"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

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

Application of a Relational Lens to Workers’ Compensation Case Management

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And this presentation is the follow-on which looks at using relationality as a means of improving WCB case outcomes. In which I attempt to draw relevant parallels between criminal restoration and restoration in Indigenous contexts and the WCB system…


  • In the Hummingbird Project I outlined recommendations to improve WCB outcomes:
  • Include restorative justice training for WCB case managers as a way of transforming interactions
  • Carry out pre-screening of all WCB claimants to detect the presence of early-life trauma
  • Use that pre-screening to proactively intervene in at-risk cases
  • Creation of a supportive transitional community of healing with the ultimate goal of restoration to work
  • This was largely based on my nine years of experience within the appeal system, where I noted a pattern of cases involving the development of permanent disability from relatively minor injuries, usually because of chronic pain issues
  • That progression was often assisted by the presence of an adversarial relationship between worker and case manager; conversely it could be stopped by an unusually supportive relationship


  • There are many parallels between the typical starting conditions for restorative justice and an injured worker:
  • We have an injured party
  • There is an implicit injurer – the workplace
  • The injurer sometimes expands to include the employer and the WCB staff
  • There is a need for physical, emotional and sometimes spiritual healing
  • The path to restoration potentially transforms all parties
  • This axis: injured —- injurer reflects many of the case studies in the justice system with victim —- offender
  • The parallels suggest a restorative approach to injured worker case management might be appropriate
  • All workplace injury involves disassociation between person and place
  • All workplace injury requires a journey, not always to perfect health, but sometimes to a place of living with permanent injury and disability
  • The restoration from disassociation involves the journey to a new home
  • This parallel resonates deeply with restorative justice principles
  • The reality of some injured worker case management is not healing:
  • Highly policy-focused
  • Begins with a presumption of denial of benefits (rather than a generous system designed to facilitate return to work, a worker must prove the right to benefits).
  • Often the decision-making is predicated on denial first, when the statutory framework intends the contrary: approval first (Ison, 3.3.37, 3.3.38, 1989)+
    • My approach is based on a particular characterisation of the return to fitness:
    • The return to fitness is best characterised as a journey:

    Se hace comino al andar” “You make the way by walking” (Neumark, p. 271, 2004)

    • That journey may be made more healing, more restorative, by the participation of a community.
    • That community may improve outcomes; an adversarial relation will worsen outcomes.
    • That the ultimate goal of the WCB system is not minimizing costs or management of the accident fund, but the restoration of health and return to work.
    • To achieve this requires setting the right place, creating safety, and providing voice.
    • This approach is very different than what is reflected in most of the appeals cases I participated in. (over 500 over the course of 9 years)++
  • Propose that this system could be reconceived so as to become transformative through:
    • The Re-Creation of Context
    • The Re-Imagining of Place
    • The Creation of Real Safety
    • The Provision for Real Voice
  • Because this is literally a healing journey, an area rich for understanding through metaphor rather than policy

Re-Creation of Context

  • The existing WCB system is posed as a linear process only
  • …when the reality is some cases will have many recursions (return to an earlier stage)
  • Those recursions are negatively interpreted as a lack of injured worker commitment.
  • First change in context is to understand that healing is individual and unpredictable.
  • In spite of the WCB acknowledgement of the individual, not borne out in praxis.
  • That difference between lived-out reality and stated reality requires new context.
  • An injured worker enters liminal space analogous to a re-birth to a different reality (Lederach, 2011)
  • Liminal space is frequently frightening as it awakens fundamental questions of being.
  • As a disabled person, my first challenge was answering questions:
    • “Who am I now?”
    • “Does the disability define me, or do I define the disability?”
    • “What does this mean to my relations, my work, to all the external things that define me?”
    • “If my work defines me, and I can no longer do that work, where do I find new meaning?”
  • Some WCB case manager understanding of an injured worker does not reflect the liminal reality of their emotional and spiritual situation.
  • This context must be based holistically around the reality of each injured worker.
  • Stated another way (following Lederach’s presentation, 2011): how does this system demonstrate the love of neighbour above self (where self reflects both system and case manager)?
  • Healing and return to work conceived as a linear process only
  • Note that this is a creation of policy, as WCB medical therapists see reality differently
  • There is a shift in world-view between medical care-givers and case managers
  • Conceptual models and metaphors both “reveal and hide aspects of a complex reality” (Lederach and Lederach, p. 55, 2010)
  • Linear metaphor presupposes certain presumptions which are not helpful (Ibid, p. 56-7):
  • Forward progress is good
  • Backward movement is a setback (language in case management letters would speak of getting recovery ‘back on track’)
  • A more nuanced metaphoric model of restoration (rather than return-to-work) and true healing is needed.
  • Such a model could look at the violation of injury as central rather than the injury itself (Sharpe, p. 179)

Re-Imagining of Place

  • Workplace injury is a violent act, analogous to an attack on person.
  • Particularly when disability results, focus turns to personal safety. (Lederach and Lederach, p. 63)
  • Compounded with an adversarial relationship with a case manager, WCB facilities become places of further threat and possible injury.
  • Combined with the focus on personal safety, this limits the possibility of healing, and makes the WCB the new source of workplace injury.
  • The place should support the development of a revised personal narrative as the foundation of identity. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • In some cases surveillance of workers began with scheduled appointments at WCB rehabilitation centres.
  • Worker response once revealed was to see the rehabilitation centre as a place of danger.
  • The fundamental violation of place destroys creation of a place of healing. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • Similar violation of relationship by case manager ordering surveillance.
  • Worker conclusion is similar to Australian aboriginal’s feeling of ‘not being seen’ and needing to ‘feel like a person again’. (Lederarch, 2011 quoting Judy Atkinson)
  • Paradoxically surveillance has the effect of leaving the worker “present but invisible”. (Lederarch, 2011 quoting Judy Atkinson)
  • Places of healing should be focused on achieving that end goal.
  • WCB rehabilitation centres should be centres of holistic healing (place seen to be multidimensional, including spiritual and emotional connections). (Ross, p. 45)
  • The case manager’s office should also be a place of holistic healing.
  • The metaphor of the circle, manifested as the Medicine Wheel, reflects healing places better than the linear, western, scientific model. (Monchalin, p. 33-5)
  • This ‘great wheel of relationship’ incorporates all places and all persons in the care cycle. (Monchalin, p. 27)
  • Shifts the dominant question from ‘What is my job?’ to ‘How am I related to all others in the healing process?’ and ‘How do I create safe space for all people?’
  • The need is to create physical places that are communities of total healing.

The Creation of Real Safety

  • Injured workers have been violated once, in the workplace injury.
  • Real danger in future violation because of vulnerability in recovery.
  • The entire WCB apparatus needs to become a place of safety, so healing can result.
  • This requires a focus on all relationships so a safe, restorative place may be created. (Llewelyn et al, p. 284)
  • This leads to the need for a relationship founded in equality and mutual respect for all parties, if the process is to be restorative (Ibid, p. 299).
  • Healing will result from a team, in relation, all focused on the end goal – a process which is inclusive and participative (subsidiarity). (Ibid, p. 302)
  • This allows the creation of real safety for the injured person, so they may engage in the risky processes of healing and development of a new personal narrative. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • Sharpe also provides us an image of what those safe relationships will manifest (Sharpe, p. 187):
  • Inclusive, reflecting all impacted interconnections (for example, the family and friends of the injured person are usually not included).
  • Voluntary.
  • Dialogic, allowing open communication between all.
  • Supported, building safety in all aspects.
  • Without the sense of real safety, the ability for healing and restoration is compromised.

The Provision for Real Voice

  • “Victims need an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way, in a setting of their choice…” the alternative breaks down, “…any personal attempt to construct a coherent and meaningful narrative.” (Sharpe, p. 190 quoting Herman, J. 2005)
  • Part of the healing and restoration process is re-building a personal narrative or personal identity.
  • This also must acknowledge that the entire extended circle of relationship is wounded by the workplace injury.
  • “Individual healing is thus a socially situated activity.” Includes giving voice to the entire community of injury. (Ross, p. 237)
  • The voices of the injured are sometimes suppressed to follow policy. Such an approach reverses the proper order of questions:
  • How does this person fit into our process; versus,
  • How can we best fit our process to this person’s (community’s) needs?
  • The healing journey is most effective relationally, including repair of fractured relationships. (Sharpe, p. 192)
  • This will require overhaul of the present client-centred process, which is in reality a process-centred process (i.e., it is the process’ needs which are the focus of all activity).
  • Only through the provision of real voice to the community of injury (worker and extended circle of family and friends and co-workers) and the community of rehabilitation (the extended care team) is real restoration possible.


