Friday, February 24, 2017

Confessions of a blogger

I'm back. Sort of. Blogging that is. Like Hamlet, I have pondered this existential question and decided to blog again, even if more intermittently than in the past.

Let me explain what happened and why I am beginning to blog again after a break of almost three months. It's been a long time for me as well, but there are many valid reasons and there are also some confessions.

About these confessions, don't expect anything prurient. My reasons are practical (at least for me), yet I owe everyone an explanation for my absence for these many months.

If you have missed receiving any new posts recently, my apology for that loss. If you did't, I apologize as well. Maybe I can earn your interest this time around.

Blogging is a personal experience. The postings are my own reflections on what is happening in the world, but they are also ones that I want to share with others, otherwise I would not write them. Yet blogging has created some problems for me. Thus let me begin with a few personal confessions.

First of all, I am getting older. Even though aging is a chronic condition that afflicts each and every one of us, I now realize that it is afflicting me more intensely every year. The list of my infirmities is growing. Walking has become a challenge because of back problems, but sitting behind a computer is also difficult. Moreover, my eyes are progressively clouding over, although surgery can correct that.

So I needed a break to give my body time to heal. That healing as been much slower than I expected. And thus I am back to blogging, albeit cautiously. My previous schedule of weekly postings has slowly but surely been diminishing since I started blogging about six years ago.

Both my back and my eyes have made it a challenge to keep up this schedule. Even now, it is difficult for me to sit in front of the computer for extended periods of time. This is frustrating for me. Even this post is more onerous than previous ones over the years.

For the record, in 2011 and 2012 I had 64 posts each year. In 2013 my total went down to 61 and the following year it was 49. In 2015 the total went down even further to 39, while last year, in spite of only one post in December, the total rose slightly to 41. The grand total now stands at almost 320.

The total number of pageviews over that period is approaching 600,000. One post has attracted about 72,000 pageviews, but most garner only a few hundred views each. I typically have had an average of approximately 10,000 views per month. That is still how many I receive per month after being absent for so many months. Evidently, there is interest in my blog. Enough to encourage me to take up my pen, er computer, and continue blogging.

My second confession is political. I confess my disdain for Trump. I refuse to dignify him with the title of "President." He may have been properly elected (although that system needs a major overhaul), and thus earned this title, but in my heart I refuse to acknowledge him as such. He is not MY president. I am a Canadian, thus this is true of me by definition. But I share my disdain for Trump with many Americans who also make this claim, as was evident on Presidents' Day.

Trump is perhaps the primary reason for my absence from blogging. I found it too difficult for me to write every week and avoid discussing this man. After his inauguration, my problem only became worse. I  have previously referred to him as "He whose name shall never be used in my house!"

That gives you some idea what I think of him. I did not want to spend the next few months irritated by him nor have comments irritate others the same way. This break was one way of protesting the current scandal of American politics. My silence has allowed me to reflect on what is happening. America has become a pigsty, one that I don't want to wallow in it any longer.

I am not afraid to speak out publicly against Trump and his administration. The worst they could do is to refuse me entry to Trumpland. This would be a serious loss for me because some of my children and grandchildren live there, and I have many friends there as well. But I refuse to sully my mind every day by describing what is happening in Trumpland. You can read that yourself in your newspaper of choice.

A well-known Dutch theologian wrote a book some decades ago with the title (translated), Politics is everything, but not everything is politics. He meant to say that politics influences every part of life but it is not the most important thing in life. In the Trump era it is easy to regard politics more important than it is.

For a few weeks I wanted to step back and reassess what I was doing in this blog. Aside from Trump, I discovered that I was devoting too much time and space to politics in general, and drifting away from the role that religion plays in life, which is the central focus of my blog.

My most popular posts are not intentionally political. Climate change, has generated the most attention of my readers. This topic certainly has strong political aspects but it is not inherently political. It is, however, a religious topic since it touches on our view of the world and the place of human beings in the world.

Have we as human beings contributed to climate change? Our answer to that question is at heart a religious one. Religion, as I define it, deals with more than the existence of God or of many gods. It also deals with this world and how we perceive our role in it.

In the next few weeks and months, I hope to concentrate more on the role of religion in life, not just in the private sphere, where it has been relegated by secularism, but also in the public arena. That is where we live out our lives and interact with each other. This is where we express our faith. It is also where our hopes and our fears come to the surface.

In my future posts I also intend to explain certain subjects that interest me and, I hope, you as well. Things that I do not fully understand, and thus want to clarify, if only for myself. This too is part of What in the World. I could turn the title of my blog into a question: "What in the World Is . . . ?"

So I intend to veer away from the politics of Trumpland, but not necessarily politics as such. There is much that is happening in the world that has not (so far) fallen victim to Trumpism. That I will emphasize, rather than the excesses of you know who.

