuck in minimum wage, no benefit, part time or contract jobs, a lottery ticket and the horrendously poor odds of winning it offers is the only way to change their lives.

That’s simply a disgrace. Not only that, it exploits the hopeless.

Didn’t win the Powerball? Neither did I. But I can take that $2 I saved by not buying a ticket and buying myself a hot cup of coffee at a local business. And that benefits all of us; employer, employee, government and me.


Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Churches must look outward

With the turning of the new year, the usual prognosticators come out to suggest where we will be in a year’s time. They predict the stock market will be up or down. Interest rates will be higher or lower. No one will predict anything about North Korea.
              
The same is often true in the church. People want to predict this or that about the future. And they are mostly wrong.
              
But fear not. I’ve taken a number of predictions about the church which I have read over the last month and come to some conclusions. And I’m willing to take the risk of making a few predictions about the church in general.

 No question, churches are in trouble. In the United Church alone, the national church’s budget is being cut by 30% in the coming year. Layoffs are already beginning. A new governance structure for the church has been proposed and putting it into place has already started.

 The Mennonite Church Canada, not a high profile denomination, found itself $300,000 in the red last November and laid off five staff.

 The late Phyllis Tickle, an American scholar and author, said in her recent book, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why” that every years or so, the church has a giant garage sale, getting rid of the stuff it no longer needs.

 During this garage sale, she said, the institutionalized church throws off things that are restricting its growth, breaking open “the incrustations of an overly established Christianity.”

 For Western Christianity, the first garage sale was when Pope Gregory the Great helped bring the church out of the dark ages. The second was the Great Schism, when the church divided between east and west. The third was the Protestant Reformation, about 500 years ago.

 And the next one, she said, is happening right now.

 I think she’s right. We have only to look at the breaking down of “incrustations” in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis to see what that means.

 For Protestants, it’s a little more complex.

 The Protestant church, has, I believe, lost its sense of mission. It has become confused. Denominations are not clear on their focus. Local congregations have, in many cases, turned inward for survival, focussing on keeping the doors open and the lights on as opposed to remembering that the church, no matter what the denomination, is about mission first. And lack of clarity and priority about mission is killing the church.

Churches, large and small, which understand they have a mission (and it doesn’t have to be a complex mission other than it has to be outwardly focussed) will survive and do well in the next decade. The rest? No so much.

 Want to know who those churches are? Just look at the churches who support and sponsor refugee families coming into Canada. Look for the churches that support food banks and soup kitchens with their time and money. Find the churches who welcome people with disabilities; seniors; children. The list goes on.

 The churches who do those things and live out their mission will be around ten years from now. The remainder? I doubt it. At least that’s what I predict. But don’t take it to the bank.


Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Non-profits don't run for free

Over the years one of the harshest things any minister can hear is the comment “Gosh, you have a cushy job. You only work one hour on one day a week.”

What really disturbs me was that it was often said by well-intentioned people who should have known better. Like the business person who was trying to reduce the minister’s salary,
forgetting the time I had spent at the bedside of his mother in her last months before she died.

We often don’t see the back office functions of the charities and non-profits in our community. They are there and they are essential, but we just don’t seem to want to acknowledge them.

I have served on countless boards and committees of such organizations, as well as church congregations large and small. I continue to be amazed at the dedication, commitment and desire to make a difference in the community which I find.

There is a scurrilous internet posting in circulation which purports to name the salaries of the executive directors of various charitable and non-profit organizations. People on Facebook love to forward it to their friends with something like “Will you look at this? I know where I’m NOT going to give any money.”

Problem is, the whole post is false. It’s a lie. It has no basis in fact and no application to Canadian charities. I’ve taken to replying to those who forward it by saying exactly that and pointing them to accurate information.

Reality is that the back office functions, the administration work, if you will, is critical for any charity or non-profit. Someone has to answer the phone, receive donations, complete the tax receipts, send out the mail, keep the books, see that they are audited, file required Canada Revenue Agency returns, prepare for board meetings and represent the public face of the organization in the community. And it’s not done for free.

That does not mean those functions should take a considerable portion of the money a charity receives. What needs to be asked of any charity or non-profit organization is “How does your administration cost enhance and expand the work your organization does?” If that’s the benchmark, then an organization can clearly say “This what we do with the money you donate to us, including our administration costs.”

Most charitable and on-profit organizations are incredibly adept at making do with less, leveraging and multiplying resources with partners and like-minded groups so that community impact is maximized. Very, very little, in my experience, is wasted on frivolities, trips and unnecessary expenses.

I note that our local hospital foundation is seeking a “philanthropy officer”. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately our government sees fit not to cover replacement capital costs for our hospitals, forcing us, as taxpayers, to double dip into our wallets to replace life-expired medical equipment. Our hospitals are now required to ask us for money. That ask will be through legacy giving, wills and bequests. It’s a reasonable and worthy thing to do, although the government is evading their fuller responsibility.

Charities and non-profits have administration costs. The charitable and non-profit sector is too large, too complex and regulated for it to be any other way. Generosity alone doesn’t cut it any more. That is simply a fact of life.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

Likely not how you pictured him

Normally I’m not a fan of big city megachurches. But a project started by The City Church, a multi-campus megachurch in Seattle, Washington, has caught my attention. The project is called “Jesus is...” and is an invitation to church members (and to anyone else interested) to complete the sentence. As the Jesus is web site says, “Everyone has an opinion of who Jesus is. That's why this website exists: as a platform for people to express who Jesus is to them.”

The web site goes on to say that the only place we can find the answer is in the Bible, something I don’t entirely agree with. We can find Jesus and stuff about Jesus in the Bible, including his message of redemption for humanity, but, as the web site shows, there is more. Much more.

Many of the responses posted to the web site are conventional. Jesus is love. Jesus is life. Jesus is my redeemer, my saviour and my lord. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

What the web site also says is that out of that knowledge of Jesus comes real, compassionate action. Jesus is loving a woman at a homeless shelter. Jesus is raising awareness of human trafficking. Jesus is giving Christmas to families of wounded soldiers.

But the Jesus is... web site and The City Church have gone even further. They have bought space on roadside bulletin boards and placed their message “Jesus is...” and their internet address there.

Someone has filled in the blank.

In a recent photo circulating on Facebook, someone completed the sign with spray paint, saying “Jesus is middle eastern”. And they are right.

The quest to figure out what Jesus looked like is never-ending. If you search the internet for “What does Jesus look like”, you will get lots of answers. None of them will be accurate. That’s because no one knows. The earliest image of Jesus dates from 235 A.D. and was found in a Syrian synagogue. The artwork, named the “Healing of the Paralytic,” shows Jesus with short, curly hair wearing a tunic and sandals. But Jesus probably didn’t look like that, either. Nor did Jesus look like a Greek or Roman god or a tall, blond white guy. If you want to see Jesus, look to the streets of the Middle East.

Jesus as a child could easily have looked like Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old whose body washed ashore after a failed attempt by his family to cross the sea to Greece and whose death sparked the current wave of compassion for refugees in Canada.

Jesus does that to us. Child or adult, his story and his teaching show us to a better way. In this case, it points us toward compassion for others, especially those on the edges, those marginalised by war, driven from their homes by bombs and forced to risk everything for what we take for granted.

It’s Christmas. It’s a season of community and giving and a reminder that we are better than hate and division. Jesus’ birth points us to a better way; a way of mercy and justice. In this season, may you respond to that invitation to follow a better way.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.