  • A more nuanced metaphoric model of restoration (rather than return-to-work) and true healing is needed.
  • Physical places involved with rehabilitation need to be safe places of total healing, considering the inter-relationship of all participants.
  • Without the sense of real safety, the ability for healing and restoration is compromised.
  • Only through the provision of real voice to the community of injury (worker and extended circle of family and friends and co-workers) and the community of rehabilitation (the extended care team) is real restoration possible.
  • The WCB claim process is one that fundamentally involves restoration and development of new personal narrative (e.g., new identity).
  • The WCB first encounters the worker in liminal space, where past definitions no longer apply.
  • The goal of the entire healing team (medical and case management) is to journey with that individual through liminality and out to new reality. That new reality will usually include some return to work.
  • This fundamental restructuring of interactions would result in better outcomes in compensation cases.


+Profession Ison wrote (1989) about the WCB tendency to deny as the first step in adjudicating some claims. This is particularly present in the opinions provided by WCB-employed physicians:

Where an injury arose in the course of employment, the claim must be allowed unless there is affirmative evidence of an alternative cause, and evidence that the employment was not contributory.


In practice, this statutory presumption has commonly been ignored, and it has even been replaced by contrary presumptions in the process of adjudication.

This was used as a pivotal assertion in assessing a worker’s claim for compensation based on the rupture of a subarachnoid aneurysm that occurred at work.

Decision No: 2011-698, 2011 CanLII 48880 (AB WCAC), <http://canlii.ca/t/fmllh>, retrieved on 2017-08-07

++ A startling encounter I had with a WCB case manager at a public meeting outside of the WCB context started me thinking about this injured worker – case manager relationship. When she found I was in the appeal system she very proudly said, “I have never had an appeal filed for one of my cases.”  I had seen already that there were case managers whose names seemed to frequently appear in appeal cases, and often in the context of an adversarial relationship that used destructive words to describe the worker’s symptoms: malingering, somatic, and also included the use of surveillance by private investigators. That interaction was the first time I had conceived there was a different way to deal with injured workers.

This was later reinforced in a discussion with a colleague who had previously worked as a rehabilitation counsellor at the WCB rehabilitation centre. He related that in his day, part of his job was to keep an injured worker connected with the work community, often starting with bringing them back into the workplace for coffee breaks. He sadly related that this work had all ceased as a cost-cutting measure, replaced by policy-driven requirements which placed all the onus on the worker. If the worker did not respond to that onus, they were sometimes marked as ‘uncooperative’ and had benefits restricted or eliminated.


Ison, Terence G. (1989). Workers’ Compensation in Canada, 2nd ed. Toronto: Butterworths.

Lederach, J.P (2011). Narratives of Care: The Social Echo of Community Transformation, http://emu.edu/now/attachment/2011/john-paul-lederach/ viewed 19 June 2017.

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

Llewelyn, J., Archibold, B., Clairmon, D., Crocker, D (2013). Imagining Success for a Restorative Approach to Justice, Dalhousie Law Journal, 36(2), 281-316.

Monchalin, Lisa, (2016). The Colonial Problem An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada.   Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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

Ross, R. (2014). Indigenous Healing: Seeing Justice Relationally. Toronto: Penguin.

Sharpe, S. (2013). Relationality in Justice and Repair: Implications for Restorative Justice in T. Gavrielides and V.   Artinopoulou (Eds.), Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy.

Written by sameo416

August 7, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Use of Restorative Justice Principles to improve outcomes of Workers’ Compensation Cases

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I prepared this presentation as the end project in an introductory course on restorative justice through Simon Fraser University. The idea is to use a new approach to dealing with injured workers that 1) includes screening of all workers for the existence of early-life severe trauma so intervention can be made before the workplace injuries causes a total decompensation and total disability 2) training case managers to use RJ principles in dealing with injured workers to avoid re-traumatizing them through adversarial interaction with the WCB (in the person of the case manager). I saw those two dynamics repeatedly in appeal cases.

The original presentation in pdf: Humingbird Project RJ Intro Course April 2017

This is the text from the PowerPoint slides laid out for reading. This wasn’t a formal paper, but a presentation on an application of RJ.

Workers’ Compensation Injuries
Detection and Early Intervention in Cases of Pre-existing Complex Trauma


  • Case manager: WCB employee responsible for management of the case, and the principle approver for most financial and treatment benefits
  • Compensable injury: the work-related injury which is the cause of the WCB claim
  • Non-compensable injury: anything which pre-existed the workplace injury and was not in any way impacted by the workplace injury
  • WCB benefits: include both treatment and financial (wage replacement, compensation for loss of function, medical aid)
  • Disabling injury: any injury which results in a loss of time at work
  • Permanent disability: any injury which limits an ability to work permanently, meaning no hope of recovery

Experience from the WCB Appeal Process

  • I served as an Appeal Commission on the appeal tribunal for the Alberta WCB for nine years, sat on over 500 hearings, wrote over 350 decisions
  • I am a disabled veteran who experiences chronic pain (19 years so far)
  • Chronic pain cases form a large portion of complex WCB appeal cases
  • Several years in to my term, a pattern started to emerge in appeals:
    • Middle-age injured workers (more women than men)
    • Relatively minor injuries (sprains, soft tissue, bruises)
    • An adversarial experience with the WCB case manager that resulted in benefits being stopped
    • Later development of a seriously disabling chronic pain condition, far out of proportion to injury
    • In many cases, the medical file would contain evidence of early-life complex trauma (abuse usually)
  • Idea 1: If there had been an early psychological intervention, it might forestall development of chronic pain
  • Idea 2: If there had been a healthy relationship with the WCB case manager, this may have lessened severity
  • There is very little research into this phenomena
  • This suspicion is highly anecdotal, but the pattern occurred so often that I could anticipate the outcome of a particular medical history by assessing:
  • The early-life medical history (we reviewed the complete WCB medical file prior to appeal)
  • The lack of a supportive relationship with the case manager
  • The existence of an overall adversarial relationship with the WCB
  • The elimination of wage replacement benefits, and the failure to return to some form of employment (because of the presence of claimed complete disability)
  • In managing the hearing process, we could often become a source of some healing which stabilized and improved the overall outcome of the case to date (but most cases the damage had already been done).
  • An adversarial relationship served as a source of re-traumatization of an injured worker who had already been through at least two sets of trauma (early life; the accident at work).
  • The existence of an adversarial relationship with the employer would exacerbate the re-traumatization.
  • Worst cases were when an adversarial case manager and an adversarial employer appeared to work together against the worker.
  • This represented a further re-injury which sometimes awakened complex, untreated, early life complex trauma.
  • In general, processes intended to heal (and achieve a return to work) should not cause further injury.
  • One factor which could derail this trajectory was the presence of a supportive case manager.
  • Many of those cases did not make it to appeal, as the worker was receiving benefits.
  • We did see some where it was an issue beyond the case manager’s authority.
  • Even with the existence of the pre-disposing conditions, a caring case manager was often able to facilitate a return to some type of employment.
  • An adversarial relationship with the case manger became the defining event that moved the minor injury to serious disability.
  • The benefit of a supportive relationship was often attested to in the appeal process.
  • A worker would say, “I do not want my case manager to get into trouble, as she has been doing an awesome job. But I think I am entitled to this benefit, and she told me her supervisor would not allow it to be granted.”
  • The injured worker becoming an advocate for their case manager reflects an underlying significant relationship between patient and care provider.
  • In the limited sample I observed, this relationship was pivotal in determining outcome

Relation to Restorative Justice

  • When considered with the content of this course, and particularly the article by Green, Johnstone and Lambert, it is apparent that restorative principles have a place before things fall apart in any relationship. (Green et al, 2014)
  • Restorative Justice training of case managers assigned to cases screened to be ‘high-risk’ could serve to improve outcomes, and potentially limit or eliminate development of chronic pain conditions.
  • An admittedly cursory literature review revealed very little specific research in this area. Most investigation involves the efficacy of physical intervention programs such as work hardening.
  • Very few studies dealt with the detection of early-life trauma as a means of early intervention in cases which ended up with serious disabling chronic pain.
  • My goal is not to prove anything, but to highlight an area worthy of focused research.


