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The Confession of Saint Peter A Sermon Preached at the Consecration of a Bishop

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The Confession of Saint Peter, Acts 4:8-13, Ps 18, 1 Cor 10:1-5, Matt 16:13-19

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.  I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather today is the traditional territory of the Tsimshian nation. My thanks to that nation for our use of the land. Hiy, Hiy.

We stand together as one people of God to undertaken a solemn and joyous task today, one that should fill us all with equal measures of fear and trembling and that mystical joy that is only possible through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. We stand together today to witness the making of a bishop, in the Church of Christ, a tangible sign of unity that connects us with so many other sisters and brothers throughout time and space, far beyond this place. And yet, as we undertake this holy offering of our brother David, we do so knowing that these tangible signs of unity are at times overshadowed by our very human tendencies to division and conflict. Yet all this falls away, like scales from our eyes, when confronted with the majesty and grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

I have known David for something like 21 years. I was a fellow Anglican worshiping on the nearby military base when he was Rector of the parish in town, a parish that we joined a year later. I was his Rector’s Warden and a Lay Reader until we were posted away and I started my journey to ordained ministry. I returned one summer for a brief period of internship – my only real memory of that time was skidding trees off the backlot behind the church. It did cement for me the reality of a multi-point rural priest: one day speaking about the Creator’s love, the next cleaning the bathroom or cutting trees. It was a great introduction to the realities of ministry and taught me early on that all tasks are holy when done as a prayerful offering.

I won’t presume to tell a soon-to-be-bishop where to go, or how to get there, but I will offer some reflections from my own struggles with being a leader and a person of Christ. I will approach the readings today from three perspectives: as an applied scientist (so there’s going to be math); as a theologian (so there’s going to be mystery); and as an Indigenous person who tries to understand the Creation through what Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall calls “two-eyed seeing”. Using multiple perspectives helps us to avoid being trapped in a single cosmology as we seek to understand. Apart from the thousands of pages of advice and techniques the secular world tell us is essential stuff for a leader, in the way of Christ we are shown that ultimately a leader has only one task: to love those in her care both in and out of season; and particularly to love those whom you find to be particularly unlovable. And there is no way to carry out that task successfully based on human strength, but only if you are willing to be infused with the love of He who laid down his life for each of us, Jesus Christ.

Jesus leads the disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi, at the literal edge of the northernmost boundary of the historic Israel. This was a city steeped in world religions – the city was originally named “Paneas” reflecting the city’s patron the Greek god Pan, and was later named the Caesar City of Philip by Herod’s son in honour of both himself and the Caesar. It was a fitting place for the Son of God to ask questions about his-self of the disciples, to define who and what he was in contrast to the pantheon of other religions available in the city. This was a boundary place, and it is often in the boundary places where we find tangible displays of God’s presence. It is in similar boundary-zones, or liminal places, where we find the opportunity for the greatest transformation of ourselves, as we sometimes need to be separated from our comfortable dispensations (cf TS Elliot) in order to truly experience an encounter with the Living God. This is something that we are all about this afternoon, as we witness the making of a new bishop, as through our prayers and praise we invoke that Living God to make this place liminal, a place of transition and transformation, that will see Priest David become Bishop David, and then David Caledonia.

Sometimes a change can only unfold for us when we are removed from those comfortable dispensations, when our usual haunts and supports no longer surround us. It is only then, when we are stripped bare of everything, that our usually full hands can be presented with the gifts which God wishes to give us. [CS Lewis] We step into the realm of the new, the unknown, and there answer a simple question: who do you say I am? A simple question that will define for us the entirety of our reality going forward from this point, even unto death.

Peter’s Confession is an appropriate reading for the making of a bishop, as it forms for us a brief and succinct assertion about what is properly the centre of what we are about as Christians. The syntax here carries a sense of the imperative in Jesus’ question to them all, sure, that’s what everyone else is saying; “but you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter’s reply is full of none of the equivocation we will hear from him in a few days’ time. This is a pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry, as with this confession Jesus turns from his ministry on earth to anticipate the end and in a few short verses will turn to predict his death. It is an appropriate moment to have in this boundary place, this place of transition. Notable is the boldness and directness of Peter’s assertion. This is not the introduction to a lengthy theological treatise about the nature of Christ, but a single sentence that encapsulates the whole: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Christian church is on firm ground when she is as definitive about the one proclaimed, and ill when she equivocates, for it is the Christ that is necessarily at the centre of all we do. While this is a succinct definition, it is only the start of the description. For the definition to be completed, it will have to be worked out in suffering and finally, nailed to a tree. The Word nailed to wood will make this clear.[Bruner]

As we stand here today, that city of Caesarea Philippi is only a shadow of its biblical self. The multitude of temples to Pan persist only as foundations or cut-outs in the banks surrounding the city, as all the temples have passed while we continue to speak of the living God, the God who is alive and is life-bringing today. [H. O’Driscoll] The second god commemorated by this traditional place, the Caesar, has similarly passed into history as yet another empire of humanity which has not stood the test of time. This two-fold undoing of things which were grand and expected to last, just as the stones of the great temple in Jerusalem would eventually be displaced for good (Matt 24), is a cautionary signal to us here today about the importance of the works of humanity versus the clear and pointed confession of Peter. It is a reminder how often we focus on the doing of activities and the busy-ness of our day jobs in an effort to push forward God’s mission: sometimes acting as if not for us and our sweat that Living God would have little leverage to overhaul a broken world. God does not need Abraham, God can raise children from stones (Matt 3).

This is a pointed and relevant caution for us today as we carry on the work of the Bride of Christ, the Church, in the making of a bishop. In my day job I live a highly secular existence that circulates around business models, mission and vision statements, effective use of social media, branding, budgets and reporting to stakeholders. It is a distraction for the church as well. It is easy to convince ourselves that all our plans are the primary focus and to fall into the trap of searching for the right program or approach which will transform the worldly failings of our faith community into something bright and wonderful. Faith-based publishers provide thousands of resources that all promote the same message: if you can find the right system, churches will fill, money will be plentiful, and all will be well. In contrast, Peter and Jesus, have none of that about them in this moment, and we should pay attention to this exchange as a reminder of what we are to be in the world. It is attractive for us to focus on the rules, the laws, the Corporations Act as these are things we can sink our teeth into and understand and control – and it gives us the mistaken impression that we are the ones in control of everything.

This lie of control, that we are the ones who have to do it all, and that our victory over darkness will come with better business planning, is a dominant thought in Western culture. It comes to us as a continuing gift of the Enlightenment, and more specifically an enduring world view that comes to from science and particularly the works of Isaac Newton.  Newton, in his brilliant description of motion, also transformed the way we, and particularly the church, perceived reality. We are possessed of a Newtonian world view, you might say. Newton’s brilliance changed the way we saw the Creation, from a place of enchantment and mystery to one that was mechanistic, reductionist and positivist – where we believed we understood how everything worked. Through his math describing motion and energy transfer Newton convinced us that the Creation was something which could be defined and controlled entirely by the mind of humankind through mathematics: a world which was fundamentally fragmented, linear and hierarchical. That view infused all other investigation, including transforming the church, and leaving us with the idea that we were properly centred in the Creation, that reality was as we defined it, and as we would make it. That world view in turn gives us a fragmented and linear perspective of the person of Christ. [cf Charles Taylor, A Secular Age presents a similar thought, although he disagrees on the impact of the Enlightenment.]

In the eyes of the world, all reality is a machine which can be broken down to its bits and then rebuilt, all is within our understanding and all is within our control. That’s not a bad starting point for scientists working solely within Newton’s method; but it’s an awful place for a people of faith to dwell. It draws us into the lie that if we don’t figure out how to make the church great, it will fail and God will not be able to do anything on earth. Anglicans are particularly attracted to this place because we have a strong history as an intellectual tradition, which is not a bad thing…until it convinces us that we’re really brighter than we should think of ourselves.

The creator of quantum physics, Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg, popularly known for his uncertainty principle, made this comment about a reductionist approach to reality:

The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can anyone conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.

It is a cautionary word from a physicist that the reductionist approach to the Creation leaves us with being able to say next to nothing. Yet, this is still the way much of our thought and analysis unfolds – we work on the presumption that reality moves in straight lines – that a given input will consistently result in a given output. If you want to test that approach out in practice, try some pastoral counselling, or play the stock market. Both will quickly reveal to you that few things are predictable using straight, linear causation. These realizations are making their way into diverse areas of science, and are transforming what was previously conceived of as linear processes and thought, into webs of relationships that interact and display emergent properties – that is, the system produces outcomes which are not predictable. Emergent behaviour is a characteristic of any complex system, and it happens that reality is a pretty complex system. The reality we inhabit is not Newtonian, and I will suggest that moving out of that purely Newtonian framework is one of the challenges facing the church today. [TF Torrance]

The impact of Einstein’s general and special theories, and much recent work on the world of quantum physics, tell a story of a much more nuanced reality where interactions between objects are relational rather than linear.[1] We know that we exist within fields of energy, and that interactions are always taking place around us, even while we are unable to perceive them, and often unable to measure them in any real way. This is the realm where I find great parallels with theology, and quantum understandings of the chaotic and non-linear nature of relationships fit well in understanding Scripture.

Does this mean that all people of faith need to do a degree in physics? No, and there are a number of reasons for that, one being that we already have an alternative world view present within the Body of Christ, one which is not Newtonian but highly quantum in structure, and one which predates Einstein’s work and that is the Indigenous world view. The Indigenous world view has always been one which is inseparably relational, and has always observed the Creation as a complex system with emergent properties: it was only in the 1980’s in Alberta in a series of dialogues between Indigenous Elders and theoretical physicists initiated by Leroy Little Bear that the physicists realized that this quantum world they had known about for 100 or so years, had been an integral part of Indigenous teachings for thousands.

When we hear Indigenous speak of “all my relations” this is not prescribing a linear family tree of relatives. Rather “all my relations” inscribes a large circle, a wheel, which encompasses all of Creation in that relationship. This is not the way Newtonian-conditioned ears hear Indigenous reality and so when we protest pipelines or dams this is often seen as a kind of Indigenous not-in-my-backyard activity. In reality we protest because of the damage that will be done to our relation, the earth. So in my Indigenous thought, the earth is not a thing to be used to achieve my goals, but a member of my relations to be respected and cared for, so the earth may in turn provide and teach my people. This is the principle reason that we need to continue reconciliation, and to continue initiatives like the Indigenous Church and the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, not because it is the right thing to do (it is), but because we need to again be taught what it means to live in a quantum relationship with the Creator. This is our natural dwelling place as Christians. The binding of our world view to Newton is linear and singular and centres us as individuals. Indigenous see the Creation as holistic and cyclical and not centring an individual in that world view. Rather the Creation is highly relational, with all sorts of quantum interactions happening, both seen and unseen, all the time. [Leroy Little Bear]

Peter’s confession reminds us that we are called to a different way of thinking about the Creation, one that is fundamentally relational in understanding where we fit within “all my relations”. This is a space well-known to Indigenous who accept that intrinsic relationality as the default in interacting with the Creation. It is a mode of thinking that theologian John Haught refers to as “anticipatory”, which sees the world not deterministic, and finds science and faith to be working at the same end: looking ultimately for the relational meaning in which we exist, a world that is still as infused with mystery as it was when Peter made his declaration. A world full of rich relationship and interaction happening all the time.