I hope that this confession helps to explain why I have not posted anything for several months. Health concerns are only part of the story; Trump also plays a significant role.  I want to purge my soul of that awful man as much as possible. These months have been a catharsis for me.

So with some fear and trepidation I hope to return to blogging with a degree of regularity. Health issues will continue to restrain me, but my intention is to write as much as I can, but at the same time ignore Trump. The rest of the world cannot ignore him. but I will as much as possible for the sake of my sanity.

Confession, it is said, is good for the soul. If so, that is yet another step to in this cleansing process. I have bared my soul a bit. Please encourage me as I open a new page of this blog. I need to know that I am doing what you want as well. We need to encourage each other in a world that has seemingly become crazy.

This post is being published on the day that my father would have turned 97. Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of his death. I dedicate this post in his memory.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Whitelash, coming soon to where you live

"Whitelash" is a new word coined by CNN commentator Van Jones to describe, in part, why he felt Americans elected Donald Trump as president. But the term describes an old reality: Dramatic racial progress in America is inevitably followed by a white backlash, or "whitelash." Reconstruction in the 19th century was followed by a century of Jim Crow. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s was followed by President Ronald Reagan and the rise of the religious right.
Four years ago, on the eve of President Barack Obama's re-election, I warned that his presidency could spark such a backlash. In my November 1, 2012, story headlined, "Parallels to country's racist past haunt age of Obama" . . .  I examined another time when white Americans nostalgic for an old social order transformed the country. This is what happened -- and could happen again in the years ahead.

This quotation is from the preface to an article by John Blake for CNN on the role of racism in the US in Donald Trump's election. He traces the racist backlash that has followed many events in US history, and points especially to Reconstruction in the 1870's Ronald Reagan's and Obama's elections as triggering backlashes. He attributes Trump's election in part to Obama's victory in 2008.

“This was a whitelash,” Van Jones said on CNN on election night. "This was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black president, in part. And that's the part where the pain comes. I know it's not just about race," he continued. "There's more going on than that, but race is here too and we have to talk about it."

"Whitelash" is a contraction of "white backlash." "Backlash" itself dates back to 1815, originally used for a jarring movement caused by a machine’s parts being put into action. It is very noticeable and potentially dangerous.

Whitelash entered American political debates decades before this election. It was used as early as the 1964 presidential campaign, when President Lyndon Johnson and Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater squared off over the Civil Rights Act. Thus Jones's use of this term merely revives this old term.

Others have disputed the effect of whitelash on the election of Trump. Be that as it may, the reasons for Trump's victory are not of immediate interest to me. Rather, I am concerned with the storm that Trump unleashed during his campaign. The hatred that he inspired has affected many whites to say and do things that they otherwise might never have done or said.

It is undeniable that there was an underlying racial dynamic at play in the election which represented white disenfranchisement and resentment of an America that has increasingly become unrecognizable to them. This is why Mr. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated with so many people. It resonated especially with racists who form a small yet significant part of the current whitelash.

I am thinking particularly of the racist remarks and graffiti that has appeared in many cities in North America. This is one example of whitelash. Trump has enabled people who feel powerless to express themselves in these crude ways. Trump's hate-filled language has authorized them do and say these awful things. This whitelash is coming soon to where you live, if it is not already there.

Such speech and actions have always happened, but the current rash of these incidents which are racially motivated and directed at various racial as well as religious groups. In this campaign Trump managed to malign groups as diverse as Mexicans and Muslims. He put his imprimatur on such vicious attacks, and consequently some of the alt-right followed his example.

Those who do follow his example are perhaps the most extreme instances of the whitelash. There are, no doubt, many others who will not desecrate mosques, synagogues, and even churches, but they tacitly approve what these extremists.

Nevertheless, whether extremists or not, all can be identified as part of the whitelash. After Trump's campaign they feel empowered to at least think racists thoughts and some even to say the N-word or paint swastikas.

I do not mean to imply that Trump himself is a racist or that all his supporters are. Unfortunately, there are enough racists among them to warrant some of these charges. Those who can legitimately be called racists are a small yet extremely vocal group who,like their brothers and sisters that are part of the whitelash have resorted to illegal methods to express themselves.

Trump's crude speech and inflammatory language is like red meat to them. It feeds their anger and licences their further activities. While their methods are widely condemned, many who might never perform such reprehensible deeds themselves, do entertain similar thoughts. Racism is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It is often imbibed with a mother's milk.

Canada is not immune to whitelash. Kellie Leitch has centered her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party around the call for immigrants to Canada for "anti-Canadian values." Canadians are not all like that. Some of her constituents have responded by creating a "Not my MP" movement.

North America is not the only venue for this type of whitelash. It is prevalent in Europe too, where populist or nationalist political parties are gaining influence and even coming to power, as has already happened in Hungary. How Muslim women dress has become a bone of contention, most recently in the Netherlands where the government there has banned the burka and the niqab.

