"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for February 2017

Trinity Western University and Christian Law Schools

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Trinity Western University (TWU) has been breaking ground in many areas of Christian education.  A few years ago they went through a similar legal case with the teacher’s association – who, like the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of BC had refused to license/accredit the education faculty at TWU or their graduates.  This has all been done on the basis of the community convenant that TWU expects students to sign, a covenant which sets out a Christian code of behaviour including no sex before marriage.  Of interest is that TWU has no issue with students who declare themselves LGBTQ, as long as they are willing to hold to the covenant.

The profession’s refusal to license is one that seems frankly difficult to defend.  The argument is that because the graduates are coming from a place of belief, there is no way they could fulfill the requirements of the profession.  The joke intrinsic in that assertion is the implicit assumption that those without faith are somehow, by default, unbiased actors.  Everyone worships somewhere, and everyone brings that bias forward.

I had a similar experience once when called for jury duty.  My friend, Joe, whose father-in-law was a retired judge offered me the same advice his father-in-law had offered him.  Just show up for the jury call with your clerical collar on.  You will be immediately dismissed.  And he was.  The idea being that anyone who is ordained cannot make a decision based on the facts, as they will be swayed by the irrational.  It’s a little offensive, as my experience of reading theology is that it made me a more rigorous and logical thinker.

The convenant is a good overview of what it means to live in mutually accountable community within a Christian context.  That this is held up as proof that people cannot be objective and fair is a sign of how far our first world society has deviated from any understanding of mutual accountability.  It is also important that TWU (like our own The King’s University) is a private post-secondary institution, meaning not funded in the same way as the UofA or UBC.  Here’s the problematic bit (at least to the law societies):

In keeping with biblical and TWU ideals, community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions:

  • communication that is destructive to TWU community life and inter–personal relationships, including gossip, slander, vulgar/obscene language, and prejudice

  • harassment or any form of verbal or physical intimidation, including hazing

  • lying, cheating, or other forms of dishonesty including plagiarism

  • stealing, misusing or destroying property belonging to others

  • sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman

  • the use of materials that are degrading, dehumanizing, exploitive, hateful, or gratuitously violent, including, but not limited to pornography

  • drunkenness, under-age consumption of alcohol, the use or possession of illegal drugs, and the misuse or abuse of substances including prescribed drugs

  • the use or possession of alcohol on campus, or at any TWU sponsored event, and the use of tobacco on campus or at any TWU sponsored event.

In this case two appeals are being heard.  In the case of Upper Canada, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision that the law society was justified in refusing to accredit based on the discriminatory provisions of the covenant.  In the case of British Columbia, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the refusal to license was discriminatory.

From a Supreme Court of Canada news service I follow the case summaries (and links to the appeal decisions):

Professions/Universities: First Christian Law School in Canada

Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of Upper Canada, 2016 ONCA 518 (37209)
There being no Christian law schools in Canada, and by contrast approximately 50-faith based law schools in the U.S., a university in B.C. decided to establish Canada’s first. The Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) denied accreditation to the law school of the Applicant Trinity Western University (“TWU”). TWU is a private post-secondary institution in B.C. that provides an education founded on evangelical Christian principles. TWU’s approach to community development was expressed in a Community Covenant, a code of conduct that encouraged or discouraged certain behaviour based on evangelical Christian principles of Biblical teaching and morality. The covenant prohibited sexual intimacy that violated the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. Unmarried individuals were expected to live chaste, celibate lives. TWU fully accepted admission of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBTQ) students, and the covenant specifically prohibited any forms of discrimination or prejudice. However, TWU did prohibit admission to its law school if a student refused to sign the covenant. On judicial review, the court held the LSUC was entitled, in the exercise of its statutory mandate to act in the public interest, to refuse to accredit TWU’s law school based on the discriminatory nature of the community covenant. The reviewing court found although the decision breached the freedom of religion rights of the Applicants, TWU and its representative student (“TWU et al.”), the LSUC had engaged in a reasonable and proportionate balancing of the Charter protections at issue. Therefore, the reviewing court concluded the LSUC’s refusal decision was reasonable. The  C.A. dismissed TWU et al.’s subsequent appeal. “The application for leave to appeal…is granted with costs in the cause. The appeal will be heard with Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, et al. (37318). The appellants are required to serve and file a Notice of Constitutional Question in Form 33B in accordance with subrules 33(2) and (3) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Professions/Universities: First Christian Law School in Canada

Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia, 2016 BCCA 423 (37318)
Similar summary to that immediately above, except that here the Law Society’s decision (to deny accreditation) was overturned. “The application for leave to appeal…is granted with costs in the cause. The appeal will be heard with Trinity Western University, et al. v. Law Society of Upper Canada (37209). The appellant is required to serve and file a Notice of Constitutional Question in Form 33B in accordance with subrules 33(2) and (3) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada.”