Peter’s bold statement – that Jesus was THE Christ, Son of the Living God, and it is a statement that foundationally defines us as Christians. And the implicit relationality in that assertion reminds us that our primary goal is not to achieve a successful church defined in worldly terms, but rather to be Christ’s church a reality that is uncontrollable and calls us primarily to be a people of prayer and love. Priest Robert Capon wrote about this in his book Hunting the Divine Fox,

And we ourselves get depressed when we find that our cult of the successful church, our trust in the proper efficacy of our efforts, is just another batch of hogwash. We worry when people leave the church, we fret when they don’t come in, only because we forget that the church’s business has a mysterious, not a direct, connection with her life. People come and go for all sorts of plausible reasons. Some quit because they hate the priest; others join up in order to hate the priest. Some stay on in the hope of having their questions answered; others buzz off because they don’t like the answers they get. … We can do it so badly that we end up in the poorhouse. But we still rest secure in the possession of the Mystery that never fails. … So no faking of the signs, if you please, and no simplifying of the Mystery. No …restaurant church where you eat plausibilities and feel hungry an hour later. Just the true church – the old leaky bucket, full of the water of life, from which we drink and never thirst again. (Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox)

So we are called to be a quantum church, a church not organized like the world…but rather, in the words of Rowan Williams we are called to, ‘inhabit it as a climate or a landscape…a place where we can see properly…a place…that is in some way growing towards being the universe itself in restored relation to God. … [but] forget this, and you’re struck with a faith that depends heavily on what individuals decide and on what goes on inside your head.’ It calls us into a stewardship which ‘refuses to be pushed into patterns which are dominantly functional’ but that fully engage the mystery to which we are called. (R. Williams, 2004)

Let us each, and collectively as this bit of the Body of Christ, engage that mystery as we say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Amen

References and assorted sources (I spent a lot of time reading and reflecting on this topic, so much so that my usual habit of working at my day job in the evening fell by the wayside, and I ended up way behind at work…which is probably healthier to spend my off hours reading theology rather than business plans):

Some of the reasoning is not credited, but reflects the work of Sydney Dekker, a cognitive systems engineer, in his books on just culture, accident causation (Drift into Failure). I’m also using a ton of ideas from the work of Howard Zehr and others writing in the realm of restorative justice.

The largest support to that constant outflowing of love is time in the Word and in prayer, and more than anything I expect a bishop to be a person immersed in both, steeped in prayer and the Gospel like fine tea, where the reality of Christ fills every cell. This is a challenge, particularly for a bishop in a diocese that spans a portion of our Canadian northern reality – vast stretches of wilderness punctuated briefly by industry, shuttered saw mills and smaller settlements. The model of bishop as CEO also mitigates against time in prayer, as the demands of the business of the church calls to meetings, business plans, budgets and busy work. Business intended at some points to convince ourselves that we are alive, and progressing – in a reflection on why a parish was maintaining a very expensive listing in the Yellow Pages, one leader remarked, ‘I like to see it there, it makes us seem alive and active.’ This sort of focus reflects a movement away from the centre that is Christ, and our business busy-ness anchors us more soundly in this world and away from our place as prayers.

This can be a lonely place to be, for it is a truism that leaders of all sorts stand alone. I’m often reminded when I get low that the world does not rest solely on my shoulders, as Welsh poet-priest RS Thomas wrote in “The Country Clergy”,

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

The bishop as leader and as connection to the great tradition is called to fulfill the role of the bridge – the ‘pontifex’ across many chasms. The largest chasm that bridge is called to lead us across is the one defined by human pride that seeks to drive us apart, to ensconce us in factions or camps, to say “I follow Paul…or Apollos…or Cephas” or any one of a thousand other factions which we may choose to set ourselves apart from those we find difficult to be with, and yet we are each convicted in the intrinsic unity of the One Blood, bought for our salvation through the One crucified. It is for this reminder that we look toward our bishops, to call us again back to the truth that our common profession of faith is what unites us, in spite of our too-human tendency to split. (1 Cor 1:10-13)

“[W]hy was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (p. 25) God’s presence retreated in three dimensions. (1) People no longer see natural events as acts of God. (2) Society “could only be conceived as grounded in something higher than human action in secular time.” (p. 25) (3) People lived then in an enchanted world, now in disenchantment… Charles Taylor, A Secular Age

The other inoculation which Indigenous reality can provide for the settler church, is that many of the quantum, relational concepts now being “discovered” by Western science have been known as teachings for millennia. It was not that long ago that Western science concluded that birds were an ancient species and as such of limited intellect as they possessed an under-developed brain – hence the expression ‘bird brained’. That thought accepted as dogma is now revised as it turns out that birds have much more tightly packed neurons. Indigenous teachings have always recognized the intelligence of birds. [Jay Ingram mentioned this in an interview with Leroy Little Bear]


Info on Catholic historian Charles Stanley https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2018/01/03/a-theology-for-anglican-church-growth/

On our keeping of the TRC calls to action: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/three-years-later-is-canada-keeping-its-truth-and-reconciliation-commission-promises/article34790925/

ACC Primate’s comment on the possibility of a national Indigenous Church by 2019: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/indigenous-church-possible-2019-says-primate/

Princeton Theological Review special edition on TF Torrance: http://www.princetontheologicalreview.org/issues_pdf/39.pdf

TF Torrance wrote about the need to integrate practical application within theory, in theology as in science, as stated by Professor NEIDHARDT:

“With respect to theology, even a cursory reading of Karl Barth’s monumental Church Dogmatics reveals Barth’s recognition that dogmatic theology and the everyday concerns of church people are always intimately related. Torrance has clearly recognized the exacting congruence between Karl Barth’s unitary integration of practice and theory in all his theological work and similar unitary patterns in the scientific epistemologies of pioneering physicists. Foremost among these physicists were James Clerk Maxwell, who discovered the hidden unity of electric and magnetic phenomena manifesting themselves in the electrodynamic field, and Albert Einstein, who built upon Maxwell’s work in creating special relativity theory. Special relativity displays the unity of Clerk Maxwell’s electrodynamics, thereby competing his unifying insight. Building on this work, Einstein then developed general relativity in which geometry and mechanics form an integrated unity.

The following extended quote deserves careful reading, for it summarizes the theological unity of the Old and New Testaments which undergirds all of Professor Torrance’s integrative efforts with respect to theology and natural science:

The doctrine of the creation of the world out of nothing, of course, had its roots in the Old Testament and the Jewish understanding of the one God, who is the source of all that is outside himself, and who remains transcendent Lord over all that he has made, so that if he were to withdraw his creative and upholding presence from the creation it would lapse back into chaos and sheer nothingness. This teaching carried with it a conception of the free (non-necessary) relation of God to the world, by which its contingent nature is constituted, and a unitary outlook upon the world creatively regulated by God’s Word, which calls into question all forms of religious, cosmological, and epistemological dualism. The creative act which brought the universe into being and form was not regarded as limited to its impulse, but as remaining unceasingly operative, preserving, unifying, and regulating all creative existence which conversely was contingent in every respect of its nature and in no sense divine. Thus Judaism contributed to a profound understanding not only of the absolute beginning, but of the continuity, stability, and uniformity of the natural world as grounded beyond itself in the constancy, faithfulness, and reliability of God its Creator and Preserver.

However, it was Christian theology which radicalized and deepened the notion of contingence and gave reality to the notion of contingent intelligibility, through thinking out, in critical and constructive discussion with Greek science, the relation of the creation to the incarnation of God’s Word in Jesus Christ within the spatio-temporal realities and intelligibilities of contingent existence in this world. The incarnation made it clear that the physical world, far from being alien or foreign to God, was affirmed by God as real even for himself. The submission of the incarnate Son of God to its creaturely limits, conditions, and objectivities carried with it an obligation to respect the empirical world’ in an hitherto undreamed-of measure.

Hence, nature is indeed real! Accordingly, the seemingly small details of nature are important-worthy of detailed study. It is not a waste of culture’s finite resources for some people to worry about such things as how small versus big stones fall.

On the one hand, clear differentiation between the incarnation as the personal embodiment of God’s Logos being embodied in it, shattered the Greek idea that the intelligible order of the world is to be understood as a general embodiment of the divine Logos immanently within it; i.e., as its necessary, inner cosmological principle. That was to have very far-reaching effects in liberating the world from its inward bondage to divine changelessness in virtue of which it was held to be impregnated with final causes, and thus in liberating nature from the iron grip of sheer necessity that resulted from them. On the other hand, the interrelation of the Logos and the creation of all things, visible and invisible out of nothing by that same Logos, called for a profound rethinking of the relation between God and the world … in which it is recognized the incarnation has the constant effect of affirming the contingent intelligibility of the Creation, reinforcing the requirement to accept it as the specific kind of rationality proper to the physical world, and as the only kind capable of providing evidential grounds for knowledge of the universe in its own natural processes.”

From: Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 32-34.


WH Auden’s poem Vespers


“Dom Gregory Dix shows that the Divine Office developed from a desire to sanctify time by integrating work and worship. The pattern of the day’s work and activity is affirmed in terms of the events of salvation history.(2) In this affirmation of history as a dimension of God’s presence, the Divine Office dramatizes the paradoxical nature of our existence as simultaneously finite and free. […]

In The City of God Augustine describes Cain’s murder of Abel as the primal, archetypal crime upon which the earthly city is founded. This archetypal event is later repeated in a crime of the same kind when Romulus kills his brother Remus, an event that marks the founding of Rome, “the capital of the earthly city.” To underline the primacy of the “Sin Offering” of fratricide as the foundation of the civitas terenna, Augustine quotes a line from Lucan’s Pharsalia which describes the walls of Rome “dripping with a brother’s blood (City of God XV.5.600). This image becomes a “cement of blood” in Auden’s “Vespers” and illustrates the demonic aspect of the quest for autonomy and transcendence, forcing the Utopian and Arcadian to recognize that they are “accomplices” in the death of innocence. For a split second they acknowledge our victim as the blood offering upon which their own dreams of autonomy depend. Utopias, arcadias, and democracies are thus refuted as inadequate interpretations of ultimate fulfillment.

Self-love is an aspect of the civitas terenna, call it utopia, arcadia, democracy. The original sin of our desire to be as God touches every moment of our historical existence. At the same time our capacity for freedom and transcendence bears the possibility of redemption and this too touches every moment of our historical existence. In Auden and Augustine it is not possible to separate the wheat from the chaff or the demonic from the redemptive which characterize history as a dialectic of human choice. The earthly and heavenly cities are interwoven. ”

WH Auden in his poem, Horae Canonicae, in the section named ‘Vespers’.  All of the creation turns on one reality, as Auden writes about the meeting of two dissimilar and disliking people at the cross-roads:

…cannot resist meeting to remind the other … of that half of their secret which he would most like to forget forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget the innocence) on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy, are alike founded: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf takes this issue head-on in his book, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of IdentityOtherness and Reconciliation.

A Sermon Not Preached at an Ordination, Fr Jamie Howison. http://stbenedictstable.ca/2008/05/a-sermon-not-preached-at-an-ordination/

ABp Rowan William’s “The Christian Priest Today” May 28, 2004.


Max Planck from “Religion and Science”, May 1937 lecture.