God did not create human beings that way, but we are socialized to separate ourselves from others who are different. It becomes "Us" vs "Them." It does not matter if the differences are racial, ethnic, or religious. The result is alienation instead of reconciliation.

But reconciliation is what is needed. The way to counteract whitelash is through reconciling people with each other, not fomenting hatred. As I wrote in a previous post, love is the best response. Even those who desecrate houses of worship still deserve our love even when they make us angry.

Reconciliation is the task of churches. Churches are not the only agents of reconciliation, of course, but this is the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Christian Church. God sent his Son into the world to reconcile himself and humanity. At the same time, God through Christ is reconciling human beings with each other and, indeed, with the entire creation.

Whitelash may be spreading also to where you live, but the best way to counter it is to deny them the publicity they seek. That will suck out the oxygen they need, but not be confrontational. Your actions must be motivated by love. Never forget that love is stronger than hate.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Responding to the election in love

America is deeply divided, as the results of the presidential election show. In the week after the election I witnessed many responses to the Trump victory, ranging from ecstasy to anger. Loud protests are occurring all over the country and even in other countries.

As readers will know, my disdain for Trump is widely shared in Canada, but I did not like Clinton either, even if she was, for me and many others, the "lesser of two evils." Americans throughout the long campaign had strong feelings for one one or the other of the two candidates, so much so that families and churches were sorely divided and friendships disrupted.

Each side found it difficult to understand why other had opted for their own candidate. "How stupid can you get!" was probably one of the milder epithets they hurled at each other. But such reproaches miss the point. Each side can provide very good reasons for why they voted the way they did.

The two sides hardly listened to each other during the campaign. Each was living in their own universe where Fox or MSNBC were the preferred channels to watch. This divide goes back a long way, long before the current election campaign. But it has grown exponentially, and now even threatens the integrity of the country, as I suggested in my previous post.

Trump won the election in the only way that really matters, through the electoral college. Clinton indeed won the popular vote, but that doesn't get her the presidency, at least not until the system is changed. If Americans want to gripe about her losing the election, then they must change the system. Protesting at this point will not change the results. Only a constitutional change can prevent that happening again.

I too have my concerns about Trump as president. Yet nothing that ordinary people like you and me do is going to change him. He is unpredictable, as everyone agrees. Thus the only thing we  know for sure is that the world is in for is a tumultuous four years (at least). Some Americans are already losing sleep over this.

Other Americans might have been equally concerned if Clinton had won. They claimed they couldn't trust her, and thus they were worried about her as president. These worries were real in their eyes, just as those who voted for Clinton were worried about Trump.

Although we cannot change the election result, we can change our attitude to those who voted for the other candidate. They had legitimate reasons, at least in their own eyes, for doing so. Thus we may not blame them. The reasons for Trump's victory should not be laid at their feet.

We may disagree with them, but we must not blame them for the way they voted.. We must respect them. They are our neighbors, fellow church members, or even family and friends, And therefore we should not demonize them. As people of faith we are not allowed to do that.

A friend of mine has written an excellent editorial in which tells us to remember several things in the aftermath of one of the most divisive presidential elections in the US in recent memory. He is writing specifically to Christians who are as divided as everyone in the country is, He calls on Christians to remember several things which I will summarize and then add my own comments.

First, he want us to remember that our struggle is ultimately a struggle against spiritual forces. They may seem strange to many Western people, but in the rest of the world the realty of spirits, also evil spirits, is an integral part of their worldview. In fact, the spirit world is more real than this tangible one.

Evil is all pervasive. Good and evil can be discovered in all of us. We all need to be aware that evil is not just outside in the larger world but that it also resides within each one of us. He writes,
Our struggle is against the spiritual forces of evil that infect each and every one of us. Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956). That line runs through every Republican and every Democrat. It runs through Christians and non-Christians. It runs through every race, gender, or class.
If evil resides in every heart, then no one is innocent. None of us is entirely good or evil, although evil, in my opinion, can sometimes take an extreme, personal form, witness monsters like Hitler and Stalin. And there are many currents examples of that as well. Yet neither Trump nor Clinton deserves to be labelled as entirely evil as happened during the campaign and continues to happen even now,

Evil can also take structural forms, as happens in the growing inequality in the world. Inequality is perhaps the main reason for the massive support for Trump. It also underlies the growing popularism that politicians elsewhere in the world are capitalizing on.

All of us must be careful not to be caught up in the nets of these politicians with their specious appeals. Inequality is very real,but their proposed solutions, as beautiful as they may sound are not always effective. Many people who supported Clinton are equally concerned about inequality. Trump supporters are not the only victims of inequality, all of us are affected and all of us should oppose it.

Just because they voted for Trump doesn't allow us to demonize them. Many had a valid reason for voting the way they did. We must respect their right to do that. If their vote was motivated by hatred that is another matter entirely.