  • Restorative Justice techniques have been presented as a means of resolving damaged relationship post-incident (after crime, after conflict, after injury).
  • The post-incident approaches appear to have good preventative value, and have merit if applied pre-incident.
  • In this case the initiating incident is the development of an adversarial relationship with the WCB, so post-injury, pre-case management is the intervention location.
  • With restorative principles governing relationship between injured worker and WCB case manager, the potential re-traumatization which awakens early-life complex trauma may be avoided.
  • Restorative principles may improve the skill of the case manager to intervene constructively rather than destructively.


  • Early/Earlier Complex Trauma pre-disposes injured workers to the development of chronic pain conditions
  • Early screening and detection of the presence of complex trauma would permit intervention
  • That intervention, if done promptly after the injury, could forestall the development of a chronic pain condition
  • Restorative principles, applied to the case manager/worker ,would lessen the potential of the case manager exacerbating the development of disabling injury
  • Early screening could also lead to assignment to special restorative-trained case managers who could use restorative principles

Research into the Phenomena

  • Evidence exists that early-life or earlier complex trauma can exacerbate or predispose to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Chronic pain conditions

“…somewhat higher levels of PTSD symptoms were reported by those who reported experiencing a traumatic event prior to the target stressor…” and particularly an occurrence during childhood.  (Ozer et al, 2003, p. 57)

“A clear finding was that childhood physical abuse, stressful life events, and depression were generally associated with chronic pain…” (Roy, 2006, p. 56)

“[Somatization] is sometimes expressed as diffuse physical pain, sometimes as particular conditions.” (Randall et all, 2013, p. 513)

  • Detecting a pre-disposition to chronic pain in the existence of early-life complex trauma can forestall development of chronic pain

“…patients at greater risk of increased pain severity and chronic pain can be detected in the acute hospital with enough accuracy to warrant their identification prior to discharge.”  (Holmes et al, 2010, p. 1603)

  • A relationship exists between prior-life events and length of absence from work.

“A prior history of psychiatric illness or post-trauma morbidity have been shown to increase length of absence from work.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 553)

“…the presence of secondary psychiatric diagnoses was significantly associated with not working.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 558)

  • While this study did not explicitly look at early-life complex trauma, it did establish a linkage between secondary diagnoses (i.e. those not related to the injury, and pre-existing the injury) and worse outcomes for injured workers.
  • Early intervention can reduce length of disability.

“Early intervention has been associated with more rapid recovery and return to work.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 553)

  • The entire injured worker must be considered in the treatment process, not just the compensable injury.

“So psychosocial factors must be taken into consideration in treating patients with chronic pain.” (Roy, 2006, p. 56)

  • Patients who had reported early-life physical and sexual abuse were more likely to develop chronic pain syndromes.

“Abused subjects reported a higher number of areas of pain in the body, more diffuse pain; also, there were more frequent diagnoses of fibromyalgia…Clearly, abuse had far-reaching health consequences in these persons’ adulthood as compared with psychiatric patients and normal persons.” (Roy, 2006, p. 58)

  • The linkage between early-life trauma and later development of chronic pain conditions was demonstrated by some studies.

“…(2) patients with chronic pain were more likely to report childhood abuse than health controls; (3) patients with chronic pain were more likely to report childhood abuse than nonabused patients with chronic pain… The conclusion was that childhood experience of abuse and neglect increased the risk of later life chronic pain as compared with individuals who were not abused.” (Roy, 2006, p. 59)

WCB-particular situation

  • An injured worker has a single point of contact with the organization, this being the case manager.
  • The case manager is presented as a trusted agent who will explain, assist and provide treatment and financial support.
  • Injured workers present with a wide variety of pre-existing conditions.
  • When an adversarial relationship develops, the care-giver becomes an enemy.
  • This can fracture trust and relationship, and converts the worker from a client to someone engaged in battle with the WCB.
  • That shattered human connection will exacerbate prior trauma that involved violation of trust, so the case manager/WCB becomes a proxy for events that occurred years earlier.

Research into the Phenomena

  • Traumatic pre-events are common in the worker population

“…somewhere between fifty-five per cent and ninety per cent of people have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.” (Randall et al, 2013, p. 503)

  • A ‘traumatic event’ is any which is, “subjectively experienced as a threat to the person’s survival.” (Randall et al, 2013, p. 507)
  • The injured worker becomes dependent on the WCB for financial survival.
  • Therefore further trauma can occur which meets Randall’s definition, as the WCB money becomes necessary for survival.
  • The primary determinant is the person’s perception of the threat. (Ibid)

Conclusions so far…

  • Early-life trauma may pre-dispose injured workers to more complicated post-accident outcomes.
  • Particularly in cases of childhood abuse, individuals were pre-disposed to the development of pain conditions and chronic pain.
  • That those pre-disposing conditions could be detected immediately after the presenting acute injury.
  • While there was some call for early screening, no study has yet assessed the effectiveness of such a program.

What can RJ offer?

  • Zehr’s model of threes illustrates the applicability:
  • When people and relationships are harmed, needs are created
  • The key to successful intervention is a supportive and trusting relationship between case-manager and worker. Adversarial relations by someone with the authority to provide or withhold money and care causes great harm.
  • The needs created lead to obligations
  • Unfortunately, the obligation is sometimes submerged in the focus on policy and procedure before care. A case manager challenged by a distraught worker has two options: to be relational, or to protect self by using the power of policy and process to displace responsibility for doing what is right on “the system”.
  • A just response is to heal and put right what has been wronged
  • Following policy becomes a “just” outcome in itself, regardless of the impact of the person seeking service. (Zehr, 2015, pp 92-3)
  • Zehr highlights a fundamental difference between supportive and non-supportive case managers – their mission
  • Is the mission to ensure policy is satisfied, but no more?
  • Is the mission to provide as much benefit as possible without exceeding that permitted?
  • Stated another way…is a case manager’s primary role to say:
    • Yes? Or
    • No?
  • Too often a focus on customer-service is submerged in the protection of quoting policy to explain why something is not possible.
  • Is the fundamental truth the interconnectedness of individuals, or the protection of the corporation? (Zehr, 2015, p. 48)
  • Can a process which is all about the negative (injury, loss of income, loss of identity, awakening of previous suppressed trauma) become one which is positive?
  • This is foundational RJ: conflict transformation explicitly creating positives from the difficult or negative (Lederach , 2003, p. 19)
  • The workplace injury could thus become an occasion of healing other traumas, not related to the work injury.
  • The fracturing of a work community by injury, is replaced by a supportive recovery community which aims at a restoration of the work community.
  • This transformation could ultimately reduce costs to the system.
  • Elliott discusses post-battle rituals (cf. Grossman) as a necessary transition for soldiers returning from combat.
  • This identifies a potential parallel: workers returning from the ‘battle’ of a workplace injury. (Elliott, 2011, p. 175)
  • Multiple traumatic experiences have more than an additive effect, so intervention is important. (Elliott, 2011, p. 176)
  • Harm caused by a person expected to be a care-giver can exacerbate a person’s experience with fractured trust from prior injury.
  • But, those exposed to harm respond when “buoyed by relational support”. (Elliott, 2011, p. 187)
  • “Dependency erodes the sense of personal power…”. Need to focus on services which lead people out of dependency and into community; contrasted with those which create dependency. (Pranis, 2001, p. 299)
  • Can cause particular trauma as the injured worker becomes dependent on the WCB for sustenance and care, and then those benefits are removed suddenly without a transition from dependency.
  • Injured workers are often isolated from all prior support systems, and have no place to turn after the final relationship (with the WCB) is severed.
  • The training of service providers to screen for indicators of complex trauma before the workplace injury could allow early intervention. (Randall et al, 2013, p. 523)
  • The ‘misbehaviour’ of workers previously traumatized can lead to an assumption that they are deliberately being difficult, as they are not behaving as a “real” injured worker should behave. (Ibid)
  • RJ principles offer a relational response to such misbehaviour.
  • A new concept for WCB case management is present in the concept of organizations which build “restorative capital”. (Green et al, 2014, p. 44)
  • The new approach must be very self-aware to avoid re-creating symbolic violence which it seeks to displace (Ibid, p. 45)
  • Rebuilding of fractured community needs to be key, to allow worker recovery and transition back into the work community. (Ibid, p. 62)


  • The pre-screening of injured workers for the presence of early-life complex trauma could identify cases with high potential for serious disability.
  • The assignment of such cases to case managers specifically trained in restorative justice principles could provide the recovery support system.
  • That would allow the development of a supportive transitional community of healing with the ultimate goal of restoration to the work community.
  • This could result in healthier outcomes and lower costs to the system overall.