On the Jesus Prayer: Mysteries Of The Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality

St. Augustine’s City of God: “We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self.  In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord.  The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience.  The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the heavenly city says to its God: ‘You are my glory, the lifter of my head.’  In the former, the lust for domination lords it over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other both those put in authority and those subject to them serve one another in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience.  The one city loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’

Consequently, in the earthly city its wise men who live by men’s standards have pursued the goods of the body or of their own mind, or of both.  Or those of them who were able to know God ‘did not honor him as God, nor give thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were darkened; claiming to be wise’—that is, exalting themselves in their wisdom, under the domination of pride—‘they became foolish, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God into an image representing a mortal man, or birds or beasts or reptiles’—for in the adoration of idols of this kind they were either leaders or followers of the general public—‘and they worshipped and served created things instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever.’  In the heavenly city, on the other hand, man’s only wisdom is the devotion which rightly worships the true God, and looks for its rewards in the fellowship of the saints…so that God may be all in all [everything to everyone].” (AugustineCity of God, 14.28)

“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew….” Lewis, Screwtape Letters

Torrance, T. (1972). Newton, Einstein and Scientific Theology. Religious Studies, 8(3), 233-250. doi:10.1017/S0034412500005904

Religions figure somewhat differently in John Haught’s The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe, a critical-constructive account that boldly postulates that any sufficient account of “our awareness of an unfinished universe requires not only a new understanding of religion but also a new way of understanding religion’s relation to science.” Whereas science describes external reality, religion for Haught is an essential “inside voice” and a subjective, narrative reality manifesting an ever-developing cosmos. Perhaps most dramatically, Haught claims that “it is through our own subjectivity—mental, moral, aesthetic and religious—that the universe now carries on its long anticipatory adventure toward fuller being.”

Haught offers a useful typology of “ways of reading” the natural world: archaeonomically, which regards the world as the product of physical determinism (the purview of the new atheists and other staunch materialists); analogically, which views the world as an imperfect manifestation or corruption of distant and ultimate truths (the preference of many otherworldly inclined Christians); and his preferred category, anticipatory, which is “aware that the cosmic story is far from over [and] looks patiently and expectantly ahead for a possible meaning to it all…it reads the cosmic story both scientifically and religiously, from outside and inside simultaneously.”

John Haught’s The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe

From book review: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/01/09/are-faith-and-science-contradictory-or-complementary

Leroy Little Bear, “TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND HUMANITIES: A PERSPECTIVE BY A BLACKFOOT” https://www.sfu.ca/humanities-institute/contours/i2_p3.html

Two-eyed seeing: http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/files/Two-Eyed%20Seeing-AMarshall-Thinkers%20Lodge2017(1).pdf

[1] “On the other hand, in the relational universe’s model of the space-time framework, the physical universe represents a stage forming the expanding outer boundary of interactional relations between the objects and events that constitute its being.” Thomas F. Torrance’s Integration of Judeo-Christian Theology & Natural Science: Some Key Themes, WALTER J. NEIDHARDT http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1989/PSCF6-89Neidhardt.html


Written by sameo416

January 17, 2018 at 9:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Baptism of Christ

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7 January 2017 Baptism of our Lord, Year B, Genesis 1:1-5; Ps 29, Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11. St Paul’s Edmonton, ©2018 SJE

Open our hearts and our minds that we might hear your Word, that it will be written on our hearts, and that all we do and say may be governed by it, in Christ’s name.  Amen.

Today, just as we’re out of the 12 days of Christmas through the Epiphany of our Lord, suddenly we leap forward some thirty years to the baptism of Christ at the hand of John the Baptizer.  It has always struck me as quite a hurried journey, almost a panic, as we compress the first thirty years of Jesus’ life into the first few days of the New Year.  No sooner have we put away the swaddling clothes, toy rattle and left over infant-sized diapers than we are confronting John the Baptizer at the Jordan River with a full-grown Jesus now walking forward from the crowd. What compounds this confusing time compression is that when we, as dyed-in-the-wool Christians, hear the word ‘baptism’ we think quickly of our experience with baptism. That leads us to quickly conflate the baptism of John, the baptisms by Paul and our present practice of baptism, which causes us to miss some of the important movements happening within these readings. Our modern preference to use this day as a good day to conduct baptisms complicates our ability to find clarity around what is happening.

This was made very clear for me in an article documenting a discussion about the baptism of Jesus between a Roman Catholic and an Old Testament scholar. The Old Testament scholar asked at one point, but, “Surely, Jesus was Jewish”. The Roman Catholic responded by saying, “yes, he was Jewish, but when he was baptized he became catholic”. // In fact, even the Christian practice of baptism has changed in the past 2,000 years – if you’ve ever seen a very, very old church, meaning before 1,100 or so, you might have noticed that the baptistery is usually in a separate building from the church proper, sometimes attached, but always with its own entrance. In the early church, catechists were often excluded from the worshipping community until they had passed through baptism and were formally integrated into the community. The message to us is to be cautious importing modern ideas uncritically back into Scriptures.

The readings link together three images: first is the creation narrative, with the image of God’s Spirit brooding over the formless void. Next we hear of Paul’s baptism of several disciples of John with the baptism of Christ. Finally we hear the narrative from Mark’s Gospel of the baptism of Jesus by John. The image of creation and change in essence is consistent through the readings, which is appropriate because baptism is the first, and perhaps most significant transition which occurs with a believer on their faith journey. It is a ritual which marks the physical and spiritual transition of a new believer from the state of non-membership in the Body of Christ, to becoming a member of that Body through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is an ontological event – ontology being the study of fundamental being. Baptism is a transition in who we are as people, in all aspects of our being: physical, emotional and spiritual. Baptism is also one of the visible signs of unity which links almost every Christian denomination and sect, whether considered classically sacramental or highly individual; infant or adult, baptism as a rite of entry to the faith could be seen as a point of unity. It hasn’t always been that way…

Back into the continental reformation, an offshoot occurred in the Anabaptists around 1522 in Zurich. Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they believed baptism could only be properly done when an individual could provide informed consent for the process and entry into the church, what they called ‘believers baptism’. The Anabaptists were one of the most persecuted groups in the reformation, and their biggest threat was not just the Catholic Church but rather other groups of reformed believers such as the early Lutherans. A typical mode of execution was by drowning. The Anabaptist tradition has given us many things that continue to this day, foremost their rejection of violence something we see clearly in Mennonite thought. That history is one of the motivations that makes the Mennonite Central Committee such a powerful intervenor in any disaster or conflict around the world, but that formation of the early Anabaptist movement came through persecution at the hands of other believers.

This is an interesting point given our present state of church division, as we have been here before and it didn’t work any better in history. Our human response is sometimes to look first at the things which differentiate us, rather than by those which unite us. We might ask the question – well what is it which makes something a Church of Christ? How can we tell the something like 30,000 denominations apart, and how can we figure out which ones are following the same God? Important questions for sure. One of the places we can look as Anglicans is into the Book of Common Prayer articles of religion. There is one, #19, which speaks specifically to a definition of ‘the church’:

THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

If I reword this a bit and make the language inclusive, what we see is there are three things which mark ‘the visible Church of Christ’:

  1. It is a congregation of faithful people (that is, they keep coming back)
  2. The pure Word of God is preached (that is the Scriptures and Christ are proclaimed)
  3. The Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance (being communion and baptism as the two that Christ instituted).

So, by the Prayer Book definition, if a church has faithful people, they preach the Gospel and celebrate at least the sacraments of communion and baptism, it is part of the visible Church of Christ. It is really interesting to me that while we spend much time speaking about doctrinal differences those are not brought out in the BCP definition. It doesn’t say, the pure Word of God is preached in a way that is epistemologically and ontologically consistent with your doctrinal understanding of what that ‘pure Word’ might be. It’s a challenging image.

It is very similar to what we see happen when Paul passes into Ephesus and encounters some of the disciples of Apollos. One of the modern commentaries I read noted that these people weren’t real disciples because they didn’t understand the faith properly. But, that’s not what the text says, and the commentary perhaps makes my point about our ease in finding reasons to differentiate ourselves from other Christians. Paul asks these disciples (and he apparently has no problem calling them disciples) if they had received the Holy Spirit at their baptism – their answer, ‘what is this Holy Spirit you speak of?’ If this was a meeting of two churches today, that probably would end the discussion, and the asker would leave saying…we can’t speak with these people, they don’t even know about the Holy Spirit! Instead, Paul continues to question and discovers that Apollos was baptizing in the manner of John, and had not received the full teaching about the baptism of Jesus. The result? They’re all immediately baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Body of Christ increases.

Paul’s action is a literal working out of the Great Commission, going out to make all people disciples by baptizing them. There’s a useful model in that interaction for us today. What it tells me is what you believe is critical, but it also tells me that people that don’t quite line up with your understanding of things are better brought into community where we can talk about what we believe and work out what it means to be a person of faith within that Body of Christ in practice. Christ is manifest in community.

This approach properly centres us in God as the one who will complete that Body of Christ when we come forward in faith – rather than placing the onus on ourselves to finally get it right, when we know how that has worked throughout history. One of the lies we are living out as a traditional church still comes to us out of the Enlightenment – that defines all of the reality in reductionist and dualistic terms. All reality is a machine which can be broken down to its bits and then rebuilt, all is within our understanding and all is within our control. That’s not a bad starting point for scientists working solely within Newton’s understanding of the world; but it’s an awful place for a people of faith to dwell. It draws us into the lie that if we don’t work to make the church great, it will fail and God will not be able to do anything on earth. Anglicans are particularly attracted to this place because we have a strong history of being an intellectual tradition, which is not a bad thing…until it convinces us that we’re really brighter than we should think of ourselves.

One of the gifts of more recent science is an affirmation that the Creation is a pretty weird place, and it doesn’t take long before you happen on something which really can’t be explained or understood. If you want a real mind-expanding experience, Google ‘quantum entanglement’ and read about the behaviour of entangled photons. Einstein believed the predictions from his theories in the 1930’s were incorrect as he could not accept such a strange result, and he described this as ‘spooky action at a distance’…but more recent experimental work has demonstrated that spooky action at a distance is exactly what happens –. Quantumly entangled photons apparently have the ability to communicate with each other faster than the speed of light. This Creation is a pretty weird place.

You see Newton was brilliant, and he provided models which allowed us to predict things which previously were unpredictable. But he could not have known that his math wouldn’t work for very heavy or very fast things. But, his mechanistic model of reality also informed all belief including within the church, and we as a modern church are still very much living out that Newtonian perspective. That is where we get much of our thought about how the church will only be successful if we can find the right program, or business plan, or ad campaign – for there is nothing left that we do not understand and no room for the Spirit (who does not conform to our clean models). This contrasts sharply with the reality that we know as people of faith, which is that God constantly brings greatness out of all of our efforts, even those which do not succeed. We also know that the secret to maintenance of the Body of Christ is not the right programs or business plans, but being people of prayer.

I was reading an atheist’s blog a while back, and he was encouraging his fellow non-believers to find a church on Sunday and challenge the clergy whenever they said something irrational and contrary to logic. I accepted long ago that much of what I would work with as either a priest, or an engineer, would challenge what I believed to be rational and logically. We’re told clearly in Scripture, that what we preach and live is foolishness to the wise (meaning those who think themselves wise).  It is only by embracing the foolishness of Christ that we can truly come into our real inheritance as children of the Most High. I’m happily an empirical fool for Christ.

It is too easy for us to succumb to despair when faced with the intense brokenness of this world, and our church, and our personal faith, and of all those around us. There’s a song by the Canadian band Metric called ‘Dreams so Real’ that addresses this challenge, reflecting on if they had really made any impact on the suffering world:

When I get to the bottom of it I sink
Seems like nothing I said, Ever meant anything, But a headline over my head
Thought I made a stand, Only made a scene
There’s no feast for the underfed, All the unknown, dying or dead
Keep showing up in my dreams, They stand at the end of my bed
Have I ever really helped anybody but myself?  “Dreams so real”, Metric

These are powerful words, particularly if you think that the onus to fix all the underfed, unknown, dying or dead rests entirely on your shoulders.  It is right to ask the question, have I ever really helped anybody by myself?  If we choose to rely on ourselves, and our ability to get things fixed, we ultimately come back to ask that same question.

