Here’s a video Steve and I made from the footage we gathered while in Suriname, South America. Poor quality, and a fairly sparse storyline, but it gives the gist of our experiences last year. Enjoy!
It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit.
Nor is the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited o6to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian to get on by themselves.
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob.”(Packer, J.I. Knowing God. Hodder and Stoughton, Toronto. 1975)
It’s around 3pm and I’m walking to my bus through the crowded streets of downtown Calgary. The snow’s melting. The wind is blowing mightily through the downtown core making it hard to walk straight. I’m trying to not slip and not blow over, two difficult tasks on a day like this.
The chocolate, slushy snow spews out of tires of cars running yellow lights. It sprays as I walk, clinging to my pants and shoes.
On the corner by the C-Train, a group of three 30-somethings finish a crack deal. It seems so bizarre to see that on Calgary’s streets. But it’s true and the problem is growing as housing prices rise and the winter gets colder.
A new shelter is set to open up in the old Brick building on 16th avenue and Centre street much to the chagrin of many Calgary citizens. Not in my backyard, I suppose is the idea behind the controversy.
It will start to nudge the homeless problem out of the core, that’s for sure. But the reality is, there simply isn’t room for Calgary’s homeless population in the city. Shelters continue to turn people out at night – and in the wake of minus 30 weather and increasing wind chill, that’s a deadly recipe.
City Hall is looking for any short term solution it can find – transit centres, warehouses, any building with four wall.
It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds this winter.
“Does it bother you, Tony,” he said, “that the name Jesus elicits a completely opposite reaction from the name evangelical?”
– Speaking My Mind, pg. 25-
“While evangelical Christians should never compromise what they believe in order to gain approval of the secular community, we should care if people out there see little or nothing, of Jesus in us.”
-Speaking My Mind, pg. 26-
I feel as though some of the questions and concerns, the issues I’ve been having over the last few years related to my faith in Jesus are finally being resolved. This isn’t because I’m being given answers, it’s because I’m becoming more content that part of the Christian experience on earth is about not fully knowing.
This is all bubbling and gurgling out of me right now in response to a book I’ve been reading by Tony Campolo. It was written in 2004, but all the issues he tackles in the book – everything from Christian militarism, to Evangelical self-perception, to gays and lesbians to feminism – still register high on the list of social priorities facing Evangelical Christians in Canada and the U.S.
In “Speaking My Mind”, Campolo tackles these huge evangelical hot potatoes. And while it’s focus is primarily Evangelical Christians in the U.S., us evangelicals in Canada can probably assume that some of our assumptions, beliefs and understandings about faith and how we show it, aren’t too far off our American neighbours.
He deals with poverty and North American wealth. He talks about the war in Iraq – is this a just war or not? He deals with moral decline, Islam, and a host of other issues absolutely wedded to the evangelical platform in the States.
Perhaps what I’ve found in this book by Campolo is a fellow Christian social activist, someone who reads Scripture and is unable to ignore God’s pleas to take care of the poor and the needy. And yet, Campolo returns continually to the fundamental concept that Jesus taught – God is the ultimate judge, so with our limited time on earth it’s a much more worthwhile cause to take care of the log in our own eyes that to target the toothpicks in others. Beyond being worthwhile, it’s sin not to.
What a challenge! And yet that is what I feel is the hunger of North Americans who don’t claim Jesus for their own. There is disillusionment among many of my friends that Christians hold specific moral platforms to the death and forget that there are living, breathing, created-in-God’s-image individuals underneath the codes of moral conduct.
Campolo stresses that we aren’t called to make believers in Jesus, in fact even Satan believes in Jesus. That’s not enough. We have been called, since Abraham was called out of Ur to be a blessing to the nations, to make disciples of Jesus.
I think that means we can let down some of our morality guards and simply focus on loving people. It gives Christians freedom to meet people where they are at – be that gay, lesbian, poor, rich, hungry, militant, or whatever. I firmly believe that there is a movement in our churches today that will see a younger generation rise up that will say a resounding NO to the comfort, stability and nominalism of the baby-boomer years that has preceeded us.
A church that is going to reach out and bless our disillusioned friends here in North America is a church that isn’t afraid to admit that it’s wrong, a church that repents for sins it has committed and the sins its forefathers have committed and reaches out and asks forgiveness from those it has hurt – our First Nations brothers and sisters, gasy, lesbians, immigrants, and women, etc.