Braithwaite, J. (2014).  Evidence for restorative justice. View in a new window. The Vermont Bar Journal,   Summer 2014, 18-22.

Elliott, E. M. (2011). Security, with care: restorative justice and healthy societies. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Pub.

Green, S., Johnstone, G., & Lambert, C. (2014). Reshaping the field: building restorative capital. Restorative   Justice, 2(1), 43-63. doi:10.5235/20504721.2.1.43

Hensel, J. M., Bender, A., Bacchiochi, J., & Dewa, C. S. (2011). Factors associated with working status among   workers assessed at a specialized worker’s compensation board psychological trauma program.   American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 54(7), 552-559. doi:10.1002/ajim.20944

Holmes, A., Williamson, O., Hogg, M., Arnold, C., Prosser, A., Clements, J., . . . O‘Donnell, M. (2010). Predictors   of Pain 12 Months after Serious Injury. Pain Medicine, 11(11), 1599-1611. doi:10.1111/j.1526-  4637.2010.00955.x

Lederach, J. P. (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Ozer, E. J., Best, S. R., Lipsey, T. L., & Weiss, D. S. (2003). Predictors of   posttraumatic stress disorder and   symptoms in adults: A meta-  analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 52-73. doi:10.1037/0033-  2909.129.1.52

Pranis, K. (2001). Restorative Justice, Social Justice, and the Empowerment of Marginalized Populations View in   a new window. In G. Bazemore & M. Schiff (Eds.), Restorative Community Justice: Repairing Harm   and Transforming Communities (pp. 287-306). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co.

Randall, M. & Haskell, L (2013). Trauma-Informed Approaches to Law: Why Restorative Justice Must   Understand Trauma and Psychological Coping. Dalhousie Law Journal. 36(2), 501-533.

Roy, R. (2010). Psychosocial interventions for chronic pain: in search of evidence. New York: Springer.

Zehr, H. (2015). The little book of restorative justice. New York: Good Books.

Written by sameo416

August 5, 2017 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Sermon for Pentecost 5 – 9 July 2017

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St Paul’s Edmonton, 9 July 2017:  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30; Romans 7:15-25, Pentecost 5

Pray.  The central idea I’ll discuss today is the Gospel contrast between the wisdom of the Father, the Lord Almighty and the wisdom of this world. This is one of the areas where believers (and non-believers for that matter) struggle with our faith. In fact, if you spend much time reading theology or commentaries on the Bible, you may have noticed that there is a lot of ink spilled trying to debate the question of why certain things have been written the way they were – rather than just accepting the text as presented and trying to figure out the more important question: what does that text mean to us today?

This passage begins after a section of teaching to the crowd concerning John the Baptist.  Jesus then laments the state of the world by speaking of children in the marketplace: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” The image of the children who fail to entice the others to either mourn or dance, parallel the two ministries of John and Jesus – one who called to repentance and grief and the other who called to a time of rejoicing.  However, in spite of these two different ways, the world rejects them both: In response to John’s ministry of denial the world concludes he must be possessed; and in response to Jesus’ message of the coming of the kingdom, the world concludes He was a glutton and a drunkard. Godly wisdom versus earthly wisdom.

People of faith know this to be true: it doesn’t matter how God is presented to the world, the wise reject that appeal while we foolish embrace it. Even within our lives of faith we constantly run into this dichotomy – Paul affirms this in Romans when stating, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Paul identifies that this earthly wisdom in conflict with Godly wisdom is very much alive and active in each of our lives.

The call of Christ is that we each give up our lives: death to sin and rebirth in Christ.  Our minds, very much conditioned by the wisdom of this world, respond…maybe it would be alright if I died a little bit, but not too much.  Compared to the wisdom of this world, God offers us his own inverse wisdom, a left-handed wisdom (Robert Capon) – a wisdom that requires we turn all of our carefully crafted lives upside down to follow the radical path of Christ.  That inverse wisdom is no place clearer than in the cross of Christ; where might and power do not save the world, but only meekness and death.  Inverse wisdom.

This wisdom contrast is again proclaimed a bit further on in the gospel.  Jesus switches to a prayer of thanks that begins with this: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”  As someone who has spent over 10 years of my adult life in some form of higher education, this can be a challenging thing to hear! Yet this is what we are called to as Christians, because it is only in the innocence of a small child that we can truly see the gift that God offers to each of us. Young children understand – When people are dancing, it is time to dance.  When people are mourning, it is time to mourn.

This inverse wisdom of God confronts the wisdom of the world, and that is nowhere more true than in our need for security.  The world’s wisdom demands that we build careful frameworks in order to secure a certain future which we cannot predict.  The wisdom of this world bombards us with a message of scarcity and anxiety – which contrasts strongly with God’s message of abundance for all.  We are told many times per day that we need to grab on to all that we can or we won’t get our fair share. (cf Walter Bruggemann, The Litany of Scarcity) This quest for security was presented in Luke’s Gospel (Ch 12) in the parable of the rich farmer.  He has a great harvest and builds new barns for all his goods, so he can retire and take it easy.  As he sits back in his Laz-y-boy recliner with his feet up – do you recall what happened next? // God arrives and makes one of those incredibly difficult pronouncements: ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’  The wisdom of the world versus the inverse wisdom of God.

What this inverse wisdom of God asks us to give up is the lie that we can control our destiny and our lives.  Certainly we can influence things, by eating well, exercising, practicing stress management…but none of us know the day when we or our family members will die or be involved in a horrible accident.  This leaves us with a choice – the way of God’s inverse wisdom, and the child’s approach to life knowing that the new day will bring the sun, breakfast and a new set of adventures // or the wisdom of this world which tells us to worry endlessly to compass ourselves with anxiety and to work to maintain our safety.

Jesus moves on to next talk about taking up the yoke of Christ.  A yoke is a beam that is used with animals or people in order that they may bear a load, or pull a plough. Seeking such security by our own efforts and the sweat of our own brow is to accept onto our shoulders the yoke of the world’s uncertainty.  Following the way of the world’s wisdom is to bind ourselves to worry and anxiety.

Now, just to step back a moment, this message of not taking on ourselves the yoke of the world does not mean that we never plan, or think about danger, or take steps to mitigate possible dangers.  It does not mean we stop wearing seat belts, or installing smoke detectors, or asking our children to let us know where they are.  What it means is that we pass back to God the things we were never able to control in the first place, and refuse to take upon us the yoke of this world.

Christ’s request is that we take up the additional burden of Christ, an easy yoke and a light burden.  The Greek word used here for burden refers either to the loading up of a ship or a beast of burden, or figuratively to overburden someone with spiritual anxiety or an obligation to ceremony (Strong’s G5412).  There is no doubt Christ is discussing an additional burden to be taken on with his yoke, but the burden is a light one – which is what we’ll talk about in our home stretch.