From a bit more classic perspective, the poet, WH Auden in his poem, Horae Canonicae, in the section named ‘Vespers’ addresses the truth that underlies our attempts to fix ourselves.  Auden writes about the meeting of two dissimilar and disliking people at the cross-roads:

…cannot resist meeting to remind the other … of that half of their secret which he would most like to forget forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget the innocence) on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy, are alike founded: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

That last line sums it up perfectly for us, and situates our meeting with the disliked other exactly where it should be, in the Blood of Christ: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand. Reality, both Newtonian and Quantum is underpinned by one Creator God.

Now, lest we turn this the other way and say, yes it is all resting on the Blood of the Lamb, now what do I have to do to get enough of that to solve all my problems, all my failings, converting Christ into yet another tool that can only be used as well as we are able to conceive, let us turn to a T.S. Eliot poem that takes us the rest of the way home – for it is not because of our best efforts we are saved, but in spite of those best efforts. Christ came not to save a world that was convinced it was fully alive, but a world that had realized it was fully dead to itself. T.S. Eliot in the poem Gerontion assures that in spite of our seeming inability to avoid the train wreck that Christ himself will intervene:

Signs are taken for wonders.  ‘We would see a sign!’

The word within a word, unable to speak a word,

Swaddled with darkness.  In the juvescence of the year

Came Christ the tiger

… The tiger springs in the new year.  Us he devours.

Christ springs in the new year, with his only goal the complete consumption of all we are: Christ, the tiger, springs in the new year. Us he devours. Eliot critic Grover Smith explained this imagery in powerful terms, “Christ came not to send peace, but a sword; the Panther of the bestiaries…is also the Tiger of destruction. And so, ‘the tiger springs in the new year,’ devouring us who have devoured Him.” We draw this journey to a conclusion, ending with Augustine’s words about the communion bread and wine: behold what you are, and become what you receive. By our profession of faith we are the body of Christ, through our consumption of the body of Christ in communion, we enter further in to being that body of Christ. Our consumption of Christ, in turn results in us being consumed. That transformation calls us to live and breathe as a people called and redeemed, a people remade to be a people set apart. And today, as we recall the Baptism of Christ, the start of his journey to the Cross, let us again prepare ourselves to be consumed anew. Amen

TS Eliot (himself) reading The Journey of the Magi and Gerontion on YouTube...”A cold time we had of it…”

Here’s the links for The Journey and Gerontion in text form if you wish to print and ponder.

Malcom Guite’s poem Baptism of Christ

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.


Written by sameo416

January 4, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Community Development: Final Paper

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Well, here I am at the end of the one-year certificate in restorative justice from Simon Fraser University. This has been an interesting (if stressful) journey. Interesting because reading through all the materials has helped me move to a place of higher integration of my own distinct world views: engineer, priest, soldier, leader. Also interesting because I was the only engineer in the study groups, so had lots of exposure to other perspectives. Stressful because I changed jobs part-way through the second course, and have been working much longer hours.

This is my final paper. Not my best work due to time pressures, but an interesting study into two problem definition approaches to address poverty and homelessness from the worldview of restorative justice. I’ve been sloppy with citations for some of the assertions I’ve made, I know.

A Practical Comparison:

The City of Edmonton’s End Poverty Initiative


The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’

Definition of Indigenous Homelessness


CRJ 445: Community Development through Restorative Justice

December 4, 2017


In this course the focus was on community development through applied restorative justice principles. A primary emphasis throughout was on the need to holistically consider the greater circles of relationship that each individual is enmeshed within. (Bopp & Bopp, 67) This systems approach to the question is critical, for it is only in considering each challenge in the greater context of the system in which it resides that the possibility of transformative change may be created. (Dekker, 2004) This approach contrasts sharply with the usual business- or government-centric approach which looks to “fix” a presenting problem, usually with the provision of some time-limited source of money.[1] Only by adopting a community-centric approach that develops transformational community can we begin to understand the root causes for the presenting problems, and then by addressing those root causes we may begin to effect lasting transformation.

This paper will review two initiatives which both presume to be community-based: the End Poverty Edmonton initiative of the City of Edmonton; and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ work to produce a Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada. The approach will be to compare and contrast the program’s problem definition phase using the particular interpretive framework on community as presented through the lens of restorative justice, particularly focused on the issue of the achieving transformative change to reduce an undesired situation (poverty or homelessness).

Same System, Hoped-For Alternative Outcome

There is a history of government-sponsored and led projects setting out spectacular goals such as ‘ending poverty’ or ‘ending homelessness’ which do not deliver even a fraction of the benefits promised. A promise to end child poverty in Canada, made by the federal government some 28 years ago, fell far short of the goal. (Jarvis & James, 2014) Likewise Premier Alison Redford campaigned in Alberta in 2012 with the promise to end child poverty in Alberta within five years.[2] Similar promises have been made by all levels of government throughout my life, such as the promise to end boil water advisories on First Nations reserves: contrasted with the reality that 147 drinking water advisories are presently in effect, with 100 of those being in place for longer than one year. This situation is undisputed, and my perspective is that the work of Block and Bopp & Bopp was focused specifically to create new perspectives on the ways in which community may be created or recreated, so that a different outcome might be imagined.[3] (Bopp & Bopp, 4) Yet our only societal response to such problems is to attempt the same actions as have previously failed, usually by repackaging what had come before. The stark reality of unclean water and Indigenous homelessness remain immune to these policy-centric, top-down approaches.

The history of success with problem-centric approaches does not support that merely addressing the presenting problem does anything lasting, including not resolving the original presenting problem. On a fundamental level, these two approaches differ in that Thistle’s work on Indigenous homelessness uses a bottom-up approach, holistically considered, to define the scope of the presenting problem. The analysis to define the why of Indigenous homelessness begins in the meeting of the people to find out why they are in that situation. By contrast, End Poverty Edmonton is very much government-driven, top-down, in spite of initiation with a survey of citizens who were asked to identify top issues, using the Collective Impact model for community change, and involving many outreach agencies. In a review of the materials it is apparent that End Poverty Edmonton is very much underwritten by resources (financial and people) mostly provided by the City of Edmonton or allied funding agencies.

It is also fashionable to speak about “reconciliation” in the context of social change which intersects the Indigenous community. This is a particular and welcomed outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission undertaken by the Government of Canada with respect to the long history of cultural genocide associated with colonial Residential Schools. Use of the word has become a requirement for any government interaction with the Indigenous community, but this too belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the word ‘reconciliation’ in many of those encounters.

The examples of this paying of lip-service to the concept are legion, one example particularly highlighted by a recent Supreme Court of Canada case is offered as a typical example. (Block, p. 136-7)[4] The Government of the Yukon website on aboriginal relations includes this statement: “Government of Yukon is committed to reconciliation, and building partnerships with First Nations governments.”[5] This commitment becomes less convincing when local First Nations had to take the Government of Yukon to court to object to its unilateral revision of a land-use plan concerning the Peel Watershed. The government had taken a mutually-negotiated land use plan, conducted through processes established under modern treaties between the First Nations and the settler government, and revised some of the aspects dramatically. One included changing the amount of protected land in the watershed from 80% to approximately 29% after the changes.[6] The Supreme Court of Canada, thankfully, upheld the honour of the Crown by stating that modern treaties were binding instruments, negotiated by both parties using modern principles, and were binding on both parties. A government could no longer undertake a mandated consultation process, and then make a unilateral decision to move in a different direction.

The concept of reconciliation for both Indigenous and restorative justice is a holistic concept which involves a new attempt at a previously fractured relationship. (Block, p. 163) This contrast was clearly apparent at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when the Federal Government of the day sought to conclude all aspects of the process, while Indigenous participants were advocating for a demonstration of that new relationship. Like in restorative justice, the concept of reconciliation involves a fundamental understanding that the parties are committed to walking forward in a new relationship that actually involves living in relation. A fundamental split can be seen between this idea of the creation of a new possibility of community growing out of reconciliation, and the western, settler need for finality in legal and business processes. One asks how we will now live together; the other insists that fiduciary duties have now been met, and the issue that brought us to this place is concluded.[7] The split in approach between the two systems reviewed reflects a similar split in understanding.

End Poverty Edmonton (EPE)

In a review of the materials published by End Poverty Edmonton, they have established 35 actions which have been grouped under five overarching goals. The goals are:

  1. Toward True Reconciliation
  2. Justice For All
  3. Move People Out of Poverty
  4. Invest in a Poverty Free Future
  5. Change the Conversation (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, p. 22)

The roadmap set forth to address these goals is introduced:

These actions demonstrate neighborhood-focused groundbreaking initiatives as well as city-wide actions intended to impact individuals, groups and communities across Edmonton. The Road Map actions also showcase new and innovative ways of working by prototyping promising and leading practices as well as advancing systemic changes to improve conditions. The City of Edmonton, community partners and Edmontonians, as well as other orders of government, will work collectively and contribute financially to make an immediate and tangible impact on poverty in our city. (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, p. 22)

This top-level description fits the problem definition provided earlier, that while it includes many phrases which imply a new and organic approach to the problem of poverty in Edmonton, it very much reflects the same sort of government-centred rhetoric of past initiatives. This will be clearly seen in the lack of a sustained bottom-up engagement to be reviewed later.

A review of the 35 actions outlined resulted in the following distribution of “lead” agencies against the actions (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, pp. 24-40):

City of Edmonton alone: 18 actions

City of Edmonton shared lead: 2 actions

Groups related to City of Edmonton or with primary purpose of funding: 15 actions.[8]

Street-level outreach organizations (Bissell Centre): 1 action

The distribution of lead agencies against each of the actions indicates that the leadership for the initiative is over-represented by government or quasi-government organizations or fund-raising organizations. While most of the initiatives included more street-level outreach type groups, only one of the 35 actions was set to be led by such a group. Of the total expenditures planned of $27,180M, $15,750M is from the City of Edmonton while the balance, $11,430M is from partner agencies, the distribution of which has already been outlined in the assessment of lead agencies. It is also significant that the one initiative completely in the hands of a street-level agency (The Bissell Centre) is a crisis intervention program intended to stop eviction from rental accommodation of people in risk. (EPE, May 2016, p. 33) This is not a transformative program, but an intervention program that is not necessarily “advancing systemic changes to improve conditions.”

The community engagement aspect of the EPE project was conducted by a survey of 400 Edmonton citizens by telephone in February 2015. The principle goals of the survey were to:

  1. Establish benchmark measures to assess citizens’ attitudes towards poverty.
  2. Provide communication cues to develop a dialogue with Edmontonians. (EPE February 2015)

The use of a telephone survey involves some degree of selection of the survey population. Not all citizens have telephones, and those living in poverty are likely to be more represented in that population. The principle goals of the survey were to assess citizen’s attitudes toward poverty and its underlying causes, which could not be interpreted as a degree of significant encounter with the community. The establishment of a survey around particular questions in of itself provides some pre-bias to the outcome.

The EPE campaign uses language which suggests that it is highly engaged in the community, using the Collective Impact approach to “achieve large scale, deep community change”. Collective Impact is based on the idea that in order for communities to create lasting solutions to complex social issues, they need to work together towards a shared goal. It also puts people with lived experience at the centre of this vision.” (EPE Overview, January 2017, p. 2) The participation of those with lived experience is gained through a “stakeholder forum”. The approach also seeks to “bring the spirit and wisdom of Indigenous peoples to help steward…the roadmap.” The membership of the stakeholder forum is not publically available. The place of the ‘spirit and wisdom of Indigenous peoples’ is not explicitly identified. The membership of the stewardship group providing leadership is comprised of government officials from municipal and provincial governments, university professors, chairs of charitable organizations such as the United Way, leaders from two religious communities and the chairs of social advocacy organizations. Three members are Indigenous, and two of those lead street-level outreach activities, one of the Indigenous members is identified as healing out of addictions and poverty.[9] The stewardship group is not representative of the community elements the overall EPE mission is intended to reach out to.