Written by sameo416

February 23, 2017 at 9:09 am

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Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination

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There is a bit of a ruckus being raised about this motion, M103, concerning hate crimes etc against groups marked by race or religion.  It only mentions Islamophobia directly.

I have to say that this sort of thing quite misses the point.  The wording of the motion suggests that this sort of behaviour is a new phenomena in Canada, that systemic racism and religious discrimination have never previously been a part of our national narrative.

As an indigenous person, I find the wording of the motion quite distressing. Canada has a long and well-documented history of systemic racism and religious discrimination.  Suggesting anything otherwise is just another distraction from the hard journey of reconciliation which we are supposed to be on as a nation of settlers and indigenous.

What amazes me is the continued surprise that the citizens continue to act the way the government governs.  Do you really think there’s a disconnect there?  When you look at history, and particularly colonial history, there is a clear pattern: the government leads the way in both racism and discrimination.  Settlers just tend to follow the lead of their government.

So when the great white hope of the Canadian establishment, Justin Trudeau, shows himself unable to deal with such matters, and falls back on rhetoric which sounds a lot like his father, we shouldn’t be surprised that citizens start to act in a similar manner.

A prime example.  Justin Trudeau recently mocked First Nations chiefs who told him that their youth needed youth centres so they had a place to meet.  Trudeau said, when he spoke with FN youth, they told him what they really needed was space to store their canoes and paddles.  It’s a hilarious example of a politician who has no idea what he’s doing…but the satire hides an ominous overtone: this is the same sort of patronizing tone that Canadian leaders have taken with indigenous leaders right back to the first boots on the ground.  Why should they keep the land?  They don’t know how to properly use (read exploit) it anyway!

It is part of a larger cycle that has repeated itself throughout our history.  It has to do with a heroic narrative of a naturally good people who arrived here in the spirit of cooperation, people who were neither racist nor colonial.  This is why S. Harper could say with a straight face, Canada has never been a colonial nation (meaning of course we had never outwardly colonized, but again hides the truth that our existing high standard of living is built on the basis of stolen land and broken agreements).

The same sort of pattern repeats itself elsewhere – military units that trace their heritage to the suppression of indigenous people (thinking here specifically of the USA, but also of the Upper Canada units who participated in the Red River Expeditionary Force (RREF).  On a visit to a family cathedral in Ottawa, where my Godfather was Dean, I came across a laid-up colour from an early military unit.  It was a bit of a punch in the gut to see in their battle honours, North West Canada 1885 (bottom middle, right above South Africa).

As long as a nation celebrates systemic racism and religious discrimination, I’m not sure we can expect a different outcome until leaders actually lead the way to a new way of interacting.  Say, by actually adopting the UNDRIP.  I’m focused on an indigenous context here, but the same can be said for many racial groups in our history: Japanese, Chinese, Mennonite, Jewish, German…and the list goes on.  Today it happens to be Islam.


The last word really has to go to MP Romeo Saganash’s response to the PM, yes, bring on the canoe and paddle storage!


Written by sameo416

February 13, 2017 at 8:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Gift of Enduring Pain

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I’m in a particularly bad set-to with my back pain this week and last, to the extent of missing 1 1/2 days of work – something that is very unusual for me.  I finished Friday, including a 2-hour staff update on renewal activities only because I could rely on the magic of opioid analgesics.  It is a good counter-point to the present media blitz on the dangers of opioids, as there are lots of us who use those same medications to deal with severe pain break-through.  If it was not for my Tramadol, I would miss many more days of work and family activities.  Opioids have a place inside a medical treatment plan for pain.