In war the enemy needs to be demonized before they can be killed. In elections the voters are not the enemy, and thus they should not be demonized. To demonize means to disregard their humanity and to treat them as less than human. Christians and Jews cannot do this because they believe every human being is created in the image of God. Thus the commandment not to kill. Other religions have similar prohibitions.

Instead, God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Republicans and Democrats are our neighbors, and.thus we must love each other. Jesus, in fact, commanded his followers to also love their enemies. We must not treat people who voted for other candidates as enemies, but we must love them. Always. That is the only way to heal the wounds caused by the election in families, churches, and among friends.

That love must extend even to those like Trump and Clinton whom we strongly dislike. Like and love are not identical. We must all learn to love certain people that we don not like. We must even love those who spout hatred out of their mouths. There are many political candidates and their supporters who do that regularly. Yet the only appropriate response to hate is love.

Second, my friend suggests that his readers must remember that their political and social visions, whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, are not synonymous with what God is doing. God is building a kingdom. but his kingdom cannot be reduced to only erasing racism and poverty nor can it be reduced to ending abortion and protecting religious liberty.

If people voted for Clinton or Trump for these reasons alone, then the scope of God's kingdom is severely restricted. Instead of encompassing the entire universe, people have limited the sphere of God's reign to mundane matters, even if they are important. That is one factor in the current "culture war."

He observes, correctly, that the so-called “culture war” is not identical to the spiritual war. The line dividing good and evil cuts through both sides of the culture war divide. No camp has a monopoly on good or evil, just as no individual is entirely good or evil. Thus we must refrain from making such judgments about others. We must demonstrate love instead of hate.

Jesus Christ alone is Lord. Christians are not allowed to put their faith in ordinary human beings. In the early history of the church, Christians were often compelled to make the prescribed offering to Caesar, but most of them refused to do that. Similarly, today Christian must refuse to grant their allegiance to anyone except Christ. To do otherwise would be to deny Christi's lordship and ultimately to limit the universal scope of his kingdom.

My son-in-law posted this on FB the other day. His thoughts are similar, and thus I want to share them:
In church today we heard "How you voted doesn't change how Jesus thinks of you". This, to me, seems inherently true. If that is the case, then we as The Church should act the same way. How others in our faith community voted shouldn't change the way we think of them...we are still seeking the Kingdom of Heaven in this world together, serving together, etc just like we were before the election...lord, give us courage to treat people as people and give us strength to extend this to all our our and outside of church.
Would that many more people would treat others with respect and love! Then the US and the entire world may still experience four very turbulent years, but  Americans will be able to live together again in peace and harmony. That is my prayer.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump, The Disunited States of America, and God

America is more divided than ever before in living memory, so much so that it should be called the Disunited States of America as the results of  the November 8 election illustrate, One half of the country is wondering how the other half could have voted for Donald Trump. The rest of the world can only look on in dismay as I did. Now, after a few days I am able to channel my dismay and offer a few remarks.

All of us had better get used to saying, "President Trump." The unimaginable has happened! And as a result, we also need to get used to talking about "The Disunited States of America." The USA is no more, it seems, except on paper.

On November 8, 2016, a new country called the Disunited States of America was born. It is not official yet, but is already a reality. This new country has had a long gestation period. Election Day 2016 was the delivery date. The birth of  the Disunited States of America was inevitable after what has happened in the last few decades but even more the last few years with Trump's victory. He will be the first president of that new country.

Several questions might be asked, however: How long this new country will survive? Is it possible to bring back the old? Unfortunately, these questions are too big to answer now. At the moment, I merely want to look at what we can learn from the aftermath of November 8 about the disunity that exists in America,.

"Disunite" is in the dictionary. When used transitively, it means to cause disagreement or alienation among or within, or to separate, sever, or split; used intransitively. it means to disintegrate;or to come apart. Both uses are possible in this case.

"The Disunited States of America" is also the title of an alternative-reality novel, The country it envisions is one where the different American states never united and went to war with each other. This is not the reality we have known for so long. This name, however, strikes  me as highly appropriate.for what is currently happening. The election of Donald Trump is an expression of that disunity.

The dissolution of the United States is a possibility that many people have discussed in the past. Yet most people are frightened by that idea, The American Civil War was fought to stop such a breakup. What will happen if California secedes, as some people there are now threatening to do? But what is happening today is different from what happened a century and a half ago.

What prompts today's disunity is not expressed in the divisions that exist between the various states that were illustrated aptly on the electoral map that evening, but the divisions that exist within the entire\populace. These divisions have existed for a long time, but they have never been as visible as now. That is why, after November 8, I suggest that the United States of America be renamed the Disunited States of America.

In my admittedly limited experience, the polarization in the USA has never been greater. An entire nation, as well as many people all over the world, were stunned by the results of the presidential election. Half the nation is elated and a slightly larger number are depressed. It is important to understand that this is not normal. In any election, of course, there are winners and losers.. But what is happening before our eyes is not typical of  bare-knuckle politics. Something extraordinary is happening: something much more nefarious and dangerous.