End Poverty Edmonton as a Radical New Community Approach

With this surface analysis, it is apparent that the majority of this initiative is led by government or quasi-government organizations. This is not what might be considered a community recreation best practice in the assessment of either Block or Bopp & Bopp as it does not appear to lead to the re-birthing of true community. (Bopp & Bopp, p. 33)  Bopp and Bopp also identify the critical challenges of involving existing helping agencies who are unavoidably infused with the presumptions of the dominant culture:

Almost all helping agencies (which unconsciously follow the rules of accept the basic assumptions of the dominant culture) work at cross-purposes with communities that are marginalized by, or are ethnically outside, to dominant culture. Indeed the dominant culture tends to be blind to the very existence of cultural diversity. Its perspective, when viewing peoples who are different, is that they have culture…and we have reality.” (Bopp & Bopp, p. 32)

The make-up of the working groups that are supporting this initiative are highly dominated by people who are already in community leadership positions, and particularly by settler leaders. If the group was to be truly representative, I would expect to see the stewardship group comprised of at least half Indigenous individuals (with a significant number living in poverty), as Edmonton’s experience is that over half of homeless identify as Indigenous. Similar numbers relate to those living in poverty.[10] I would also expect to see some representation of those with direct experience of poverty rather than a listing of those already occupying positions of power. It is difficult to not conclude that this initiative is not soundly in the camp that Bopp and Bopp caution about, that this is an effort to impose the dominant cultural reality on those in the state of poverty.

A pragmatic question to ask at this point might be, if the governmental structures in place have not already eliminated poverty in the city, is it likely that further initiatives using the same players will achieve success that was previously not possible? While a component of the program is education of citizens, there is little provision for the development of small community groups to lead the transformation (Block, p. 95), another best practice. Some of the suggestions for community involvement include hosting gatherings to speak about the issues, but there is little evidence of a framework which will permit community-level (street-level) leaders to develop support and transformative small groups for the program from a bottom-up approach.

A particular point of contention arises through EPE’s identified focus on reconciliation. Goal 1 is titled “true reconciliation”, that the EPE action plan is entirely predicated on achieving real reconciliation with Indigenous people. This is a good assertion as a first step, as such a large part of the cohort being considered is Indigenous. However, the action items do not address what Indigenous people have acknowledged is foundational to any reconciliation, a discussion on the place and occupation of the land.[11] It appears the City of Edmonton is prepared to provide land for an Aboriginal Culture and Wellness Centre, but that is the extent of the engagement of land in this discussion. Given that Indigenous are over-represented in poverty groups, and particularly among the homeless, a lack of engagement with this central question is fatal.[12]

This aspect of the land as central to any discussion about reconciliation and an end to the usual cycles of poverty and homelessness is largely missed in the EPE materials. Indigenous poverty is rooted in the dispossession from extended circles of relationship that include human relations, animal relations, plant relations and the integral relationship with the entirety of the Creation. That dispossession has at its root concerted efforts to achieve assimilation of Indigenous peoples into the settler body politic.[13] Any attempt to address the root causes of that poverty and homelessness needs to address in some measure that central dispossession. The governance goals allege to consider some of these aspects in discussion self-governance, “… self-governance is rightfully viewed as a first step in community capacity-building and resolution of many of the issues experienced by their communities.” (EPE December 2015, p. 25) The irony of having the leadership group comprised of 80% settler peoples is apparently lost.

This is fundamentally missed in the EPE approach, and reflects that the non-Indigenous approach to an understanding of the land misses the crucial relationship question. Lowman and Barker identify this as a failure to recognize that the Indigenous world view encompasses ontology and epistemology as inseparable understandings of the Creation. The settler perspective splits those concepts, so it is possible to conceive in the settler world view that the individual human is discrete and separate from the Creation, which can be exploited without fear of harm to the individual. (Lowman and Barker, 2015, pp. 49-51) They also reference the need to revisit sacred sites as a part of “rituals of renewal” that assist in maintaining sustainable relationship. It is land relationships which link Indigenous to kin and to the shared history of place and time: indeed without the land, it is not possible to conceive of an Indigenous “home” in the fullest sense of that word. This also reflects the imperative identified by Bopp and Bopp that healing the past is a necessary part of sustainable development. (Bopp & Bopp, p. 67; Block, p. 164)

Jesse Thistle’s Indigenous Definition of Homelessness

The analysis of the contrary example, Jesse Thistle’s development of an Indigenous Definition of Homelessness, is to the point. This approach embodies the best of the restorative justice approach combined with the building of restorative communities, because Thistle begins with the involved community itself. Thistle, a Métis scholar, was himself homeless for 10 years, off and on.[14] He provides the following definition of a healthy community:

The key to understanding a healthy community, Indigenous or not, is appreciated that cultivation of the human spirit is grounded in emplaced networks of significance. Grounded emplacement gives positive meaning to individual and collective life in social groups and society as a whole, and produces a healthy “sense of place,” as well as a healthy sense of identity. (Thistle, p. 7)

Thistle’s used of the phrase, “emplaced networks of significance” reflects a basic aspect of any community, but a particular requirement for Indigenous community is that network of significance includes all relations, human and otherwise. He also identifies the impact of centuries of colonialism causing the “complex and intentional unravelling of traditional social and cultural systems, known as cultural genocide, has created and prolonged and continues to perpetuate, Indigenous homelessness in Canada.” (Thistle, p. 7) This identification of the root problem sharply contrasts with the EPE approach that appears to appreciate “Indigenous spirit and wisdom” but fails to address the fundamental causes of the poverty it seeks to remove. This dichotomy of approaches suggests that the EPE efforts will ultimately be one more failed attempt at social transformation, while Thistle’s definition provides some hope that at least we are beginning to understand the real problem. Thistle’s definition seeks to not address the symptom of the problem (poverty and homelessness), but the root causes which created the symptoms in the first place. (Block, p. 33)

Thistle situates the question of homelessness as a cultural one, because the lack of a sense of home or homeplace is a culturally understood experience. Bopp and Bopp echo this emphasis in their identification of the need to develop an understanding of a “cultural-insiders’ perspective”. That requires that those seeking development acknowledge that much of the work which is done to fix problems is already situated in colonial dominant narratives that situates itself as the reality. (Bopp and Bopp, p. 72-3) They also identify that those seeking to create transformation must be prepared to align themselves with “alternate patterns generated by groups other than their own.” (p. 59) It is significant in Thistle’s work that while he could have written based entirely on his personal encounter with Indigenous homelessness, he instead traveled and spoke to many people to collect a fulsome definition of what it actually meant.[15] Thistle develops an intimate and authentic relationship with those he writes about, involving them in the definition of the full reality of homelessness in their communities. (Block, p. 98)

Thistle contrasts his 12-part definition of Indigenous homelessness with the Canadian definition of homelessness which only outlines four types of settler homelessness: unsheltered; emergency sheltered; provisionally sheltered; at risk of homelessness. (p. 13) He offers a contrary definition of the Indigenous sense of home that outlines the framework which results in the ultimate symptom:

Indigenous worldviews conceptualize home more deeply as a web of relationships and responsibilities involving connections to human kinship networks: relationships with animals, plants, spirits and elements; relationships with the Earth, lands waters and territories; and connection to traditional stories, songs, teachings, names and ancestors…The holistic Indigenous concept of home is understood as circles of interconnectedness that together form the heart of health Indigenous social and spiritual emplacement. These are known [as] All My Relations…meaning that an Indigenous person, community and Nation feel at home when they have a reciprocal responsibility and stable relationship with such things as place, geography, animals, community, sense of belonging, identity, family, ancestors, stories and independence…without these connections, Indigenous people feel “rootless”… (Thistle, p. 14-5)

Thistle goes on to engage the root causes of institutional dependency as, “the chronic and intergenerational conditions of poverty and marginalization created by the federal, provincial and territorial governments of Canada.” (Thistle, p. 25, cf. Bopp, p. 13) This problem is also identified by Block as he points to one of the hallmarks of an oppressor/oppressed relationship is the prescription of advice where the institution imposes its will on the individual. (p. 109) In comparing the two approaches outlined in this paper it is apparent that the EPE approach is one that reflects the advice-giving aspect Block highlights, while Thistle has openly placed his study in the role of advice-taker from the impacted community. It is also apparent that Thistle’s approach is one that looks at circles of relationship, something Bopp and Bopp emphasize as an important world view when encountering questions of community. (p. 29, 33) Bopp and Bopp also ask the specific question if the dominant worldviews we have relied on for progress to date are able to address the problems those worldviews created in the first place. (p. 73, 77) Thistle has also adopted the pattern of asking “powerful questions” which Block outlines as necessary for drawing in the reader to become an actor in the solution of the problem. (p. 106)


In a comparison between the problem-defining methodologies of the End Poverty Edmonton initiative and Jesse Thistle’s Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada, it is readily apparent that Thistle’s approach is far closer to those outlined in restorative justice and radical community-building theories encountered in this course. Both Bopp and Bopp and Peter Block, along with many restorative justice theorists emphasize the importance of Indigenous wisdom setting patterns of interaction and conceptual models which work well in those world views.[16] It is not surprising that Thistle’s methodology, grounded in his understanding of Indigenous circles of relationship and Indigenous understandings of reality, follows a pattern which is familiar to restorative justice and radical community approaches. By contrast, the EPE initiative is one that is formally situated in colonial cycles of doing business, using an approach familiar to anyone with experience in corporate business planning: a core team of high-profile leaders who guide and direct all of the activities. Participating is permitted, and overtly encouraged, but this is in particular modes of participation and interaction and not in any way which would permit more significant engagement with the actual approach and plan being enacted. Based on the survey of the public-facing materials, it is apparent that most of the strategy and plan is already in place and now it just needs to be executed to achieve the goal of ending poverty. This approach has little which resonates within the restorative justice framework, as it does nothing to identify or address the underlying structure matters which are the primary causes of poverty. It particularly does nothing to engage the specific question of Indigenous poverty which is highly tied up into the dysfunction of colonial systems: the same systems EPE proposes to solve the problem.

Reference List

Alberta College of Social Workers, Public Interest Alberta, and the Edmonton Social Planning Council. (November 2014). No Change: After 25 Years of Promises it is Time to End Child Poverty. November 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2017 from: http://www.edmontonsocialplanning.ca/index.php/resources/digital-resources/f-social-issues/f07-children/240-no-change-after-25-years-of-promises-its-time-to-eliminate-child-poverty/file

Block, P. (2009). Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco: Bennett-Koehler Publishers.

Bopp, M. and Bopp, J. (2001). Recreating the World: A Practical Guide to Building Sustainable Communities. 3rd ed. Calgary: Four Winds Press.

Cabaj, M and Weaver, L. (2016). Collective Impact 3.0: An Evolving Framework for Community Change. Tamarack Institute. Retrieved November 25, 2017 from: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/316071/Events/Multi-Day%20Events/Community%20Change%20Institute%20-%20CCI/2016%20CCI%20Toronto/CCI_Publications/Collective_Impact_3.0_FINAL_PDF.pdf

City of Edmonton (2017). EDMONTON’S UPDATED PLAN TO PREVENT AND END HOMELESSNESS. Retrieved on December 1, 2017 from: http://endhomelessnessyeg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Edmonton-Full-Booklet-web.pdf

City of Edmonton (January 2009). A Place to Call Home: Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Retrieved December 2, 2017 from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/A_Place_to_Call_Home.pdf

Dekker, S. W. A. (2004). Why we need new accident models. Human Factors and Aerospace Safety, 4(1), 1-18.

