"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for January 2014

Truth and Reconciliation Internet Resources

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I will post in short order a set of internet resources for those interested in the TRC, residential schools or aboriginal history in Canada. For now, go to the TRC webpage for more information.

This link is to the TRC resource page which provides a host of further links.

Finally, if you wish to volunteer to support this historic and essential event, you can apply here.

I’ll also put up further musings in the days to come.

There is a fundamental problem in the federal government’s approach to the reconciliation process…one that is at odds with aboriginal sensibilities in what reconciliation really means.  I will explore this from a Christian perspective, because there are striking parallels between the biblical idea of reconciliation and the aboriginal idea of reconciliation – both are focused on the restoration or right relationship in community, so that both the offender and the offended may live and journey together.

This is at odds with the government approach, which is struck within a European legal context.  The government wants certainty and finality, and so the damage settlements have been fixed, and the funding for the TRC is equally concrete.  The government wants an end date that can be placed on a Gantt chart as the final milestone after which the prime minister can stand at a press conference and say (like Bush), “Mission accomplished”.

What the aboriginal peoples seek is a restoration of the relationship established at first contact – that of two equals journeying together, in community.  Community means the two travellers share in both the good times and the hard times of the journey.  Decision-making is consultative, not unilateral, and disputes are resolved through discussion and community, not the courts.  The mission of reconciliation, by definition, will never be at an end.

Unfortunately, that is not what has been established by the government.  There is a real possibility that aboriginal survivors of the res schools, and others, will be re-traumatized by the sudden end to the reconciliation process that will come this year after the Edmonton event in March.  Injury that amassed over multiple generations of impaired relationship, will not be repaired over a fraction of a lifetime, nor will it be sated by throwing money at the problem.

Reconciliation, as we know as Christians, is not a one-time event.  Rather reconciliation involves a commitment to a life-long focus on living in right relationship.

At a recent training event I met a Christian couple from BC.  At break he related to me how they had established a friendship with a woman from the local reserve, through their children.  He explained how they were first treated with some suspicion on the reserve, but now their friend introduced them as her friends, and they were experiencing acceptance in her community.  This process had taken years of visits and sharing, breaking bread together, and helping with the task of child-rearing, but now he said, they felt like they had established a true friendship.  That is the example of true reconciliation, when settler and native can sit and break bread, sharing in the journey and providing mutual support.  That is the image of what is really needed in Canada, not more government programs, but a willingness on behalf of all people: white, red and in-between, to step outside those lines and to build relationship with others.

More to come later.



Written by sameo416

January 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

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Memorial Service for Donald George Barrie Jones

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Matthew 8:23-27

23 And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Psalm 107:23-30

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;

24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.

25 For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.

26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;

27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits’ end.

28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;

29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

We’ve heard two readings from Scripture – this miraculous calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and a reading from Psalm 107, ‘they that went down to the sea in ships’.

I first met Barrie through the sailing community on Lake Winnipeg, and my many experiences on that lake sailing with Barrie made these two readings perfect for today’s memorial service. The image of storm-tossed chaos is also one that accurate reflects what we are feeling here today, as we look for a place of comfort and refuge in which to weather the storm of loss.  It is equally appropriate given today’s storm, as we’re experiencing our own bit of chaos.

Sailing was a great love of Barrie’s life, and he sailed as he lived all life – to the absolute fullest. Barrie is the one person I’ve met who truly lived out Thoreau’s goal of living life deliberately, living life deeply and sucking out the very marrow of life. He did this in every aspect of his life, and whatever new challenge he set before himself Barrie would wrestle with it until he had achieved some mastery of the task.

The storm these disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee was terrifying, and remember that among this group were the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John, who had grown up plying their trade on the sea. These were not inexperienced men when it came to sailing. We’re talking about a storm of truly biblical proportion, beyond anything they had previously encountered. You can be sure they used all the tricks they had learned at the sailor’s school of hard knocks, and still the boat was in the danger of being swamped, to the point that they were convinced they were about to die. Through all this, the non-sailor, Jesus, the carpenter’s son sleeps. After the storm they are left asking, what manner of man is this?

Lake Winnipeg is an unusual place – it is huge, the eleventh largest freshwater lake in the world, but very shallow, with an average depth of 9 metres or about 25 feet in the south basin. That setup means you can have very large waves that develop very quickly – as an example the mast on a Catalina 27 sailboat is about 40 feet high, and there were times sailing in storms that the boats we were with would disappear into the trough of a wave, so that we could only see the very top of the mast across the wave crest.

