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.