The idea of America as politically polarized -- that there is an unbridgeable divide between right and left, red and blue states -- has become a cliché. What we must realize, however, is that the increasing polarization in recent decades has been closely accompanied by fundamental social and economic changes -- most notably, a parallel rise in income inequality. This phenomenon has been noted in many other countries as well.

As a result, in countries all over the globe and not only in the US, many political parties have moved right, away from re-distributive policies that would reduce income inequality. Economic inequality has fed directly into political polarization, and polarization in turn creates policies that further increase inequality. This has become a vicious circle. In America the result has been catastrophic.

Donald Trump capitalized on the growing inequality and won the election as a result. People who wanted change flocked to him. His racist, sexist remarks and his misogynistic behavior added to his appeal. They hate Obama because of his race and his policies, especially Obama Care.

Also, people did not want to vote for a .woman candidate. As the consummate insider, Hilary Clinton represented the powerful elite who did not want change. Above all, she was a woman and carried a lot of political baggage, not least her alleged untrustworthiness.. Clinton would not be able to bring about real change, not the spurious changes Trump trumpeted.

Bernie Sanders, even though he represents the far left in American politics, might have been a better choice for the Democrats. His program also advocated change, and thus addressed the concern of many young people in particular. I doubt, however, that he would have attracted much support from the "angry white men" who form Trump's core constituency.

America faces many serious problems: a costly and cruel healthcare system, an energy system that contributes to damaging climate change, and an incoherent immigration system. None of these problems can be solved or even significantly ameliorated under the present setup.

Trump was the advocate of change. He promised to undo Obama Care, build a wall on the border with Mexico.. He also denied the human factor in climate change and threatened to deport Muslims.. If Clinton had become president, the present setup would likely have continued unchanged, but she would not have adopted Trump's absurd policies. Those are not the changes that America needs.

Trump's vices seem to outnumber his virtues. He is a lot of things to many people., depending largely on their attitude to him. For those who oppose him, he is all the things that the media has repeatedly cited. How could this man be even considered for the presidency? He is a nightmare for many. Perhaps the world will wake up soon from this collective nightmare.

How does God enter into the picture? Some, even many, Christians (as well as other people of faith) blithely assume that God will bless America because they, as righteous people, have voted for certain politicians who agree with their supposedly biblical stance on issues, whether that be abortion, same-sex marriage, gun-control, immigration, and so on. These are all polarizing issues and have become more so since Trump appeared on the scene.

In Trump's case, what they overlooked is his un-Christian language and behavior. Trump has played the evangelical Christian card even more than his recent Republican predecessors. Holding up a Bible, as he has done on occasion, does not make him a Christian.

Not surprisingly, Trump's candidacy has served to polarize the American populace even more.  He used the popularizing issues for his own benefit. His election victory is the  result. Now the world shudders with the though of him taking office. He may be the least qualified presidential candidate of all time, as Obama has stated. His moral qualities are equally lacking.

Trump is a polarizing figure in his own right. People either love him or despise him. You cannot be neutral with regard to Trump. Those who love him were elated on November 8, while those who despised him were depressed when the evening was over.

These feelings are intense and will continue to be for a long time. The division runs so deep that I have renamed America "The Disunited States." In a previous post, I suggested that all people of faith pray for the election, praying in particular for peace and reconciliation. No doubt, many people did any way.

Thankfully, there was peace for the most part during the election itself. But the intensity of the feelings involved was evident already when many protesters in America's largest cities holding signs with the slogan, "Trump is not my president."

Since I am a Canadian, he is not my president either, but he is the president of my daughter and her family who are Americans. In my house, many of us had a sleepless night as we watched the election results. Admittedly, Clinton was a terrible candidate. This judgment has nothing to do with her being a woman. I too had hoped that the greatest glass ceiling of all in America had finally been shattered. That did not happen, not yet.

Out of 330 million Americans, surely two people could have been found to be the standard bearers for the two major parties. Would God bless America because of these two candidates. Hardly! Both are less than the best. America needs the best!

I don't want to list the shortcomings of each of them. That they already did for each other, and the media finished the hatchet job. Future presidential campaigns must never be allowed to descend to such depths again. The office of president is the most dignified one in the country, and the campaigns must demonstrate that.

What I suggest now are renewed prayers for all who were involved in this election. Special prayers are needed for Trump. Even if he himself does not fear God, we who do must pray for him, although not the way some Christians prayed that Obama would be removed from office and replaced by someone else. If we pray sincerely for the president, then we will not need to remain fearful for the next four years.

No doubt, some people may wish to go to sleep for a few years, somewhat like Rip Van Winkle did, But that is not possible. What we can and must do is pray for good leadership during the next presidential term. Then we will be able to get up every morning and great a new day. Obama promised that after a long sleepless night the sun would get up in the morning after the election, and it did.