Consider the promise of rest which proceeds that request to take up the yoke of Christ.  The Greek used there, “I will give you rest”, means to permit someone to cease from a labour in order to recover and regain strength.  It is interesting that many times when I hear this passage explained, it is suggested that Christ’s promise is to remove from us all of our earthly burdens.  That is not what is promised – the passage does not say I will remove from you the yoke of your burdens. Rather Jesus asks us to take on an additional yoke, his yoke, and he will give us rest for our souls. The reason carrying Christ’s yoke is a light burden, even while it demands of us that we die to sin to be reborn into Christ, is because of the way that Christ offers us that burden.  This is what makes this another narrative of God’s grace, even when we are in the midst of a road of suffering.

In 1993 I participated in the Nijmegen Marches in the area around Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands.  These marches have special significance for the Allied forces from WW II as this area was the site of the ill-fated operation “Market Garden” documented in the file “A Bridge Too Far”. The march is 4 days long, totals 160 km and military teams march in full military kit with 15 kg packs – what we used to call ‘fighting order’.  It requires a lot of physical stamina and mental focus – the final day I completed the marches with a stress fracture in my right foot..  Each day begins well before sunrise, and involves about 8 hours of fairly rapid walking through the humid heat of the day.

What does this have to do with our passage on rest?  Well, the image of what I have related concerning our burdens and Christ’s role reminds me of my experience in Nijmegan.  We would march for 13 or so kilometres and then come into a British rest area where we could bandage feet, fill canteens and eat slices of melon.  The first thing one did on entering the rest area was to drop our heavy packs and remove our boots…which was heavenly.  But, after a rest stop of 20 or so minutes, it was time to lace up your boots, shoulder the weight of your pack and head off for another 13 kilometres.

This is very much how I read this passage containing Christ’s words to us.  There is no promise that our burdens will be removed from us, but only that we will be given rest.  So we enter this rest stop in our life, are refreshed by Jesus, and then step out with the original burden along with Christ’s added yoke.  The next 13 km are still ours to push through in sweat, pain and perseverance under our burden but knowing that there is refreshment available for us. That truth has only been confirmed for me in the years since that marching, as I now bear the daily burden of chronic pain that ended my military career and continues to limit me. The one constant that keeps me going is that yoke of Christ, which brings meaning into the midst of my suffering.

I acknowledge that this is a difficult interpretation. We would much rather be healed in a blinding flash of light. But more often than not God does not free us from the burden of the long journeys of our lives, those 3-day roads we are called to walk.  What Jesus promises us is relief along the way, much as Elijah was given bread and water part way through his 40-day journey, so he would be strong enough to continue walking into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:7).  The Christian who suffers from serious disease or has horrific family problems such as abuse or addiction will not always be instantly freed from these burdens through faith or prayer.  A person who has lost a spouse or child suddenly, tragically and too young, will not mysteriously have everything restored – those burdens will be with them for the rest of their lives.  What they will have is renewal and support to guide, comfort and strengthen them in their suffering. Sometimes those burdens are ours to bear throughout our 3-day road, but it is the yoke of Christ transforms the burden.

How does Christ offer us God’s grace through this?  Here are four aspects that offer us true grace.  First, God favours the weak over the wise, arrogant or self-assured.  The place that God brings his greatest blessings upon us is not when we have completed an intense bible study, or an act of charity, but when we are brought into the full reality of our weakness and when we drop to our knees and call out, ‘I cannot take anymore, O Lord!’  Second, as Jesus proclaims, He is the true knower of God and has opened that previously closed path to all of us. Third, Jesus offers us rest for the burdens we carry, and a yoke that will continue to grant us that rest.  Finally, the reason we find that yoke easy is because we are not left alone to bear our life’s burdens, for Jesus continues to walk along with us, and continues to bring us the rest we so dearly need.

I want to emphasize that last point as it is the real nexus of the grace in this promise.  As a contrasting example, consider the physicians treating a gravely ill person.  They come and examine, offer their medical wisdom, prescribe treatments and interventions, make honest mistakes, and then leave at the end of their shift to return to their homes, their families and their own lives while the gravely ill person continues to bear their burden of sickness.  The radical difference in this invitation from Christ is that he not only offers us that rest, but remains with us and in fact invites us into his-self…for he is the physical and spiritual embodiment of that rest.  Jesus is not a rest-dispenser who provides measured doses of rest when we request, but the companion who invites us into his own and through that grants us the help we need continuously.  Jesus provides us a hiding place within himself that resolves both our burdens and our sin.  The final crucial difference between the rest of Christ and the world’s rest is that we have to seek out rest in this world whereas Christ pursues us and invites us into his rest even as we sometimes flee from his presence.  Christ does not wait until we meet some absolute conditions of membership, but asks that we come to him heavily laden and in need of rest, and promises relief and the continuing relief of his light burden and easy yoke. The reason carrying Christ’s yoke is a light burden – even while it demands of us that we die to sin to be reborn into Christ – is because of the way that burden is offered to us by Christ.  This is what makes this another narrative of God’s grace, even when we are in the midst of a three-day road of suffering.

Now, what we seek most often is the relief from our burdens: that is, the wisdom of this world tells us that true relief comes only if the burden is eliminated.  This is not God’s promise.  Christ does not promise us a removal of burden and a path to an earthly paradise where we will neither sweat nor labour anymore.  He does not, with a wave of His hand, convert this world of sorrows into a place of endless joy and delight.  All that waits for the final remaking of the world that comes with Christ’s glorious return. (as the Lutherans sing in their Eucharist, ‘grace our table with your presence and give us a foretaste of the feast to come’) a foretaste is what we receive in this world.  What Christ does demonstrate through his own life, is that our burdens can be light even while the associated suffering is heavy.  Accepting the yoke of Christ onto ourselves converts the heavy burden to the light; and provides us a perspective on our suffering that allows us to receive Christ as companion even as we struggle in the midst of that three-day road.  (ack here material drawn from articles “The Invitation”; “When the Burden is Light”; and “Anxiety and Despair” from the ebook “Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard” ed. Charles Moore, 2007 available at: http://data.plough.com/ebooks/Provocations.pdf)

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4, summarizes this truth beautifully: 2 Cor 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

That which we do not see, is the yoke of Christ and his companionship and support as we travel through our journey and “outwardly waste away”, while the yoke of Christ allows us to be inwardly “renewed day by day”.  Accept upon yourselves Christ’s yoke, and he will bring you rest, and will continue to bring you rest for your weary souls, for Christ’s burden is easy and his yoke is light. And that is truly good news!  Let us pray.

Father in heaven! Draw our hearts to you so that our longing may be where our treasure is supposed to be. Turn our minds and our thoughts to where our citizenship is – in your kingdom, so that when you finally call us away from here our leave-taking may not be a painful separation but a joyful union with you. We do not know the time and the place, perhaps a long road still lies before us, and when strength is taken away from us, when exhaustion fogs our eyes so that we peer out as into a dark night, and restless desires stir within us, wild, impatient longings, and the heart groans in fearful anticipation of what is coming, oh Lord God, fix in our hearts the conviction that also while we are living, we belong to you.  Amen. (Kierkegaard)

Rough and unused materials…

The Litany of Scarcity, http://therivardreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/the_liturgy_of_abundance.pdf

You may not know that I’m a person who lives with chronic pain, the result of an injury to my lower back that ended my military career.  One of the truths I’ve learned in the past ten years living with that pain is that the burden is very much defined by how I perceive it.  When I focus on the pain, and on the unfairness of that condition, and how it has limited me, the burden grows, quickly and considerably.  When I focus on living into each moment of each day in Christ, it is surprising how the burden becomes lighter and easier to bear.  I am certainly not a sterling example of how to bring this into reality, as I fall to my humanity more times than I would like to admit even to myself; however, it is an illustration of what Christ offers to all of us.

The other aspect of this dancing/mourning duality reflects the two ways that God deals with us.  The Gospel, the true freedom of Christ, the limitless joy that exists in a life lived in obedience to God’s will, these are all occasions of dancing.  There are also times of what Matthew Henry termed God’s, “calamitous, afflicting providences” which, while they occur, have been set beneath the joy of Christ and God’s grace and mercy.  This is challenging language, as it impacts directly upon our nature to seek only comfort and certainty, to build our storehouses well for the day we may sit back and enjoy the bounty that we have created.