Think for a moment about this quote also in Speaking My Mind:
“An outside observer, visiting our churches and listening to what we have to say about God, could easily
conclude that we have taken the Jesus of Scripture and transformed Him into an American. Instead of
allowing Jesus to be an incarnation of Yahweh, we have made Him into an incarnation of our own traits and values. Many of us American evangelicals not only make Jesus into an American, but also view Him
as a deity who provides sanctification for our affluent, consumeristic lifestyle. We have created a Jesus who will fight to preserve America and all that our nation stands for.” (page 153)
Perhaps what is most significant about this book and what it has encouraged me to do, is find out who Jesus really was…who He is, is perhaps a more accurate statement. What have we, as evangelical Christians, fabricated of this Jesus? What is true to Scripture? Who was this man, who absolutely re-formatted the concept of God? What made Jesus tick. What do the Gospels say about Him? What was His purpose? And how, in my own life and in the life of my church, have we made Jesus into a passable version of ourselves, allowing us to excuse and rationalize our wealth, our prosperity and indeed, our sin? Just some food for thought.
Grey hair, Mercedes Benz and Jesus Fish stickers on cars. That’s what I saw as I waited in the never ending line outside a dowtown community school to cast my ballot for Alberta’s next premier.
The Progressive Conservative advanced polling station was hopping with people and with energy. A local journalist nabbing the handful of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds for interviews, a cameraman waiting to shoot some tape, a man in a suit telling people in line they would need a PC membership to vote and if they didn’t have one, they could just go to that corner over there and buy one for $5.
I’m no conservative, but I decided over a month ago to fork out the $5 for a PC membership just so I could vote for Alberta’s next Premier. I call this positive political subversion. This of course is much to my parents chagrin. They are both born and bred Saskatchewan teachers and have experienced the ills of a fiscally conservative government and its dealings with the education system since their big move to Alberta a decade ago.
Thanks to the perpetual nature of Alberta’s one party state, (thanks Ralph!) we can always assume that come time for provincial elections, the PCs will always win. Big business, big oil and big money rules the Alberta roost and the only effective political clout the average socially minded citizen has, is to be subversive and co-opt the PCs from the inside out, voting for a leadership candidate who might have a more socially senstive side than their predecessor.
I finally got to the front of line at the voting station to fill out a statement that I couldn’t for religious reasons or due to absence from my constituency, vote on elections day. Passport, drivers licence, a signature here and there, shuffling through the bureaucratic engine, the well oiled political machine that is the Alberta PC party from ivory tower in Edmonton right down the the toenails of the voting station I stood in to fill out the infamous ballot.
PC leadership elections – just as glossy and smooth as the party itself. And it looks like it’ll stay that way for a while to come. Albertans are notorious for an unwillingness to try out a different political system. Maybe things could change. Then again, there are a few good cookies vying for Klein’s place and they have at least considered social issues and the potential consequences of Alberta’s boom.
At least I had some say in who becomes the next premier. Maybe it was worth $5 after all.
It’s now only a matter of weeks before Alberta’s kingpin Ralph Klein cedes his royal throne to one of the many PC leadership hopefuls vying to fill his shoes.
Snapshots of the policy positions of those to come
Ed Stalmach: a PC fixture since 1993 as MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Viking. He’s been minister of agriculture, infrastructure, transportation and international/ intergovernmental affairs. His current focus are the challenges related to growth, improved quality of life, inclusive and honest government and building a stronger Alberta.
Lyle Oberg: Started as a family doctor and eventually jumped into politics. His resume includes stints as the minister of family and social services, education and infrastructure & transportation. “Oberg for Alberta” as the slogan goes has created a blueprint for Alberta prosperity. This includes an Oberg health plan and the protection of individual rights.
Mark Norris: His goal is to expand the economic base to keep taxes low, manage the provincial budget and government departments to minimize impact, and maximize resource wealth so it benefits Albertans now and later on.
Ted Norton: Educator, researcher and of course, MLA, Morton is a Conservative emphasizing economic development, a made-in-Alberta pension plan, more accountable Government and continued resistance to Ottawa’s “interference”.
Dave Hancock: He’s got a focus on accessible health care (working premiums into the tax base) and accessible education from K-12 plus opening more spaces in post-secondary institutions across the province. Hancock also focuses on vibrant communities and pumping resources into the arts and the province’s senior citizens.
Jim Dinning: Dinning has a long history in Alberta politics starting in 1979 working as executive assistant to Lou Hyndman, the provincial treasurer. Dinning’s focus is party renewal, government accountability, strengthening communities through affordable housing initiatives, support and access for people with disabilities, seniors, etc., and on innovation and conservation.
Victor Doerksen: Has served as chair of several government committees including the Alberta Research Council, and as minister of Innovation starting in 2001. He focuses on fiscal discipline, accountability in healthcare, conservation, and supporting parental roles.
Gary McPherson: “Let’s not lose sight of who we are ultimately, representing,” his policy position states on his website. McPherson is a member of the Order of Canada, successful businessman, writer, and former Chairman of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Person’s With Disabilities, McPherson has long been involved in his community of Edmonton. His focus is on accessible, public healthcare, K-12 education and the current “infrastructure deficit”, post-secondary education, and eliminating the GST in the province, amongst other policy stances.