Maybe the Disunited States of America.will become truly united again -- united in fact and not only in name. That is my earnest prayer. Please pray with me for unity. May God richly bless America!

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Call to Prayer for the Election



That is my advice as the USA stands on the eve of this momentous election.

Tomorrow is a BIG day!

Many people will be chosen for many offices all over the country.

But one office stands out -- the presidency.

My advice is unsolicited, I concede, but it comes with the best of intentions.

It is what God commands of all his children.

He invites everyone to pray,

And so do I.

I am a Canadian, thus I cannot vote in this crucial election.

What I can do is pray, as millions around the world are also doing.

People of faith everywhere are praying -- desperately praying!.

After all, what else can we do?

Most of us are helpless bystanders

What many of us say and do will not influence the results of the election.

But the results will influence every one of us.

All that most of us can do is implore God to save us.

Whether we are Americans or not, we must pray.

Americans alone can vote, but the rest of us cannot.

If you are an American, do so, but vote wisely.

Vote as God directs you.

First of all, even before you mark your ballot, pray!

And continue to pray afterwards too.

Pray also, if you have already voted.

Join millions of others around the world who are praying for this election.

Never, in my seventy-plus years, have I witnessed such an election campaign.

Nor have most people in the world.

I don't want to describe that campaign.

It has been disgusting!

I understand how difficult this election is for many Americans.

The choices seem terrible, especially for the presidency.

That is why it so important to pray.

Pray for God's guidance as you vote:

        for a peaceful election day,

       and for peace after the election.

Pray that the candidates and voters may accept the results.

Pray for healing for the country,

                           for all Americans,

                           for every person in every city, town, and village,

                           for reconciliation in marriages,

                                                        in families,

                                                       in churches

                                                       and among friends.

Pray for all those who have been elected or reelected.

Pray for peace in the world.

An, and if you can find the time, pray also for the rest of the world.

Since they are praying for you.

God bless America!    


Friday, October 28, 2016

Ashamed to be a Man

I am ashamed to be a man. Very ashamed.

No, I am not a transgender person who is dissatisfied with my gender identity. Rather, I am ashamed that men are responsible for so much violence against women. Men continue to persist in such behavior, so much so that I am ashamed. I am sure that many men are also ashamed by violence against women.

We can no longer tolerate such abusive behavior by other men. Many of us may have accepted it at one time, even if we did not do it ourselves, but that is no longer possible because we do not view women that way nor should society. Therefore, I feel compelled to speak out, and so must other men if this problem is ever going to be licked.

Violence against women can take many forms, including sexual assault and abuse, which I want to concentrate on this time. I have touched on this issue several times over the last few years in my blog because of its prevalence around the globe. It can be found in every country of the world and it happens in very part of society.

This time, I will not deal with violence against women perpetrated on continents other than North America. Female infanticide; physical, sexual and psychological abuse, child marriage; female genital mutilation, and child prostitution are just a few examples of such violence. Sadly, there are more,examples, too many to list here.

Instead, I want to restrict myself to sexual abuse in North America, which has made headlines recently. Donald Trump is perhaps the most infamous case at the moment. Bill Cosby's name also immediately comes to mind. Other examples can be found both here and in other parts of the world.

And going back a few decades, JFK's attitude to women was abusive, but he did this in an era when the media looked the other way. Somewhat later, Bill Clinton was not so fortunate when the media reported him engaging in questionable sexual acts that he only belatedly admitted. All of them claimed that the sex was consensual, but power structures put a lie to that claim.

As I should hardly need to explain, sexual assault and abuse is any type of sexual activity that s woman does not agree to. This includes inappropriate touching;vaginal, anal, or oral penetration; sexual intercourse that she says no to; rape or attempted rape. It can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces her to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.

I should not have to add that such violence is always wrong, whether the abuser is a date; a current or past spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend; a family member, a coworker, an acquaintance or a stranger. In most jurisdictions, it is also illegal, although enforcement of these laws is often haphazard or totally lacking.

Unfortunately, men like Trump are in total denial when it comes to violence against women. They claim that they have never committed any form of sexual assault. And that if they did have sex, it was always consensual. Trump even adds that "no one respects women more" than him.

Such acts of violence are committed against women expressly because they are women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states that:"violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women" and that "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men."

Kofi Annan,a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared in a 2006 report posted on the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) website that:"Violence  against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her."

In Canada, aside from domestic and some other kinds of violence, such violence has been signaled especially in the military, the RCMP, other police forces, and even in fire departments. The sexual harassment of women in Canada's armed forces and police services is common, The evidence, both anecdotal and actual, is extensive, yet little is done about it. It has gone on for decades and continues today. The pattern is familiar: public outrage is followed by promises by the military and the RCMP to do better, but nothing changes.