Jarvis, C and James, H (2014, November 24). ‘There’s no question we failed’: MPs commitment to end poverty is 25 years old. Global News Edmonton. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/1688623/commons-commitment-to-end-poverty-is-25-years-old-whats-happened/

Lowman, E.B. and Barker, A.J. (2015). Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.

End Poverty Edmonton. Public Documents:

End Poverty in a Generation: A Road Map to Guide our Journey – May 2016.

End Poverty Edmonton Strategy – December 2015.

End Poverty Edmonton Benchmark Survey – February 2015.

End Poverty Edmonton, An Overview – January 2017.

Retrieved from: https://www.endpovertyedmonton.ca/

Thistle, J. (2017). Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from: http://homelesshub.ca/IndigenousHomelessness

Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Drinking Water Advisories, Government of Canada. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/topics/health-environment/water-quality-health/drinking-water/advisories-first-nations-south-60.html

The Collective Impact Framework. http://www.collaborationforimpact.com/collective-impact/

[1] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from the Federal Government perspective, is an example of this approach.

[2] No Change: After 25 Years of Promises it is Time to End Child Poverty. November 2014. Alberta College of Social Workers, Public Interest Alberta, and the Edmonton Social Planning Council. Retrieved November 25, 2017.

[3] Inferring from Bopp & Bopp’s assertion that, “building sustainable community…[is] a primary strategy for solving critical human problems…not merely as a means to an end… [but because] sustainable community is a basic human need.” (p. 4) This addresses the pattern I am addressing, where the same politically-led initiatives are undertaken with fanfare to address long-standing problems, with invariably the same outcome: failure. A different approach, one rooted in underlying issues and starting with community development is needed: an approach that is borne out through both Bopp and Bopp and Block.

[4] Called “the enemy of commitment” by Block.

[5] http://www.eco.gov.yk.ca/aboriginalrelations/ Read December 2, 2017.

[6] http://www.mandellpinder.com/the-first-nation-of-nacho-nyak-dun-case-summary/ or the original decision 2017 SCC 58 at paragraph 53, https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2017/2017scc58/2017scc58.html?autocompleteStr=2017%20scc%2058&autocompletePos=1

[7] The two-row wampum treaty is an example of what reconciliation might look like. This treaty from 1613 between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers depicted two canoes moving in parallel paths down the same river. The river, and all of its bounty is shared between the two canoes (or communities) but the paths do not cross, so there is no interference. Reconciliation means more than an apology and ending of the legal processes, it means the re-establishment of the reality reflected in that two-row wampum.

[8] These organizations are creations of the City of Edmonton or exist primarily to distribute fund-raising proceeds including: End Poverty Edmonton, United Way Edmonton, Edmonton Community Foundation, Edmonton Mental Health Steering Committee, Edmonton Financial Empowerment Collaborative.

[9] https://www.endpovertyedmonton.ca/who-we-are/ Listing of stewardship table members.

[10] 44% of Indigenous children live in poverty. (EPE Overview, January 2017, p. 3)

51% of homeless surveyed in Edmonton’s 2016 homelessness census were Indigenous contrasted with Indigenous only representing 5% of the Edmonton population. (City of Edmonton, 2017, p. 29)

[11] End Poverty Strategy, December 2015, p. 4 lists these actions under “true reconciliation”: 1. Establish an Aboriginal culture and wellness centre 2. Initiate people-first and trauma-informed policy and practice 3. Implement a community witness program 4. Provide opportunities where Aboriginal people in poverty can “show and grow” their talents 5. Make systemic changes to better reflect the needs, interests and culture of Aboriginal people

[12] While Indigenous people account for 5% of Edmonton’s population, they account for 51% of the homeless population. 2016 Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Edmonton.

[13] This comment loosely from Duncan Campbell Scott’s writings about the “Indian problem”, “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncan_Campbell_Scott

[14] http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/rethinking-housing-from-an-indigenous-perspective-1.4372047/from-street-to-scholar-jesse-thistle-creates-new-definition-of-indigenous-homelessness-1.4376118

[15] Thistle carried out a consultation process lasting 18 months involving visits to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

[16] Cf. Glen McCabe, “Mind, body, emotions and spirit: reaching to the ancestors for healing.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 21:2, 143-152, June 2008. Also, Lars Charles Mazzola, (1988). The medicine wheel: Center and periphery. Journal of Popular Culture, 22(2), 63–73.


Written by sameo416

December 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Remembrance Sermon 2017

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Equitas Society held a press conference on 9 November about pensions and soldier suicides.

an addendum comment on lump sum vs lifetime pensions from my experience:

The pre-Veterans Charter (2006) Pension Act disabled soldier was entitled to a life-time indexed disability pension. The NVC brought in lump-sum payments, which means soldiers injured in the same way, in the same war, receive different benefits. The benefits are dramatically different in terms of the pension amount. My “low” impairment of just over 30%, assuming I live to 80, will pay me more than twice the lump sum that Maj (ret’d) Campbell received as a double amputee.

As a guy that worked with WCB lump sum payments and the actuarial calculation behind those sum, I have to say there is only one reason to switch to lump sum payments – to limit liability for the insurer. That’s the reason almost all WCBs in Canada transitioned to lump sums.

Actuarial calculations assume a lower lump sum based on ‘future value of money’ giving you an equivalent pay out as a lifetime pension. Only problem is you have to live off the lump sum while you’re investing it. The net impact is less dollars to the disabled, and the complete transfer of risk to the wounded soldier. If your investments tank, there’s no recalculation or top up, you carry all the risk.

I was challenged on my assertion that child welfare services unjustly pull Indigenous kids from homes at a much higher rate than settler children. The numbers are plain that this is factual. The argument was many of them were justified. That may be true, but it’s also correct that the colonial system continues to impose unreasonable standards on Indigenous parents that settler parents are not expected to meet. A good recent paper on the phenomena: “Turning a new page: cultural safety, critical creative literary interventions, truth and reconciliation, and the crisis of child welfare” My point was to ask people to be open to having their ‘comfortable dispensations’ challenged, as lots of our assumptions about the world are incorrect and need to be revised.

Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2017, SJE Micah 4:1-4; Matthew 24:1-14; Psalm 2

We are pausing for a moment today as a community of faith to consider those who have suffered the violence of conflict and warfare.  Our national day of Remembrance is specifically focused on the memory of soldiers, but as Christians our call is broader as we are to intercede for the entire suffering of the creation.  I usually preach on this day at St John’s, partly because of twenty years of service as a soldier in Canada’s air force (not a chaplain), but also because of my own life-long engagement with the intersection between faith and violence and the cost of that violence.  Through the grace of God and this community, I’ve also been progressively working through the impact of military service on my life, as I seek God’s grace in that question of how violence shaped me.  These remembrance sermons are never easy to deliver, because it involves me opening parts of my life I would rather not deal with, and the evocation of memories that are more comfortable when forgotten.

What I will not do is to attempt to give you absolute answers to some challenging questions…some Christians believe quite strongly that being a person of faith is entirely incompatible with being a soldier or a peace officer. All I can tell you is how much of my faith was formed in the crucible of military service…sure I’ve done a bunch of schooling and learned lots of fancy terms and theology, but the actual day-to-day hard work of being a Christian in a sometimes hostile world and of being a priest…well, that I learned through my formation as a soldier.  In particular, my time in uniform left me with a visceral theology of suffering, in fact, it is what keeps me going as a person who still bears the chronic pain and permanent disability of military injuries. This experience of service, like for first responders or police, reflects that those encounters often leave enduring marks on the person. For me it is in the experience of chronic pain, for others it is suffering that continues long after the guns have fallen silent.

This past month I’ve read two books by soldiers who continue to struggle with PTSD. One is Romeo Dallaire’s book, Waiting for First Light. The title is a powerful image for a soldier – first light is the most likely time for an attack, but it is also a sign that you have survived to see the dawn of another day. For Dallaire, he still lives very much in tension and each day is a struggle to survive. The second book is a bit closer to home, Among the Walking Wounded: Soldiers, Survival and PTSD by Colonel John Conrad. John and I went through undergraduate training together in the military college system. These accounts of suffering are compounded by the ever-present parallel account of how little support those soldiers have received from the organization that should be devoted to their health: Veterans Affairs and the Government of Canada.

It was announced just a month ago that finally, Veterans Affairs is going to begin tracking soldier suicides that occur after release from the military. It is thought that 130 veterans of Afghanistan have committed suicide. And now, years after the end of the combat mission, we’re going to start tracking soldier suicides so we can keep accurate statistics. Thanks to the Globe and Mail for highlighting these hidden war dead for the last few years, in its continuing series titled, “The Unremembered”. This turnabout by the military and the government was after insisting for years (as recently as 2011) that there was no increased rate of suicide among soldiers returning from deployment.[1]

The week leading up to this national act of remembrance is always a rough one for me. It’s a reflective time for soldiers, because we think about our experiences, our friends and coworkers who did not come home, and wonder why we were the lucky ones…even while many bear continued psychological wounds from their service. The reality of today’s military is that our soldiers face exceptional stresses as they encounter situations of immense ethical ambiguity: asymmetric warfare, genocide and child soldiers. It reflects an increasingly broken world, and in spite of our great knowledge and wisdom, we are more in need of Christ’s salvation than ever before – we simply cannot get it right.

We hear Jesus foretelling of the end times, this time after his disciples observe how grand and immense the temple complex was and wonder why Jesus does not share their amazement. In fact he turns their impressed attitude around by telling them that every stone would be displaced in the time to come. This is a powerful message for us to receive and particularly to be paid attention to whenever we begin to marvel at the signs of this age. As another person proclaims, look at this culture, look at all we’ve achieved, Jesus again points us to himself by saying, not one stone will remain upon another. This is a powerful and prophetic caution against the idolatry which appears to be the natural resting place for our hearts, to presume that our works will be what saves the world.

That caution is important as we consider Micah’s message, for sometimes the church has fallen into the trap of believing that we will be able to bring about the transformation of weapons of war into farm implements through our work. If we could spread the Gospel far enough, peace would break out everywhere! But, that’s the same trap of idolatry as standing in awe of the Temple. It is good to remember that the church has been highly complicit in horrors throughout human past, the sexual abuse scandals and the Residential Schools are only the most recent for us in Canada. An apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was issued earlier this year.[2] I could go on. The physical church is composed of frail humans and apart from the mystical reality that links us to each other and Christ, the reality of humans in the equation means we will likely mess things up eventually. In fact, the only thing we hear clearly from Jesus in this discourse is his charge to be sober, level-headed, clear-thinking and warming loving.[3]

This is one of the reasons I’m not surprised when the social structures designed to protect people instead turn into structures which harm. We like to think we’ve left the Residential Schools saga behind us, except seizure of Indigenous children by the state is still commonplace.[4] It’s not called a Residential School anymore, but the impact is the same, children removed from their families. We remove one unjust structure and it is invariably replaced by another in a different form, almost as if we can’t avoid repeating the same mistakes again.