It is always interesting to see people’s reactions.  This past week at work I was looking pale, and one of my colleagues asked if I was alright.  When I mentioned severe back pain, they asked how I had hurt myself (thinking this was from moving a stove last week).  The part which interests me most is the next exchange:

Me: I injured my back in an MVA in 1999, and I’ve had chronic pain due to nerve damage ever since (as in 18 years).  I’m impairment rated at 36% whole-body.  Most of the time I can cope so that no one notices, but I have these particularly bad stretches when it shuts me down.

Them: Wow, I can’t imagine being in pain all the time.  So you really have pain every day?

Me: Yup, sometimes it’s just worse.

Them: Wow.  I remember one time when I hurt my back and couldn’t get out of bed for three days… (other person, oh yeah, there was one time…)

The conversations unfold that way so often, I’m not surprised by the question, nor the direction it takes after that point.

I understand what is happening – empathy.  As soon as someone uncovers a burden someone else is bearing, if we are empathetic we seek to obtain some degree of understanding of what they are going through.

That can be a valuable undertaking because it shows we care, and allows us to find some degree of understanding as to the other’s burdens.  For example, talking to someone who has just lost a parent, something like, “My mom died 6 years back.  It’s hard” can establish good common ground to have a significant conversation.

There’s a but in that value, which is an area that requires some caution.

For example, I’ve been doing lots of reading on the question of indigenous identity.  There has been a recent spike in discussion around the outing of Joseph Boyden as a non-indigenous person (his response).  I feel this quite acutely as my Métis identity is one that has been under attack since the mid-1800’s, right around the time it was established as a cultural group in Red River.  Who can speak on behalf of a group is important, and Boyden’s main crime was not a false claim of who he was, as much as his claiming of the role of spokesperson for a whole segment of people.  For example, he worked with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to produce a program  on residential schools.

Now, I don’t have that experience in my immediate family, as some Métis were quite protected from that bit of empire.  If someone asked me about the schools, I can tell you what I’ve read, and the stories I’ve heard, but ultimately I would have to say to them: I do not own this narrative.  If you really want to know, you need to speak to a survivor, or the children of a survivor.  Claiming to speak with authority on such events, without having any moral ability to do so, perpetuates the original injustice again: as the res school kids had their identities and voices stolen, so now a white author is speaking on their behalf, once again rendering them voiceless.  This is quite apart from the reality that Boyden is a really gifted writer, who understands something of indigenous issues.  But, even if he did have some distant indigenous heritage, without the res schools being a part of that family narrative, he has no business speaking about it with authority.

This is also the basis for a part of my reaction to the whole idea of ‘white privilege’ as a white-person’s response to the loss of voice for the oppressed.  It perpetuates that loss of voice by drawing the attention back to the speaker.  A healing response is to step back, to advocate for change within your sphere of influence, but not to presume to gain some moral authority over the oppressed because you’ve declared yourself to feel really bad about yourself.

This is the danger in the chronic pain discussion.  I don’t challenge people on this point, because most of the time I just want to stop talking about it.  When I’m in pain the last thing I want to do is discuss it.  Rather I’ll read, walk, sleep, play video games, or anything to keep my mind off of the pain.  But, talking about the one time you injured your back can give you some perspective on my situation, as long as it stops at, wow, I can’t imagine the pain I experienced going on for 18 years.

When you push beyond that point, it gets into the realm of Boyden and the theft of narrative.  I’m not speaking ill of my co-workers, as they did not do this, but it is an effect I have observed in the past.  We don’t find common ground with others by attempting to fit their narrative into ours.

So, I would never speak about growing up on the Rez.  I would never speak about the racism overtly indigenous people experience.  I grew up middle class white, and all the racism I’ve encountered has been as an adult after announcing my Métis citizenship.  I don’t have any skin in those narratives – so when a First Nations brother or sister speaks of their Rez experience, or the pain of being the child of a res school, I shut up and listen.  This is not the time to attempt to demonstrate empathy, or to share your experience of the one time someone gave you the strap in grade school, but the chance to learn about someone else’s struggle.

Likewise, as I’m reading the compelling AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, when I read about the massacre at Wounded Knee, I don’t immediately jump into my narrative about, say Louis Riel or Batoche or Frog Lake or Seven Oaks.  The point is not that my people have suffered, or some competition to see who suffered worse, but to sincerely encounter the narrative of another person in a way that transforms us.