To the leadership in the armed forces, the RCMP, and other police forces, sexual abuse and assault seem to constitute a public relations problem that must be managed, rather than a culture and practice that has to be expunged. In the armed forces, denial has become standard operating procedure. A former Chief of the Defence Staff has stated that he did not accept the "notion" that sexual violence was part of the military culture. No wonder so little has happened to correct this dire situation.

The culture of the armed forces and quasi-military forces like the Mounties promotes hyper-macho behavior in its young men in the name of unit loyalty and absolute conformity to the chain of command structures. Some men admit that within weeks that culture has changed them and made them behave the same way as their fellow soldiers or policemen.

There is indeed a sexualized culture in the military which intimidates female victims and discourages them from reporting the harassment. It's the same in the RCMP.  Female members are fearful of speaking out because of reprisals against their career advancement. 

Last year, a young woman hired by the prestigious Royal Military College in Kingston to run a workshop on sexual assault and consent said she was greeted by greater hostility by the cadets than she had ever experienced before. One officer cadet joked that nobody reports sexual harassment, "Because it happens all the time."

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, and plaintiffs Janet Merlo, center, and Linda Davidson

Recently, the RCMP delivered an apology to female officers and civilian members who suffered harassment, discrimination, and sexual abuse in the force. The federal government has put aside $100 million for compensation. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson teared up as he apologized and praised the women for their courage:
To all the women who have been impacted by the force’s failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every commissioner, I stand humbly before you today and solemnly offer our sincere apology.
You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I’m truly sorry.
Two factors can curse a female Mountie’s career, according to some women confidence and intelligence. One said, "The more beautiful you are, the more feminine you are, the more willing you are to speak up, the worse you’ll be treated." That is sexism: the objectification and the demeaning of women.

The culture that condones and even encourages violence against women is pervasive. It can be found in every military and police force in the world.Men are inculcated into that culture -- willingly or not. In such a culture, women are at a great disadvantage. The name of the game is power. Who has the power? Men, of course. They control the entire process.That is why nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Trump's predatory behavior towards women as recorded in 2005 expresses the prevailing attitude of some men in this culture. Men can do anything they want with women. An excerpt from this recording:
And when you’re a star they let you do it,’ Trump says. ‘You can do anything.’
‘Whatever you want,’ says another voice.
‘Grab them by the p—y,’ Trump says. ‘You can do anything.'

The sexists in this culture, which seems to include a lot of men, might respond by saying, "Oh good! Just what we need! We can’t get enough of that!" Not that they need any further justification or encouragement for their behavior. They have absolutely zero respect for women. Trump typifies their attitude.

It is no wonder that women are demanding an independent body, outside the chain of command, to examine complaints of sexual harassment. The existing power structure prevents a fair examination., But more is needed; much more!

There are many types of violence against women that I have not discussed. There is no real hierarchy when it comes to violence; all are equally objectionable. Violence directed against men is also wrong. Unfortunately, men are also frequently victims of bullying, especially in the military.

Enough is enough! Men and women are equals and must treat each other the same way. Women must no longer be treated as subordinates. The whole power structure must be changed. Women must enjoy full human rights, and these rights have to be codified as positive laws and then, most crucially, be properly enforced. If all that happens, then violence against women would be reduced and eventually stopped.

As a final note, I want to speak to those Christians who argue that the Bible supports the subordination of women. While I do not intend to refute them by discussing specific biblical verses, I would point out to them that the best way to understand the Bible yeaches is through discerning where the biblical texts are placed in the larger biblical story.

The subordination of women looks back to the situation of a fallen humanity. But  now, since the death and resurrection of Christ, such subordination is no longer relevant. In the new creation that he ushered in, a new relationship between men and women is possible. This relationship excludes all forms of violence, including violence against women. In Christ, all of us are new creatures who are commanded to love one another. 

If all people loved each as they should, there would not be any violence at all. Although the fulfillment may have to wait for some future time, we may start now already. The United Nations General Assembly in  Resolution 54/134 has designated November 25 each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women . We don't have to wait until November 25 to act. Men and women must work together to end this violence. Enough is enough!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Evangelicals dump Trump

With the US election only two weeks away as I am writing this, I hesitated about writing another post about Donald Trump. We are so offended by him that in our house that we have started referring to him as, "He whose name will not be mentioned." However, I do want to mention this letter from a large number of evangelical leaders which expresses much of what I would want to say in the waning days of the election campaign. Even though I am not an American, I feel strongly that Christians, as well as all people of faith, must speak out strongly against what this man stands for. 

At the beginning of October, a very diverse group of evangelical Christians published a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his candidacy. In it they argue that his campaign "affirms racist elements in white culture" and is, therefore, unacceptable to them as Christians.