Jesus goes on in the discourse to provide a list of warnings for what will be coming. We are to watch out for tricks, to not be terrified at the noise and news of wars, to not be surprised when we are arrested, killed and hated by the nations because of devotion to His name. We are to beware of false prophets who arise to lead many astray, and the rise of lawlessness which will cause the love of many to grow cold. Our call is to stick with it to the end, to endure and to keep watch. We need to be particularly cautious because those false teachers will invariably come from within the church, and will come with the self-assuredness that they are the only true Christians left. This is another of those warning signs to us, that as soon as we start to feel like we’re the only real Christian left in the world, we are starting down that path of idolatry. That path characterised by placing as first importance not care for others, but the assertion that only this person, only this false prophet, retains a grasp of the true faith and what is truly essential to that faith. That false message will be compelling and attractive, and may very well be backed up with signs and wonders.

By contrast, the way of Jesus Christ is the way of the suffering servant, the man of sorrows who gives all, for all, with no expectation of anything in return except condemnation. If we are looking for a path to follow in confusing times, this is it. This is strongly contrary to the message of this world which shouts to us that unless we do it ourselves, we will end up slipping behind and losing what little we have. It is an important perspective to remember in this season of remembrance because the church has not always been a safe place for soldiers, who sometimes experience rejection or condemnation because of our conclusion that they had engaged in an immoral and anti-Christ activity. That is never the call of Christ, and to slip into a place of judgement which places some outside the umbrella of Christ’s redeeming act is exactly what we are being cautioned against doing. Such judgement displaces Jesus, and instead places us on the judge’s seat determining who is and who is not permitted to be holy.

This is not to say that we should slip into the equally dangerous terrain of aligning the church with the state in support of the military. We are called to stand outside the power structures to call everyone to a different way of being, but that way of being has at its core love, which means never working to exclude any person as being unworthy of the love of Christ and never assuming that we can fix things through our advocacy. Bishop NT Wright sets out that we have lost our way as a radical community of alternative action, and instead become a place of good advice instead of good news:

In many churches, the good news has subtly changed into good advice: Here’s how to live, they say. Here’s how to pray. Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian, a better person, a better wife or husband. And in particular, here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track for what happens after death. Take this advice: say this prayer and you’ll be saved. You won’t go to hell; you’ll go to heaven. Here’s how to do it.  This is advice, not news.

What sort of faith is it that can answer a soldier’s need for peace and forgiveness? The same sort of faith that allows me to continue daily while living with physical pain. It is a faith that promises the inversion of all there is, as it is converted into the perfect creation. It is a faith that says the one path to true rebirth necessarily leads through death – which is why the world can only be saved by Christ once it has necessarily died.

Christ does not come to fix the universal folly of this world by using the tools of this world: as if by rewriting our mission and vision statements we could somehow change the fundamental nature of the human heart! Instead, Christ comes to save the world by allowing it to first fall into its death, and then bringing about the resurrection which can only take place from the place of the dead. This is perhaps the church’s greatest misdirection in the first world, is that we believe by being better organized, or having just the right fundraising campaign, or adopting business principles to guide our operations is the path to finally, finally get it right after all our failures. What that guarantees is that we will continue to pretend that we are really alive, which is the place we are most comfortable. Salvation does not come when you finally get your act together; instead it becomes possible when you accept that the only path to resurrection is when you can admit that you are fully and truly dead.

The reason the Body of Christ acts with charity and love is not because those things are going to gradually fix the world, but because we are called to love all even in the midst of tribulations, of wars and rumours of wars. We do not do it because we have faith in the ability of humanity to get it right this time, when we know that history paints a different picture. This is something else that our remembrance day should remind us of in stark terms, for there has never been a time of peace for all. While we of the first world are terrified at the thought of a possible mass shooting, we forget that at any given time there are large portions of the world are living that as a daily reality. If the church believes that anything else – politics, spirituality, exemplary moral behaviour – is able to save the world, it becomes just another false prophet that points the way away from Christ.

But we fall into the trap of externalizing non-holiness constantly as a corporate church, as we point the finger away from ourselves to identify external sources of sin. The Anglican Church of Canada released a study package on money last year. You probably won’t see it as a teaching resource here, because the package is all about those who perpetuate the cycles of financial oppression. There is no irony intended in the package’s failure to point the figure back out of the page at the reader – because it is nearly impossible to be a first-world consumer and not to perpetuate financial oppression somewhere. And the package lets you off the hook by externalizing the person it is speaking of as the 3rd person, not the 1st person holding the document and reading it, invariably in a warm house on a safe street with no hunger or illness to content with. An example I’ve used previously is the ‘blood cobalt’ used in all of our smart phones and electronics. The blind spot is in our easy externalization of sin, to someone who is apart from us personally, and apart from our community.

So the question for we Christians as we engage in an act of national remembrance is not so much prayer for ‘those soldiers’ or ‘those war dead’ or for ‘the enemy’ or for ‘those who have suffered’, but prayer for ourselves for transformation so that we can stop being participants in a world that is predicated on violence, so that we can stop being agents of violence ourselves. The second caution in national remembrance is to not fall into the trap of externalizing that violence to a distant land, or a distant war, for that same violence is taking place right now, right here, in broken relationships, in destructive business relationships, in encounters with others who are created in God’s image where we seek not to see Christ, but instead to use power to get what it is we want from that person.

I’ll close with an ecumenical confession written by Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf as to our true allegiance as Christians – to Christ alone by His blood:

“You were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

One in Christ.  All of churches of Jesus Christ, scattered in diverse cultures, have been redeemed for God by the blood of the Lamb to form one multicultural community of faith. The “blood” that binds them as brothers and sisters is more precious than the “blood,” the language, the customs, political allegiances, or economic interests that may separate them.

We reject the false doctrine, as though a church should place allegiance to the culture it inhabits and the nation to which it belongs above the commitment to brothers and sisters from other cultures and nations, servants of the one Jesus Christ, their common Lord, and members of God’s new community.[5]


[1] https://sameo416.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/soldiers-give-up-their-rights-so-they-can-risk-their-lives/ You can find the 2011 expert report through the link on that page.

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/pope-apologises-church-role-rwanda-genocide-170320132113667.html

[3] Bruner, Matthew Commentary, p. 475

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-seizes-a-manitoba-newborn-a-day-first-nations-advocate-says-1.3211451

[5] Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 53-4.


Written by sameo416

November 11, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Leadership as Convening Other’s Gifts

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Peter Block, in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, identifies that the role of the leader does not follow that which is sometimes referred to as the ‘great person’ theory of leadership. The leader is the one with the most power, decisiveness, charisma, etc – a view that is reinforced by most role-playing games…where success in a leadership task is weighed against a character’s rated charisma. Rather, Block identifies the leader as convener, the one who looks into the community and identifies people’s gifts, then provides them safe space in which they can exercise those gifts while the leader listens and supports. Block identifies also that the leader is responsible for naming the debate and identifying the questions which the community needs to consider.

This image of community presumes that any gathering of people will contain within it the range and depth of gifts necessary to allow that community to progress. My experience is that this is quite true, and sometimes the toughest leadership challenge is identifying those last few gifts you know are needed…sometimes requiring you to convince individuals that they actually hold those gifts and need to grow into that in order that the community may progress.

Block also takes a radical view of ‘accountability’. In a classic corporate sense, this means laying blame when a particular goal has not been achieved. In the really classical approach that usually means someone who will be shortly fired as a public show of ‘accountability’.

The interesting intersection of my reading draws this conversation into behavioural safety theory, which is promoting the same thing. Block speaks about ‘inversion’ of power structures as key, which is the same message which Sidney Dekker promotes in his writings, and in a recently released short film titled “Safety Differently”.

The film documents the inversion of classical safety management frameworks, where it is management around a conference table distant in space and perspective from the people actually turning wrenches who make the decisions about strategy and direction. It is not surprising that the classic approach has resulted in stagnating incident rates. Dekker’s inversion turns the authority for making the workspace safe over to the people doing the job, as philosophically they are in the best place to both identify what is dangerous, and to figure out how to mitigate that danger.

The move from a culture of blame, to a culture of true accountability is one which requires the slaying of many sacred cows, so entrenched is that approach in the corporate mind. If we believe that all problems are caused by human error, then the end of error becomes our primary objective – which means removing those who commit errors as quickly as possible, setting an example for others (so the argument goes). That culture of blame has one primary impact on people – and that is the encouragement to stay quiet about risky work practices, and indeed to cover up mistakes when they happen (lest you be made the latest example).

Block outlines this new approach in a series of three videos:

I find it fascinating that these three strands of study are all coming together: restorative justice, and the focus on community as the key; safety from a behaviour perspective and on giving the power to change things to those most at risk; my present job where I am looking at the challenge of organizational transformation in a place where distrust is the primary challenge (at least partly due to the use of punitive measures and the stifling of creativity).

Block says separately that this is a very patriarchal, American approach to the question of organization – an assumption that places the responsibility for awareness and direction entirely with the executives, and the role of follower becomes passive. By contrast, accountability in Block’s mind, requires each person in the organization to accept their responsibility for the transformation of the community. This requires a change in the narrative, in the language which is used in the community.

Block notes (2008, p. 96), “a place of belonging is one where all voices have value.”

It requires that each person in the organization start asking questions. Question-asking is the key to transformation because to a certain extent our engagement with reality can only take place in the form of the questions we can pose.  Neil Postman (1992) wrote:

[All] the knowledge we ever have is a result of questions. Indeed, it is a commonplace among scientists that they do not see nature as it is, but only through the questions they put to it. I should go further: we do not see anything as it is except through the questions we put to it. And there is a larger point even than this: since questions are the most important intellectual tool we have, is it not incredible that the art and science of question-asking is not systemically taught? (p. 26)

Block identifies that a great question has three qualities:

  • it is ambiguous
  • it is personal
  • it evokes anxiety (p. 106).

In Block’s approach the creation of conversation includes four aspects:

  • naming the distinctions
  • giving permission for unpopular answers
  • avoid giving (forcing) advice and replace it with curiosity
  • precisely naming the question (p. 107)

He goes on to identify six forms of conversation which have the potential to produce something valuable (p. 113):

  1. Invitation, is “the means through which hospitality is created” (2008, p. 113)
  2. Conversation towards structuring belonging is possibility, which offers a vision for the future.
  3. Ownership is the third theme, which invites citizens to commit to meaningful action.
  4. Openness to dissent is the fourth conversation, in which citizens are able to express their doubts, resentments.
  5. The commitment conversation that follows rests on a question for citizens: “What is the promise I am willing to make?” (p. 124).
  6. Finally, the sixth conversation focuses on the appreciation of the gifts we all bring to our relationships with, and connections to, others.


  • Postman, N. (1992). Conscientious objections: Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education. New York, NY: Vintage Books.



Written by sameo416

November 5, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Individual Development and Community

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My most recent paper in Simon Fraser University’s Certificate in Restorative Justice – it has been an interesting journey.


Block asserts (2009, p. 30) that, “[c]ommunity is fundamentally an interdependent human system given form by the conversation it holds with itself.” Block identifies a number of facets of what constitutes community: individuals, existing in an interdependent system, engaged in a narrative which gives the interdependent system its form. Therefore, the individual and the community are inseparable because the formation of community creates a new reality which is more than just a sum of the parts that constitute it. Likewise, the question of how individuals develop is equally inseparable from the community which surrounds them, as community may impact the individual positively or negatively. The community narrative may either support the development of the individual or hinder that development.

Block’s focus on the narrative of community is a powerful concept which he identifies can either limit future possibility or awaken transformative opportunities (2009, p. 35). Narrative can be a powerful tool to identify where people are in their present situation. In training for chaplaincy I recall a speaker who introduced the concept of the metanarrative in counselling contexts.[1] He asserted that careful listening and reflection on the stories that we were told by patients could reveal to us deeper truths which were operating in their lives – deeper truths that caused behaviour and reaction, and deeper truths that most people were only vaguely aware of. He related that when you realized this you could often make startling observations about people. On more than one occasion he said he had been accused of being psychic because he was able to discern things about people’s personal situation that they had never told anyone previously.