My experience of continuous pain, and people’s reactions to it, have surprisingly given me a deeper insight into the power of narrative, and how unjust frameworks seek to control and suppress those narratives.  Historically, we saw that power through the re-packaging of the messages about indigenous: they’re not ‘using’ the land properly anyway so we might as well take it.

Rather, our response to the narrative of another should be to quiet ourselves, and to dwell for a moment in another person’s reality.  We do so not because it allows us to claim parts of that narrative as our own, but because that is what people in community do for others in community.

And, one of the ways I deal with severe pain is to focus my attention on writing about things like identity.

A final word on pain.  The next most common question asked of me is about the pain.  I also don’t mind this question, just like I don’t mind questions about soldiering or being Métis.  My many blessings in life leave me in a place where I can be a spokesperson for those things, and a safe person to give an inquirer some perspective.  So when people say, “Wow, I can’t imagine being in pain all the time, what is it like.” I usually answer.

Most of the time, it’s a dull roar around my left hip, buttock and down my left leg.  Sometimes there’s just a sensation of no sensation, as in a numbness.  When I move that will transition, sometimes suddenly, into a sensation like a dagger being pushed into my back through my SI joint.  Sometimes, my skin feels like it is burning, or being abraded over parts of my left leg…that tracks the nerve damage, so it’s usually in the same places.

When the pain gets particularly intense, it is like having someone run a red-hot piece of metal bar stock down inside the back of my left leg – right along the sciatic nerve.  My left foot starts to droop, meaning I catch my left foot when walking or going up stairs (I’ve had a couple spectacular face plants on stairs).  I still have that dagger sensation, but now it’s a hot dagger, or perhaps an electric drill with a spade bit boring into my left pelvis.  The pain feeds through into nausea, which I have to say is the worst part.  I can deal with the physical discomfort, but the nausea really takes a lot out of me.  Smells and tastes become really problematic (this morning I had to clean out a leaking garbage bag, all the while holding my breath and gagging).

The nausea and a sense of illness, including being really sensitive to temperature, often fools me into thinking I’m coming down with the flu and have a fever.  It sometimes takes a few hours before I can figure out that I’ve feeling awful because of back pain, and not because of a virus.  This can lead to some problems at work, where I tell people I’m going home with the flu, and then show up the next morning looking fine, saying it was just back pain.  Without an understanding boss, this can be a problem.  Sometimes it’s only after I’ve taken pain killers that I can actually discern what it is that is bothering me.

The nerve issues and pain impact my mobility, making it harder to stay active.  But staying in bed is not an option, as that worsens the pain.  Sometimes keeping moving by pacing or walking is the only response.

The reality is that most of the time people around me have no idea about this narrative, and I only normally share it with people I trust, or when I have no choice in a work context.  When I told my co-workers my impairment rating, they both just stared at me.  I always wonder about what conclusion they now draw – 36% doesn’t look that bad, or he must be making this up?

The professional impact is a need to be very cautious about the type of work I undertake.  I could do forensics (and crawling around burned-out buildings) as long as it was only a couple of days per week.  I can do my present job because I have lots of freedom to get up and move or to take sick days as needed.  I could not return to a full-time role in the church, because the only thing that sustains me now is resting on weekends and evenings (and the clergy rarely get two days in a row as a break).  Even in my present work, the 50 or so days of travel per year I have to do is taking its toll…helped a little bit by me personal ability to upgrade aircraft seats to reduce the pain of travel.  I’m so thankful for having the resources to do that, because it gives a little extra margin.

And of course, the one question I’m always wondering about (as the primary wage earner in my family), how much longer will I be able to continue to work full-time?







Written by sameo416

February 11, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The democratic remaking of faith

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A priest friend pointed me to this challenging orthodox reflection on the contamination of tradition understandings of faith and the relationship between the created and the creator by democratic principles.  Our love of democracy leads us to conclude that our faith is constituted similarly…we decide, we control, and the meaning of Scripture is subserviant to our interpretation, because we are the ultimate authority.

Today, in contemporary Christianity, it is said that “every man is a Pope.” Whereas a few generations ago, people asserted that the Bible alone had authority, today, that, too, has been overthrown. Each person is his own authority. And I will add, that if every person is his own authority, then there is no authority.

Written by sameo416

February 5, 2017 at 7:46 pm

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