The problem with that image of the self-filled barns is not only that it places our ability to obtain security above that of God’s providence.  But also that it involves the idolatry of stuff, and the lie that things of this world can bring us salvation…they can perhaps bring us comfort of a sort for a short time, but ultimately all things of this world will pass away so that comfort too will pass.  Only God’s providence provides a lasting source of certainty and sure security.  Again, this is the inverse wisdom of God.

One of my past commanding officers, had just spent six months in Haiti as the commander of the United Nations force working there.  He told the story of a life-changing encounter.  The city of Port-au-Prince is built on the side of the mountain with the wealthy homes high on the hill, and the destitute living in shacks in the shantytown in the valley below.  Poor so poor with that we likely cannot even conceive it here in Canada.  Most of the city’s sewers are open so, literally, the sewage flows down the hill into the valley.  Not a pretty picture.  On this day Don Matthews was in the valley and came across a man standing in the ditch.  The man was up to his waist in sewage and was shovelling the ditch clean.  Unimaginable.   Don stopped and asked him what he was doing.  The man answered through his translator-I’m working so my children can have a better life.  I am working so my children can have a better life.  Imagine, a man up to his waist in sewage speaking of a better life for his children.  I’m not going to attempt to spiritualize that image, except to say, behold the inverse wisdom of God at work.

“Laughing With”  Regina Spektor

No one laughs at God in a hospital, No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God, When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God, When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God, When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God, When their airplane start to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God, When they see the one they love, hand in hand with someone else, And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God, When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one’s laughing at God, When there’s a famine or fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny, When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital, No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God, When they’ve lost all they’ve got
And they don’t know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize
That the last sight they’ll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one’s laughing at God when they’re saying their goodbyes
But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us, And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny, When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital, No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital, No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughing at God in hospital, No one’s laughing at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
We’re all laughing with God

Written by sameo416

July 8, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Omar Khadr

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A friend provided me with an article from the National Observer, discussing the question what if Omar Khadr was not guilty. Since about 2012 I’ve had my perspective transformed, mostly through interactions with the King’s University where my daughter was a student. King’s took on the Khadr case as a social justice advocacy at great risk to the institution, because they saw a holy calling in advocating for “the other”, as Omar had been designated by successive Canadian governments.

As a soldier, my first reaction to the case was visceral and violent, and reflects what many Canadians are saying now. He was a terrorist, why would we afford him any special consideration. Since early 2012 as I’ve followed the case, there are things which have troubled me deeply as both a soldier and a Christian. My attitude shift is reflected in two prior blog posts. My first where I was starting to realize that branding Omar as ‘the other’ was something I had preached against related to other people, and I was caught in my own worlds and re-convicted that my visceral reaction had been inconsistent with what I was teaching to others. Physician, heal thyself!

I do understand the military perspective, and feel it myself. When you have had friends killed by the actions of the enemy (as I have), it is challenging to see the enemy as human. That, I would argue, is the call of anyone who is a person of faith, or even a secular humanist.

Discussing the other in My first post

Discussing a talk by Omar’s military psychiatrist that was convicting in Second post

The case is exceptionally complex and involves national and international legal provisions that are beyond understanding except for experts. If you are truly interested in engaging the facts of the case (as you should before pontificating on the subject publicly) there is a lot of reading to do, and all of it will be morally and ethically challenging. There’s also the reality that our Supreme Court has found in Omar’s favour several times.

I just recalled being interviewed about the work of some of the King’s faculty with Omar, but never read the article until just now.

“What I particularly value about Arlette in our community is her witness to gospel imperatives,” adds Rev. Matthew Oliver. “Whether you agree with the particular focus of her work with Omar or not, she presents a compelling icon of a Christian struggling to make a gospel-centred witness in the world.” 

That article is interesting – I was at the Diocesan synod when Arlette spoke, and she did get a standing ovation from most people. Several of the people at my table refused to stand, and said they could not support advocacy for a ‘terrorist’. What was really fascinating was several of those people were also advocates for performing same-sex marriages in our denomination. So a clear example of what I was outlining in the first blog post (above) about “the other”. It is clear that we are often guilty of welcoming some others, and condemning others dependent on our personal like or dislike of the person or the situation. That is normally called hypocrisy (If you argue the love of Christ welcomes all, as my table-mates did that day; but then condemn Omar Khadr as unworthy of advocacy or basic human rights…I would suggest that’s a dictionary definition of hypocrisy. The knife of acceptance in love cuts both ways, and resists attempts to apply human limits).

In response to a question I wrote the following, which I think briefly outlines where I’m sitting on the question today.

The whole Omar case is a mess of unlawful actions by governments. I’m friends with one of his support team and have met Dennis Edny and been at one of his presentations…and I hosted the US Army psychiatrist who treated Omar when he was here for a presentation. All to say I have a different perspective than the loudest Canadian voices (including most of my old military friends who are outraged). He also attended my daughter’s university for the last year (King’s University).

It’s pretty clear to me that the US altered the reporting, and the best evidence is the original after-action report from the company commander who was there. The photos are pretty clear that Omar was buried, and I would guess that was probably consistent with the effects of either an airstrike or use of artillery (light infantry would likely not be using weapons that would produce rubble adequate to bury someone). He also had a wound in his leg (from the air strikes) that made him unable to stand. The best he could have done was thrown the grenade kneeling. As someone who has thrown grenades, it is hard standing and requires you use your whole body – can’t imagine doing that kneeling. So the article is quite accurate in stating that if this had come into a real court, there is no way he would have been found guilty.

Also note the lack of all forensic evidence. The grenade fragments that killed the US soldier could have positively confirmed what type of grenade it was.

Omar’s psychiatrist commented that the assault on the compound was completely incompetently done which I would be inclined to agree with. A handful of people inside, and 100 soldiers with air support assaulted the compound for 4 hours? That sounds not like an effective assault, so the US had some reason to alter the facts.

Worst of all was the US declaration that all combatants in Afghanistan were legally ‘unlawful non-combatants’. They did that specifically to strip Geneva Convention protection from prisoners, and to allow them to criminally charge prisoners under military law. That was done retroactively so the US could torture and prosecute people at Gitmo. It is all highly unlawful and would not stand up in any real court. That’s the reason Omar has won 3 times at the Supreme Court of Canada, in spite of the Canadian government fighting him with all it’s ability. The US also denied him medical care in Gitmo, which has only been resolved in the last year or so in Canada (he’s had surgery to both his shoulder and his eye).

As a soldier, the US actions in that declaration are really troubling. I knew that my troops and I would always be afforded good treatment under the law of war – no torture, medical care, adequate protection and food and shelter. That law is designed to take a fundamentally inhumane activity and put in place basic guarantees. By suspending that law (which is a highly questionable action), the US stripped their opponents of what international law says are fundamental rights, even for irregular soldiers (although the Taliban was arguably an organized fighting force, closer to a military than civilians). That is a fundamental attack on the rights of a soldier, and I would argue transformed the war on terror into a fundamentally immoral activity. (Omar’s psychiatrist suggested this all started with George W Bush’s ‘the gloves are off’ speech, as he authorized the use of unlimited force which is never, never done in a first world military).

Another victim in this is the wife of the US soldier who was killed. She has been led to believe her husband was ‘murdered’ by Kadhr by her own government as a political tool. (although how a soldier can be murdered in combat is equally confusing and another example of the US twisting international law).

Final point. Although Omar was 15 at the time (one year older than the UN guidelines for child soldiers), he was a child soldier and a Canadian citizen. Both should have afforded him special protection. The actions of both Canadian governments involved tell me that Canadian citizenship is no guarantee of protection if the government decides you are undeserving. Giving a citizen up to be tortured by a foreign nation is evil – as happened with Maher Arar – and is a pretty clear example of institutional racism. It’s not surprising to me as it reflects the Canadian government’s treatment of indigenous citizens for the last 500 years or so. They are fighting court cases today to limit social services funding for indigenous children in spite of being found to be a discriminatory practice by the federal human rights tribunal, and that’s just one of many examples. There are something like 3 times the number of indigenous children in the care of the state today than were ever in the Residential School system. Canada is sometimes not a safe place to be depending on your racial identity!

Other reality – if Omar had gone through the court case for damages, it is likely the government would have been ordered to pay a much larger settlement. What price is 10 years of torture worth?