[1] Victoria General Hospital, Clinical Pastoral Education training, 2002 personal conversation.

A few days later I was called in for a late-night emergency in the intensive care unit. While dealing with that situation, the charge nurse asked if I could also speak to the person in the adjacent bed who had just been brought in by ambulance. The older woman was terribly frightened at her present health situation. Rather than speaking about that, she told me a story about their family cabin and being there as a young girl when there was a horrible storm. The wind blew so strongly that it was uprooting trees. She spoke of remembering how powerless and helpless she was before the raging of the natural world. She related that she did not understand why her mind was on that situation from decades earlier when she should be thinking about her medical challenges. I recognized this as a metanarrative and that the storm account was a proxy for her intense fear and feeling of powerlessness in her present reality. While I did not attempt to convince her I was psychic, my recognition of what was going on in her metanarrative allowed me to focus on what she needed most – comfort and assurance that she would survive this storm, as she had survived it previously.

The anecdote emphasizes Block’s point about the central importance of narrative as either enabler or disabler in individual growth. It is not difficult to project how the individual could be equally impacted by community narratives, and by community metanarratives, particularly those which are occult to the members of the community. The power of narrative in community transformation, and concurrent individual transformation, was documented in Heidi Neumark’s work with a church in the South Bronx to revitalize the community. It was in recognizing and claiming then developing the intersection of the individual narratives that a new church community arose in a place where there had previously been only fear and division. In describing prayer, Neumark quotes Zora Hurston’s words which also accurately describe the impact of narrative:

There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. (Neumark, p. 195, quoting Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God)

Narrative contains a depth of thought which is often beyond words and feelings, but which has huge influence on all the people who operate within the narrative. Neumark’s journey with that community reflected both individual and community transformation, through shared narrative which centred around Neumark’s Christian ministry. One of the ways she sought to develop the community was through breaking down the barriers between the inside of the church, and the street outside by moving the services out to the street. This was to overcome the sense of shame which prevented people from crossing the boundary where they perceived judgement waiting for them; when in reality those on the interior had the same sort of personal narratives operating: HIV-positive, recovering from addiction, homelessness, abuse and poverty. (Neumark, p. 248) Bringing that reality before people let them know that the perceived barrier did not exist, and allowed them to progress in working through a re-remembering of shared past in a more forgiving way. (Block, p. 36)

This theme is reflected throughout the literature surrounding restorative justice, particularly in the use of shame as a means of reintegrating offenders to the community. Karstedt references Braithwaite’s work that focusing shame on the offense rather than the offender would produce a positive force assisting in re-integration of the person to the community. (Karstedt, p 302) This requires a transformation in criminal justice which is instead focused on directing shame at the offender, so that shame can instead act as a restorative force. (Karstedt, p. 312)

I recently finished reading two books on military-duty related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where shame figures prominently. Shame may arise from having survived when others have died, and for leaders particularly shame related to not having been good enough to preserve the lives of those they were responsible for. (Conrad, p. 117, 216) That shame leads to the increased risk of suicide related to PTSD, but can also form a force which allows the individual to find new ways to live within the shame. Interestingly, one of the two PTSD authors, Romeo Dallaire has since identified shame as one of the principle tools for stopping the use of children soldiers. Dallaire stated in an interview:

“You hit (a commander’s) ego,” he said. “You stand your ground and continue to try to break that individual’s power base with his peers by insulting him as not a real commander if he has to use children to do his fighting.” (Edwards, 2013)

That provides an example of the use of shame as a positive corrective force, albeit in a context that has not been reflected in the restorative justice literature I have encountered. It reflects at least some of Dallaire’s personal encounters with intensive shame experienced through his continued struggle with PTSD. One observer sends Dallaire a copy of S.T. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner when he recognizes that Dallaire and the protagonist in the poem both wrestle with deep guilt and anguish over what they have done, and failed to do. He also states with some foresight that Dallaire’s path to healing will be in recognizing that the shame and guilt would ultimately be turned into “providing succour to the victims of war.” (Dallaire, xiii). Dallaire’s turning point comes when he abandons the line he was briefed to use at a press conference about soldier suicides and instead directly relates the suicides to operational exposure to the horrors of war, revealing that he also was a casualty of that same situation.[2] (Dallaire, 77)

[2] The briefing package Dallaire was given instead stated that there was no relationship between deployments and suicide, and that it was the “psychological instability” of the soldiers which was causing them to take their own lives. (Dallaire, 75)

One of the dynamics which adversely impacts those soldiers with PTSD who are quickly released from the Canadian Forces, is the loss of that sustaining community. Colonel Conrad attempts to return to Edmonton for at least a year with the same troops he had deployed with to Afghanistan. Instead he is forced to conform to the normal posting routine which places a premium on the movement of senior officers on a regular schedule and has no concern for community support and unit cohesion focused on allowing traumatized soldiers to recover within the same community they deployed with. The result is a sense of abandonment in the soldiers that only serves to exacerbate the trauma. (Conrad, p. 82) The dynamic for reserve soldiers was even more profound, as they would leave full-time service overseas with a Regular Force (full-time) unit after a one or two-week decompression period to return to their civilian employment. (Conrad, pp. 32-33) Admittedly this is combined with a community dysfunction which tends to treat injuries, and particularly psychological injuries, as a sign of lacking toughness which is valued as an attribute in troops.[3] The community is also fearful of exposing itself to external criticism and tends to react to problems by first supressing or hiding them, which results in problems not being addressed in constructive ways, further driving the ability of individuals to seek help underground. Conrad highlights this by stating that we live in, “…an age of rhetorical leadership…” where problems are attacked through, “publish[ing] a thick deck of PowerPoint slides and declare[ing] early victory on things.” (Conrad, p. 34)

[3] A personal anecdote on this attitude. Anyone who did not report for duty in the morning and instead went to sick parade at the clinic was referred to as being on “spaz”. If you did this too many times you became known as a “spaz commando”, which was considered highly derogatory. The sense of shame associated with any medical release from the military led to many people I supervised being unwilling to report injuries for fear they would be regarded as weak.

Contrasting this approach of the Canadian Forces leadership to dealing with psychological injuries arising from operational deployments a restorative justice approach would bring different values to the discussion. Lederach and Lederach speak positively of Block’s model using the metaphor of the bowl as a model representing the model of insight, innovation and action: thinking to presencing, presencing to doing. (2010, pp. 101-2) A restorative approach would look at the presence of injured soldiers (both psychological and physical) as an opportunity for healing and the creation of new potentials. It would look to create the conditions necessary to bring about community success by creating the appropriate place, space and time. (Dale and Newman, p. 16) The approach would be soundly based in an understanding of the intrinsic interrelatedness of all reality, and that allowing a person to suffer causes harm to all people. There is an ethical imperative for all to act with the understanding of our responsibility to work to better others, because this will build a stronger community. (Ross, p. 30-31)

Dallarie and Conrad turned their trauma into new directions (Dallaire to his advocacy for child soldiers, and both of them to writing of their experiences to help others understand and to advocate for change), reflecting a restorative approach contained within both of their individual narratives although not named as such. Both have transitioned into becoming advocates for those suffering, Conrad points clearly at Veterans Affairs as an area requiring transformation, and identifies that the community has lost its focus on what should be a foundational value, “…the idea of Canada has become congruent with a bean-counting Treasury Board driven culture. Inside this culture, government officials and politicians are not even remotely on the same page as the men and women they are abandoning. Veterans are not insurance clients.” (Conrad, p. 221-222) A restorative approach looks to each situation of harm and hurt as a way to bring about healing and positive transformation. A restorative approach also acknowledges that all individual healing takes place within a community context, “Individual healing is thus a socially situated activity.” (Ross, p. 237) It is clear that both the health of the individual and the health of the community are intimately linked and inter-related, such that an individual’s health can be increased by a healthy community, and healthy individuals can increase the health of the community.


Reference List

Block, Peter (2009). Community: The Structure of Belonging. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Conrad, Colonel J. (2017). Among the Walking Wounded: Soldiers, Survival, and PTSD. Toronto: Dundurn.

Dale, A., Newmann, L.  (2010). Social Capital: a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainable community development? Community Development Journal. Vol. 45 No. 1, 5-21.

Dallaire, R. (2016). Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada.

Doolin, K. (2007). But What Does it Mean? Seeking Definitional Clarity in Restorative Justice. The Journal of Criminal Law. 71(5), 427-440.

Edwards, J. (2013). Best way to end use of child soldiers is to shame the commander: Dallaire. Calgary Herald, 29 November 2013. Found at: http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Best+child+soldiers+shame+commander+Dallaire/9228724/story.html on 21 October 2017.

Karstedt, S. (2002). Emotions and Criminal Justice. Theoretical Criminology. Vol.6(3), 299-317.

Lederach, J.P. and Lederach, J.L. (2010). When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys Through the Soundscape of Healing & Reconciliation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidi, N. (2003). Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Boston: Beacon Press.

Ross, R. (2014). Indigenous Healing: Exploring Traditional Paths. Toronto: Penguin.

[1] Victoria General Hospital, Clinical Pastoral Education training, 2002 personal conversation.

[2] The briefing package Dallaire was given instead stated that there was no relationship between deployments and suicide, and that it was the “psychological instability” of the soldiers which was causing them to take their own lives. (Dallaire, 75)

[3] A personal anecdote on this attitude. Anyone who did not report for duty in the morning and instead went to sick parade at the clinic was referred to as being on “spaz”. If you did this too many times you became known as a “spaz commando”, which was considered highly derogatory. The sense of shame associated with any medical release from the military led to many people I supervised being unwilling to report injuries for fear they would be regarded as weak.


Written by sameo416

October 26, 2017 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Misogynist? Who me?

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I had a challenging experience the other night at a vendor social evening.

Before I describe the event, I need to say that I try to be very aware of my blind spots, including acknowledging that because of eho I am (white-passing Indigenous and male) there are realities I will never really understand. For example, while I’ve encounter racism when I have been public about my Metis heritage, that exposure itself is still cloaked in privilege. I am exposed to the racism when I choose to take that risk. This is much different than someone not white-coded who lives that reality as a default by virtue of an inescapable way they look.

So I try to be aware of that privilege.

Sitting and speaking with a health professional who commented on the female-dominated disciplines not having the title ‘doctor’ while the male dominated ones, for the same education, had the privilege of title. She related that her profession was by far female-dominated.

I commented, someone naively, that I was surprised as I had never been treated by a female in that discipline. I should have been on guard when her first question was if that was by my own choice. I speculated it was because of my medical complexity related to an injury to my back – to which she responded “like 80% of the population.” Still not clueing  in to what was happening I responded that I was disabled by virtue of an injury.

My next comment related to an article I had read about female faculty receiving poorer assessments than male faculty for better research performance. I related how I was concerned for my daughter, just beginning a graduate school in a STEM field. At ehich my conversation companion said angrily, “Don’t try to fix your daughter, worry about correcting your sons!” When I replied I only had a daughter, she said, “Then fix your colleagues!”

That was the end of the conversation, not surprisingly, as I pondered my ability to address all misogyny globally.

While I don’t fall into the ‘I’m an ally, why aren’t you nice to me?” trap, it did leave me wondering what else I was expected to do: raise a strong daughter, advocate for representation in my profession, attempt to counter all those societal dysfunctions, and what else?

This requires more reflection.


Written by sameo416

September 16, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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