It’s not every Friday night you get to stroll around downtown Calgary with a former drug and alcohol addict as guide along with other surburbanites interested in learning more about inner-city homelessness.
But that’s what I did Sept. 22nd during Homeless Awareness Calgary’s final Homeless Awareness Week event. The night tour was the big finale to a week dedicated to raising awareness about homelessness in the city. (www.homelessawareness.ca)
John* the guide who took my group of five around downtown for the evening, has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for ages. A ward of the State of California, he started using at the ripe age of 13. He moved to Canada and ended up homeless, doing and dealing drugs and getting into trouble with the cops.
He eventually went through rehab, got of the street, got married and had kids, only to find he hadn’t entirely quit the alcohol habit. So he left house and home to protect his family, and signed up at the Calgary Dream Centre, a faith-based organization dedicated to re-integrating their clients into society through education and residential care. http://www.calgarydreamcentre.com/
He now works at the Dream Centre as an outreach worker and is transitioning back home to be with his wife and kids.
As walked around downtown Calgary, down Centre street from 7th Avenue to the riverfront, we passed Crack Cul-de-Sac and a myriad of other places John said people find places to sleep at night. The bottom of the sloped riverbank just north of Chinatown is a spot out of view of the casual passerby and frequented by those who don’t have a place to sleep or stay.
As we walked by the Calgary Drop-In Centre, affectionately known as the DI in these circles, swarms of homeless people waited in line for a slice of floor to sleep on at night and a hot meal. Street Church blared praise and worship music across the street, volunteers handing out sandwiches to anyone who passed by.
Walking down Stephen’s Avenue, the hotspot for trendy restaurants, boutiques, and bars, we passed a woman asking a group of Asian businessmen for change. I’m not even sure they understood her request.
Mary* an outreach worker along on the tour said she didn’t have change but gave gave her a smoke instead. Mary said later that she always tries to remember the human factor. Addictions or not, there’s a human being there.
That might have been the turning point for me that evening. It’s easier to lower my head and refuse to make eye contact with those of the street. It’s easier to ignore it and make a hundred excuses about why not to give panhandlers spare change. It’s a lot easier to say under my breath, “go get a job,” or a hundred other remarks I imagine most people think in their hearts, but somehow I doubt Jesus would have done that.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them,” Mother Theresa once said. I can’t help but agree. And yet it’s the hardest thing to put into practice.
True, poverty and homelessness are a factor of big-city living anywhere in the world. What’s most striking however, and most ludicrous, is poverty and homelessness in one of Canada’s hottest economies.
Why does homelessness seem to rise in the face of widespread economic progress? In 2004, the top 20 percent of Alberta’s population made an average income of $152,800 while the lowest 20 percent made an average of $13,100. (Income Trends 2004, Statistics Canada: www.statscan.ca)
Between 1999-2004, the top 20 percent of incomes in Alberta grew by 16.8 percent while the bottom 20 percent grew only by 8.5 percent. (Income Trends 2004, Statistics Canada: www.statscan.ca)
With oil being such a hot commodity and Calgary’s ongoing boom, I can’t help but imagine that income trends from 1999-2004 will repeat themselves again in the next few years. It would seem logical that in the land of plenty, wealth could be shared. But it’s not. And to that, I don’t have any solutions…just more and more questions.
*Name changed for anonymity purposes*
“Who are they? Revolutionary Christians are people who attract others by their inner power. Those who meet them are fascinated by them and want to know more. All who come in contact with them get the irresistible impression that they derive their strength from a hidden source which is strong and rich. An inner freedom flows out from within them, giving them an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables them to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities. Revolutionary Christians are moved by what happens around them but don’t let it oppress or shatter them. They listen attentively, speak with a self-possessed authority, but don’t easily get rushed or excited. In everything they say and do, a lively vision calls them forth This vision guides their lives.“
We’ve been having the craziest thunderstorms in Calgary these past few days. They’re the kind of storms where electricity lights up the air and your hair stands on end and you’re pretty afraid of standing in an open field. Lightning. I was driving home from a dance class last night and the #2 Highway was slowed down to a crawl. People worrying about hydroplaning I suppose. I sure was with the road flooding and water splashing everywhere. Then I get annoyed when the semis go rushing through and spew water over everyone driving anywhere near them, just because they can.
Thunderstorms remind me that there is something outside of myself. Something beyond Calgary and the big the city. More than oil and money and looking the right way. And being another rat on one of those crazy wheels that spins and spins and just plain makes you dizzy. Nauseous.
I like the electricity in the air during storms. There’s passion. And anger. And wonder and majesty and all these God qualities in the air.
I think I want to be like a thunderstorm.
But here goes nothing. Welcome to cyberland Amie! And what a universe it is….
…This pic is of me and Steve near the Fort Macleod Wind Farm in Southern Alberta…