Stephen Harper posted a commentary today about how he feels for the family of the US medic. Sigh. Maher Arar tweeted yesterday that the clearest manifestation of white supremacy is when the US invades a country and labels all the opposition as ‘terrorists’. It permits all sorts of immoral activities.

A really good interview with Dennis Edny on CBC Ideas where he talks about the last 15 years. He is a man of rare moral character.


Written by sameo416

July 8, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Memorial Tattoo

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While receiving a haircut today, I happened to notice that my barber had a lovely tattoo on her shoulder. It was hard to miss, as her upper arm was about 2 inches from my eyes…which is, of course, the only way I can see anything without my glasses.

The centre of the image is a wolf howling, and then I noticed a large skull, apparently aloft looking at the wolf. The imagery was very unusual, so I asked if it had particular symbolism for her.

The present wide-spread use of tattoos is fascinating. I remember it was not that long ago when you would only see such ink on soldiers and sailors. My military time was surrounded by both men and women who had extensive ink – one man I worked with got a different tattoo for each deployment, and was working on his eighth the trip I was with him. Out of Afghanistan came the tattooing of blood type on your upper arm, just to make sure someone didn’t have to look to your dog tags (or ‘identity discs’ as we properly called them in Canada). Also out of that war came the practice of tattooing the names of friends who had been killed, as a living memorial.

It has a strange beauty in the permanent marking of a body to commemorate the dead, it is in a sense capturing a piece of that person literally under your skin – a deliberate letting of someone under your skin. The spiritual symbolism is pretty profound (even with the Old Testament prohibitions against marking of the skin).

In response to my question, she told me the tattoo was a memorial to her brother. When I boldly asked (and then realized that it was probably too personal and tried to retract the question) if the wolf was her brother, she indicated that days before his death they had seen wolves together and she always remembered that moment when thinking of him.

What I wanted to ask in follow-up was if she had ever thought about the significance of the wolf encounter (I did not as it was clear from a moment of prayer that it was not to be pursued in that moment).

Wolves are highly significant in most plains indigenous societies – the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) consider the wolf sacred, as Ma’iingan was created at the same time as man, and travelled the new creation together naming things (the name itself means the one put here by Creator to show us the way). Once the naming was done, Creator told the two that they would have to walk separately but that they were linked – what would happen to one would happen to the other. Wolf is a relative to the people.

The wolf is a guide and teacher, and in the Cree teachings brings the lesson of humility. It is said that when a wolf encounters a human they will always bow their head as an acknowledgement of their shared existence within creation. My barber’s association of the wolf with her brother was not mere happen chance from a spiritual perspective, for other teachings see the wolf as a spiritual guide, and particularly a guide for those who have died.

I’m not surprised to find these sorts of encounters, as it highlights that there is more of heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our sciences (stealing a line from the Bard). Each moment is shot-through with the sacred, and sometimes it is only in the rear view mirror that we see the significance of our past. A shared momentary encounter with the sacred may be the thing which carries you through great loss and sorrow, and was not a chance encounter, but a gift precisely because of the need that had not become apparent.

So, a chance encounter that led to some inspiration because of the profound beauty of a tattooed memorial to a family member gone beyond. I pray someday she (if she doesn’t already) will encounter the deep meaning behind those encounters.

Written by sameo416

May 14, 2017 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Blessing of Pain

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Lent 4, 5 March 2017, SJE ©2017  James 1:1-18, Ps 23, Matthew 16:25-26 (this was a hard time coming, so I’m not too sure about the flow of ideas…and my back hurts today)

This continues in our series about pain and the abundant life, today with the challenging title, ‘the blessing of pain’.

My approach to the question of the blessing of pain is necessarily contextualized in my own 18 year experience with chronic neuropathic pain – pain that ended my military career, and has continued to limit my ability to thrive and survive in terms of what employment I can tolerate, and what I am able to do for recreation.  So how is it I can speak of blessing in this situation in life?

Pastor Aiden Tozer stated that “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” This fits well with the CS Lewis quote I used in my last pain sermon, that “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. These are challenging thoughts, as we would much rather think about our God as a God who only takes away hurts, who only makes things better, where better is something which fits our definition of better. In this it is important to distinguish between our thought, and God’s thought. How is it then that it is the blessing of pain which we focus on today?

One of the most fascinating articles I have read was written by a high-performance physician and academic about how he ended up with severe chronic pain which was initially untreatable. After seeing scores of specialists, having multiple tests run, there was no diagnosis. He was flabbergasted to experience some of the things he had heard patients complain of: physicians who give up when a diagnosis is not apparent, those who said it was purely psychological, and those who said that there was nothing which could be done, and that he would just have to learn to live with it. On the other side of chronic pain, this physician realized how poorly his profession is set up to deal with unremitting chronic pain (and probably how poorly he had treated patients although that is never mentioned).

As a chronic pain person, I can attest to similar frustration. It reflects an aspect of humanity’s response to those things it cannot control or understand, which is to minimize, moralize or to remove the reminder. You hear this in other contexts, such as friends and acquaintances trying to help you deal with your own serious diagnosis, or with the sudden death of a loved one. How many times have we heard (or said) things like, “Everything will work out for the best”, or “It is probably for the best” or “you will just have to get over it”.

There is a real danger here for Christians in communities of faith. We are fundamentally called to be a people of joy, but sometimes that joy becomes forced and then suppresses our ability to sincerely be with people who are in the furnace of trial…because of some idea that Christians are supposed to eternally happy. This is a lie of the modern world and when we bring it into our communities it can stifle our abilities to journey with those who are enduring trials. These empty bromides do far more harm than good, which is why my usual advice when people ask what they should say to a friend in trouble is simply to say nothing but to be there with them. This follows the example of Job’s friends before they ruin everything by trying to explain what’s happening. Sometimes we don’t need to do anything, but just be.

But, if we are to take James’ words seriously, what I should advise those askers is to respond with this, “You’re suffering? What a great opportunity for joy!” “You’re suffering? What a great opportunity for joy!” Rejoice, for your sickness / financial disaster / death of a child / death of a spouse / loss of job is an opportunity for God to bring you real blessings. This is exactly what James speaks about in this introductory portion of his letter. It is an interesting comment on the modern church that this passage is excluded from the normal cycle of readings, when it speaks so directly to something we all understand so intimately.

James starts with the zinger up front – “count it all joy when you meet trials for your testing produces steadfastness which, in full effect, will leave you perfect and complete” (paraphrasing). The word ‘trials’ here is the same word which we hear in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation” or “save us from the time of trial”. James tells us that there is specific outcome from the process of facing trials of different kinds, and that that outcome is spiritual maturity and completeness. This refrain will be echoed again in the 12th verse when James reiterates the blessing present for those who stay steadfast under trial who will receive God’s crown of life.

Now, this is a nice thought. But, it can easily become yet another of those bromides that rolls so easily off the tongue. One of my neighbours experienced a traumatic brain injury a few years back that left him blind and disabled – we frequently see his wife walking with him around the neighbourhood. That sort of reality, life with a chronic disabling condition, is not one that you want to speak into by saying, “as long as you remain steadfast you’ll be blessed”. I know how I want to respond to those sorts of suggestions when they’re said to me. Some future state of painlessness and blessedness doesn’t do much in the midst of the torment of trial here and now!

The fact of the matter is that life with a chronically limiting condition is not something which intuitively translates into an understanding of God’s blessing being somehow imparted either immediately or at some future point. So it is fine and good to speak about steadfastness or perseverance leading to the perfection of self, but what does that perfection look like when it exists within the same context of the chronic condition? This is such a contrary thought to the way of this world.

You can see that clearly in my earlier comment about the experience of physicians who develop a chronic health condition – I’ve not encountered one of those pain conversion stories where the physician relates how positive their encounter with the health care system has been. This is a reflection of our culture’s imperative to remove suffering as quickly and with as much finality as is possible – to deal with suffering with ‘extreme prejudice’ if you like. I suspect one of the reasons those physicians have those experiences is because once the usual suspects have been tried and failed, their peers become highly uncomfortable in the face of a condition which they do not know how to fix. We, as a culture, are pathologically addicted to the quest for a quick fix for everything, as this is a symptom of our endless quest to control everything.