The reason I have some experience with storms on Lake Winnipeg is because storm sailing was Barrie’s favorite type of sailing. I never saw him as happy and full of life as when he was standing at the tiller, with the boat heeled over 15 degrees, a double reef in the main and a storm jib up. He would stand there with a huge grin on his face and shout, “Come on wind!” This gives us an interesting reversal involving the disciples and Jesus – not that I’m suggesting that Barrie would ever be asleep in a storm, but it was clear that he was at home in the storm.

The act of turning a sailboat is a team event that requires some careful choreography.  The skipper starts with a warning, “ready about”, and when ready the crew responds “ready”.  The skipper then responds, “helms ‘a lee” and throws the rudder hard over to initiate the turn.  What follows is a bit of panic, as the boom swings over and the crew scramble to throw off the ropes controlling the sails, and to winch them in on the other side.  If all goes well, with a good ship and crew, this turn is a thing of beauty.   I learned this art with Barrie.  As I was driving in the blowing swirling snow from Gimli this morning, I was thinking about those turns.  It’s like Barrie is saying to us all, “ready about!” and looking to us expectantly for the proper response…and all we can say at this point is “no, we’re not ready.”  And yet the sailboat continues on…and we are left to serve as crew as best we can.

Storms in the bible are an image of chaos, of a return to the primal state of existence that was the pre-creation world. Storms in our world are bringers of chaos, and if you’ve live through a severe storm, or watched those events on television, you’ll know what I mean. While the storm image is a powerful one, and particularly as it comes to Barrie (who himself was sometimes a stormy bringer of chaos), it is also a good image to describe what we’re experiencing today – for grief and loss are themselves a form of that storm-tossed chaos. In the past few days we’ve all felt this chaos, as we’ve considered the end of a life well-lived.

In the creation account in the Bible, the first thing we hear is of God’s spirit hovering over the (in Hebrew) tohu wavbohu the formless chaos of the pre-creation world. God’s creative action is to bring order to that formless chaos, to set night and day, and dry land and seas. Jesus, asleep in the storm-tossed boat, is a parallel of that creation account – God bringing order and peace to the chaos. As the reading from the Gospel ends, the disciples are well justified in asking the question, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and seas obey him?”

There were many times in that sailboat, I looked at Barrie and asked a similar question, usually involving a bit more profanity. // That image of Barrie, at the tiller, riding through the storm, alive and vibrant, is the one I will always carry with me as the iconic image of who he was. We have this picture here that shows us the sailor, Barrie. That image of Barrie, joyously riding through the chaos of the storm, is one we should hold with us as we seek to ride through our own chaotic storm of grief. Even as we are convicted as to the finality of death, and our helplessness in the face of the storm, find comfort in the knowledge that Barrie was most at home in that chaos.

Leonard Cohen wrote in the song “Suzanne”, that when Jesus recognized that only drowning people could see him, he said that all humanity shall be sailors, until the sea shall free them. This is a profound bit of theology, describing this chaos we find ourselves surrounded with today – in fact, we are all sailors, travelling on the sometimes storm-tossed reality of life in the world. As we sail through that chaos, hold tight to that image of Jesus asleep in the boat, and Barrie, sure at the tiller. While I was often terrified in those sailing encounters, I was always confident that we would make it back to the harbor. As Barrie offered me a steady hand on the tiller in the midst of my terror, today we turn to God and each other to steady us as we navigate the waves.

This is what the Psalm speaks about – the reality that even in the midst of chaos in this world, and even when we are certain that our ship will be swamped by the changes and chances of this troublesome world, we are under the oversight of a Master with a sure hand on the tiller. The Psalm recounts the experience of those who go down to the sea in ships, who are tossed about on the storms – storms so profound the waves stretch up to the heavens and down to the sea bottom. The sailors cry out, and God delivers them from the storm. There’s an important point to note in the Psalm – this chaos of the storm is not some random event which happens to God’s people, but the storm itself is under God’s control…and indeed after the sailors cry out in their trouble, the storm is calmed, and the waves hushed. As we sail through the storm of our grief, don’t hesitate to call out for assistance, to ask for the storm to be calmed.