The letter, which was signed by nearly 80 prominent evangelical leaders, thinkers, authors, and pastors, decries Trump’s attacks on women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the disabled, saying such vitriol is an affront to the Christian faith. The signatories say they reflect a more diverse coalition of evangelicals than what is often portrayed in the media or has been courted by Trump:
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of ‘evangelical’ with mostly white, politically conservative, older men" the statement reads. "We are not those evangelicals.

They describe themselves as diverse in ethnicity, gender, age, denomination, churches, and political orientation. They are also growing. They add. "Given the rich diversity within our unity, we call upon the political world to hear all our voices, and for the media to acknowledge that the evangelical community is quite diverse."

They explain: "As evangelical Christians, we believe our hope and allegiance rests in the person of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and Lord of our lives."  For this reason, they insist they are not partisan, although some people dismiss them that way. That is not fair, as they add:
That is why no politician, party, movement, or nation can ever command our ultimate loyalty. As citizens both of the Kingdom of God and this world, we vote with humility, knowing that our favored candidates always fall short of biblical values. We recognize that despite our unity in Christ, we will inevitably disagree about which political stances come closest to the heart of God for our nation.
But this letter was prompted by the candidacy of Donald Trump. They begin by declaring: "Imperfect elections and flawed candidates often make for complicated and difficult choices for Christians. But sometimes historic moments arise when more is at stake than partisan politics--when the meaning and integrity of our faith hangs in the balance. This is one of those moments."

Trump's campaign, they insist "is the most recent and extreme version of a history of racialized politics that has been pursued and about which white evangelicals, in particular, have been silent." They bemoan that silence and attribute the current political environment to it.

They conclude with the affirmation:"We, undersigned evangelicals, simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and : gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled, no matter how else we choose to vote or not to vote."  And they invite other evangelicals to join them in this declaration.

While the signatories had no shortage of criticism for Trump, they carefully avoided endorsing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That is an indication of their non-partisanship. This letter is directed against Trump, not the Republican party, although Republicans chose him as their candidate. In this election, some Democrats and Independents will also vote for Trump. That is to whom this letter is addressed, not to the parties as such.

Evangelical leaders, like all other voters, should be allowed to voice their political preferences publically. The signers of this declaration did so publically, but in a private capacity and not as a representative of any church.

Churches as institutions, have to tread carefully so that the gospel is not used for political ends. That would be a misuse of the gospel. But there are times when the gospel compels people to action. That is the case now, as these evangelical leaders insist:
Because we believe that racial bigotry has been a cornerstone of this campaign, it is a foundational matter of the gospel for us in this election, and not just another issue. This is not just a social problem, but a fundamental wrong. Racism is America's original sin. Its brazen use to win elections threatens to reverse real progress on racial equity and set America back.
That is bold language. It requires courage to speak so boldly, but sometimes the times demand it. This is what the Barmen Declaration did in 1934. The Theological Declaration of Barmen, to give it its full title, was a document adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the German Christian) movement. 

In the view of the delegates to the Synod that met in the German city of Barmen in May 1934, German Christians had corrupted church government by making it subservient to the state and had introduced Nazi ideology that contradicted the Christian gospel into the German Protestant churches.

The Declaration was mostly written by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth but was modified as a result of input from several Lutheran theologians. I do not mean to imply that Trump's campaign should be equated with the Nazis, but rather that the racism that Trump trumpets demands a similar response from Christians today.

Racism and misogyny and the other activities (read, sins) that Trump tries to make respectable have no place in the public square where politics is played, much less in the churches where believers go to hear the gospel. But that same gospel can and, indeed, must also proclaimed in the public square.

Contrary to what some evangelical Christians maintain, religion and politics do mix. Religion influences politics and politics influences religion. Most of us would agree since there are many historical examples that can be adduced to prove their mutual influence. They do mix.

I admit that politics should not play a role in the church and the church as an institution should not interfere in politics. But that does not mean that Christians must desert the public square and avoid politics. That would be foolish. That way politics is left to non-Christians (such a Donald Trump).

Christians, whether individually or as a group, can and should speak out in the public square since that is where politics is done. That is what those who signed this letter have done. They write: 
We see this election as a significant teachable moment for our churches and our nation to bring about long-needed repentance from our racial sin. Out of this belief, we have written this declaration, inviting you to be part of what we have learned from one another and long to see in the churches and the world—a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human lives.

And thus they invite others to join them in their protest: "We invite you to stand with us, join in this declaration, and pass it along to your friends, congregants, pastors, students, and the diverse evangelical church." 

Instead of condemning these leaders, as some have done, you and I should add our signatures to this long and growing list. More than 80 people have signed the published version. Others have done by signing the petition at I invite you to affix your name to this important document before the election. You can do so by using this link just as I did.

If you are an American, you can also cast a vote against Trump by voting for one of the other candidates. If you don't want to vote for Clinton, you can leave that part of the ballot blank. The important thing is this: don't vote for Trump!