The Psalm comes to a confident end – the storm is calmed, and the sailors are brought to their desired haven. The Hebrew word here translated as ‘haven’ (machowz – maw-khoze’) means a place of safety, enclosed from the sea, a safe harbor, a place of refuge. Having ridden through some of those storms with Barrie, there was no greater comfort than finally coming back in sight of the harbor and knowing that we would soon be tied up in the berth and able to walk again on solid ground.

What may come next as Barrie sets forth on this final sail in this present world, is filled with mystery.  But, if you’ve ever watched a sailboat travel away, you know that the boat diminishes in size until it finally disappears over the horizon.  The boat, to you as observer, has effectively vanished from sight, and is gone from your awareness.  By faith, you know the boat still journeys on, even while you can’t see it.  This us a good metaphor for our present sadness.  Barrie travels to his final destination, on a ship named Special Lady, and has presently disappeared from our view over the horizon.  What we know by faith is that he sails on, to the haven prepared for him.

Our prayer today, as we ride the storm-tossed waves of grief, is that we too will know that deliverance from distress, and that we too will be brought to that desired haven.

I’ll close this short reflection with a portion of the traditional prayer for the Navy, for those who sail the seas:

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants … and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies to praise and glorify Thy Holy name. Amen.


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Written by sameo416

January 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

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Truth and Reconciliation One

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My dear wife and I are taking advantage of a free course audit at The King’s University College on the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission…first class was last night. The course outlines the history of the residential schools, what is presently going on and takes both an historical and theological critical look at everything.

As I was listening to the discussion, I had a number of things that popped to mind.  The students are being asked to journal each week, so I thought I would blog my part of that.

1. It strikes me that the ‘solution’ to the residential schools problem, being the settlement that assigns a damage quantum to each person’s experience, is a very European way to deal with the question. I discussed this with a lawyer friend today, and she agreed that the government solution, while being negotiated between the parties, was primarily struck in a legal framework (meaning English civil law). There is an aspect of this event that strikes me as the nation using the same tools that resulted in the residential schools in the first place.

2. If it is ‘reconciliation’ we seek, is a legal/financial compensation framework the way to do that? Restitution may be part of the picture, but the greater goal is to re-establish a covenant that existed between equals at first contact. That goal, I believe, will not be achieved in the present approach which is more legal and contractual rather than covenant forming.

3. If the real goal is reconciliation, how can that activity have a fixed end date? Reconciliation, at least in the Christian understanding, implies a re-creation of relationship that endures. This contrasts strongly with the government perspective which seeks a delimiting of liability and fixed end dates. If a point in time comes when the government says “we’re done”, there’s a strong chance of re-injury of that reconciled relationship.

4. I had a question months ago that involved the ‘banality of evil’. We like to think that an encounter with evil will be immediately obvious to us, and that we will always chose the path of light. The reality is that the most evil decisions are made by good-intentioned people like our neighbours (and ourselves). The whole point of the banality of evil is that true evil…the things that history judges as the great horrors of humankind…are often at the time just another decision. The current process involves some demonization of the players of the day: Duncan Campbell Scott and his implementation of the government policy of absorption is now presented as an unspeakable act of evil. Yet, I have a feeling that Scott was a dedicated public servant implementing government policy to the best of his abilities. That doesn’t excuse the actions, but it is a powerful cautionary tale to us…

…because the question that it leaves in my mind is this: if those people of that day implemented a policy that we today see as clearly evil, and failed to recognize what they were doing as evil, what things are we absolutely convinced are good today, which in time will be judged by history as equally evil?

Most people react to that idea with shock and outrage, and the usual rationale given is that we are much wiser and aware today than the people of the past. That, I’m afraid, is bollocks.

The human spirit is the same today as it was then, in spite of the trappings of grandeur we take for granted today, like smart phones, the internet and modern medicine. Our capacity for evil is undiminished even in this heady age of the western world. The reason is the brokenness of creation, and the sheer banality of true evil – our confidence is our blindness.

So I’m left wondering – what great evil are we perpetuating today without even being aware of it?

5. Finally, there has been a hung swing in attitudes about the residential school system, so that now it is universally considered to be evil. This ignores two important points: there was good done through that system, and there were good people dedicated to doing the best they could inside that system. Looking at each in turn…

There was good done through the system. I was at a clergy function, and there was a First Nations lady with us. A room full of white guys, all looking to feel guilty about the past. The bishop asked lady (a residential school survivor, as she would be called today) if she would be comfortable sharing some of her pain. This wise woman (an elder and classmate of mine) started laughing. Her response: “The residential school was the best thing that ever happened to me. It let me get an education and I wouldn’t be in seminary today if I hadn’t gone there.” The room fell into a shocked silence, I think because all those white guys were so certain in their presumption that her experience had been horrific.

[as an aside here, that’s exactly what I’m talking about when I mention our capacity for evil…that room was full of loving clergy who were certain what the right thing to do with that lady was to share her pain…now extend that room of well-intentioned people to government, who are making decisions about how to fix problems, also convinced that they understand things exactly – you see my point, it is the things we are incapable of seeing in ourselves that lead so easily to that evil]

The other aspect is the impact on the staff who were dedicated and devoted to their Christian mission to educate and care for those children. What happens to them and their families now that we’re all certain that the system was evil shot through? Have we now made the decision to victimize a different segment of the population while we try to save another?

This tension is what comes through clearly in the Anglican Church’s efforts to ‘draw the circle wide’. The overt statement is we welcome all, but if you find that the theology an doctrine being promoted is unacceptable, you’re told that you don’t have to join the circle. The real choice is not to welcome all, but to chose who it is that we mind excluding the least.

Written by sameo416

January 9, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Laboratory Safety

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As part of my life involves forensic investigation, and I’ve always been fascinated with accidents, causes and uncovering the truth in the aftermath, I follow the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB). The CSB investigates anytime there is an accident involving chemical work – and their work is very well-done. As a part of their mandate they often put together safety videos talking about avoiding disaster.  My background with explosives has left me with a great appreciation for safety and the importance of protective equipment (losing some of my hearing because of inadequate ear protection around jet engines helped too).

This recent investigation caught my eye, as my daughter is presently studying chemistry. We’ve had talks about lab safety, but ultimately I have to trust in the professionals that are serving as her educators and mentors.  Part of my discussion with her is to emphasize to never be embarrassed to wear protective equipment, even if no one else is doing it.  Anytime there is heat involved, or mixing of reactants, there is a need for some form of eye protection.  If a demonstration, the use of a shield can substitute.

I was delighted when she described how she was the only one using gloves to handle a caustic compound, and once her labmates saw she was wearing them, everyone followed suit.

This brings up some not-so-fond personal memories, as I had a close encounter with ethanol as a teen – entirely because I was screwing around with something I had no business messing with.  If it wasn’t for my friend Troy pulling me out of the fire and putting out the flames on my face, I could have been in that burn ward along with Calais in the video.

My email news feed from the CSB gave me this notice:

High School Laboratory Fire in New York City

I was distressed to learn once again of a serious high school laboratory accident, this one occurring yesterday at a New York City High School. According to media reports, a flash fire occurred during a demonstration in the high school‘s laboratory resulting in injuries to two 10th grade students, one severely. […]

Though information at this stage is very preliminary, media reports indicate the accident that occurred yesterday in Manhattan may have been similar to the type of demonstration that critically injured Ms. Weber in that it attempted to show how chemicals react in different ways giving off different colors. . The demonstration in the CSB video showed the use of highly flammable methanol to depict how various mineral salts produce different color flames when burned.

The CSB believes that accidents in high school laboratories occur with alarming frequency. Yesterday’s incident is yet another example of a preventable incident and a reminder of the need for exacting safety measures to protect students and school property. As Calais states in the safety message, her accident should never have occurred, and that with better attention to good safety practices, similar accidents can also be avoided. She says, “It feels with this type of injury that you’ve had so much taken away from you unnecessarily and to keep reading about other people who have had very similar experiences, it’s tragic and shouldn’t happen.”

The notice referred you to a troubling video, featuring a young woman who was badly burned during a science demonstration. The demo is a common one, burning mineral salts to demonstrate different colours created as the compounds are heated. When this demo was done at my daughter’s high school, it was done over a gas burner.

In the incident, the teacher was using dishes of methanol to heat each compound. When one of the dishes started to sputter, the teacher picked up a jug of methanol and attempted to pour added fuel into the one dish. What resulted was a flash fire and explosion.

The video is painful to watch.

Written by sameo416

January 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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