Where then do we find the blessing in trials of various kinds? Let’s look at a bit more of James. If we look at life as a series of episodes of trials, instead of a single incident we’re trying to figure out, things start to fit. Perhaps the message is that a life of faith, dealing with trials as they come, in turn prepares us for later (and potentially greater) trials. Rather than one 50 metre sprint to the finish, James is speaking about a mode of living that accepts trials as a part of our existence, and sees trial as a way of training for what comes later.

So like John Wesley’s idea of progressive sanctification, our life, with its trials, becomes a training event for the next trial we must face. So the coming of a trial is an opportunity which allows us to grow in steadfastness and spiritual maturity. This highlights one of the key aspects of facing trials which James speaks of when he tells us if we lack the wisdom of how to deal with trials then we should turn to God and ask in faith. The wisdom of God is what allows those trials to be transformed into occasions of the development of spiritual maturity and steadfastness.  In this sense, the trials of our lives are like trips to the local gym with a personal trainer, each visit teaches out bodies, our muscles to be stronger, more responsive. Under the wise eye of a skilled trainer, we undertake those developments safely, in a way that allows us to avoid injury. This is a metaphor for what James is speaking of, where the gym trainer forms the fount of God’s wisdom for dealing with life’s trials, which strengthens us and so prepares us for future challenges.

It is also clear in James that this is not always a happy process. In verse 12 he states that “Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial.” Note that being blessed, contrary to the world’s perception of blessedness, has little to do with being happy and contented. One can be mightily blessed and yet not possess happiness. One of the reasons for this seeming dichotomy is that these words about suffering can only be understood in an eschatological sense, that is, when grounded in a reality that places Christ at the centre, and looks toward an end time when all things will reach a culmination in the person of Jesus. That we are speaking in that sense is clear through the Gospel reading, where we are called to take up our crosses to follow Christ. Jesus teaches that to save your life is to lose it; while losing your life for Christ will result in life being found. Real life, true life, abundant life, only comes through the process of surrendering that which was never ours to God. The word used for ‘life’ in the Gospel is psyuche life, or soulish life as opposed to purely biological life. We are speaking here not of finding your life in this world, but truly finding real life at the end of time when Jesus returns in glory to judge both the living and the dead. The teaching is fundamentally eschatological, that is, having to ultimately do with salvation. The answer comes in an image: Jesus riding on a white horse bringing righteousness and completion to everything.

This passage, about bearing one’s cross, has been often misused to explain why people should not take action to address injustice. Bearing a cross does not mean we accept our world as it is, and do not advocate or work to change it. We are fundamentally called to bear witness to the world, which is a radical and transformative act. Rather, bearing a cross can be seen as dealing with those trials which are not, and have never been under our control. It is also important to emphasize that Jesus is not speaking about each of us carrying the cross of Christ. Rather, the taking up is of our crosses – that is, each of us has our own trials to bear and our task is to bear those trials. This is not a passive process, but one which is actively engaged with those trials. Yoder goes so far as to state that our cross-bearing life is an active one which sees us seizing a public discipleship that contains a willingness to be countercultural and counter-state in the public arena. That is, at the heart of meaning on this question is our willingness to be humbled in many ways, including publicly, for the sake of bearing our crosses.

For many years I kept my Metis heritage secret because it was easier that way, easier because I didn’t have to reveal to people that I was one of the “them”, that is, indigenous people. About 20 years ago I realized that I was leaving most of the heavy lifting of reconciliation to others because by virtue of genetics I was able to hide in plain sight. I came to see that my public declaration of who I really am was necessary so that I could speak out against the things which continue to threaten indigenous people because it is my obligation to do so. Taking up that cross, in this case, picking sides in a painful and centuries-old colonial conflict, has exposed me to racism and hatred in ways I could not have imagined. Particularly because I look white, that public outing of who I truly am is an important witness because I can’t be categorized in the same way the culture looks on other indigenous. It also required me to embrace generations of pain and brokenness and denial as my family attempted to survive through the terrors of colonialism. This, I believe, is the essence of what both Jesus and Yoder are speaking of, a willingness to bear those slings and arrows for the sake of spiritual integrity to live into your Godly calling.

We see that question of spiritual integrity come through in James. Right after the direction to pray for wisdom in faith, James contrasts that approach with one who doubts, who is double-minded. The Greek word double-minded literally means double-souled, and links us back to the psuche – soulish life – of Matthew’s Gospel. What is double-souled? A person who does not maintain a consistency of purpose and intent, that is, spiritual integrity. The double-souled person will pray, but also work to protect themselves from the world because they expect that God will not respond to their petition. You can see in that duplicity the presence of great brokenness – I’m going to do what I should in asking God; but I know that I need to still need to stay in control because I can’t really trust God.

By contrast, a person who has a soul-anchor in Christ, approaches God with consistency and sincerity of purpose – that is with intentionality, is demonstrating spiritual integrity. This is not an unobtainable standard that places the onus for failure back in our lap because we have not achieved some absolute standard of spiritual integrity. Rather, this is a reminder that we are to approach God with singleness of intent and blamelessness in action, to the best of our abilities, and as consistently as we can (and not like a wave tossed by the wind).

What does it mean to trust God? It means an admission that it is not possible to do all things with only our power and ability, and that ultimately we are not in control of our lives. So we approach God in faith knowing that we cannot do this ourselves. It also reflects the ancient creed used by the Israelites, the “Hear O Israel”, The Lord our God is one God, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength. This is the first and great commandment. Loving God with one heart, and not saving part of your heart to love the things of this world.

This also contains a model for how our communities are supposed to enter into sharing of trials with each other. We do not stand on the outside looking in, offering those minimizing statements to others in order to protect ourselves from pain. Rather, we are called to be Christ-like, and to enter into the trial itself with the person who is suffering. We join together as fellow cross-carriers who are linked by the one who carried the ultimate cross for all our sakes, linked through our mutual understanding of pain and trials and our steadfastness, learned as a community over centuries of encountering suffering and pain.

So, where then is the blessing in suffering? Suffering, Godly suffering, defines us as individuals and as a community. Suffering, Godly suffering, refines us by bringing us back constantly to focus on what is important and not the distractions of this world. Refining is never a hurt-free process, as you are converting one substance into a purer form. At the end you are left with something precious. It is adversity that allows us to see what is really valuable and important because the things of this world, transient and thin, quickly fall aside when the trial begins. Suffering also allows us to better understand the trials of others: and so my trial teaches me, and I can in turn be in community with someone else in trial, and together we can offer mutual support.

Note the importance of this reciprocity of being in trial, as there is a bit of a trap here. I do not support my brother or my sister in the faith because of obligation, or because I am able to ‘fix’ their situation. This is a position the church, and clergy in particular, fall into.  I do not support you in community because I am somehow expert in facing trials, but because I come out of my trials acknowledging that I’m a broken person, and cannot do this alone.  So I offer support in community as a form of reminder: you are not alone; others see your pain; others have experienced pain like yours; others have survived pain like yours…and all this provides for a reciprocal blessing because ultimately we are here to remind each other of the ultimate sufferer, Jesus Christ.

Bringing this back to my opening illustration of physicians who become chronic pain patients, one of the dynamics that works out in their professional practice is usually a radically shifted perspective on patient pain. The one example I opened with left his practice as an internist and became a specialist in pain and addiction, and now takes the cases other physicians refuse to accept: opioid addicts with chronic pain. While his pain was resolved through surgery, the blessing of that trial was a remaking of his life, so that he is now blessing many who live with similar trials. This is the model of how trial becomes blessing in the context of the faith community: our trials transform us, so that we can in turn be transformative within the community.

This is very much the image of Christ upon the cross. It is in His person that we find the ultimate answer to the question of blessing in trial.


Most excellent article on pain by Ephraim Radner – certainly one of the best I’ve ever read.  Anyone talking about physician-assisted suicide should read this, “That should tell us something about our vocation in the midst of a culture that, feeling the pain everyone feels, can only seek to destroy it, even if it means destroying the life that bears it.” http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/02/15/the-craft-of-suffering/

CS Lewis’ equally excellent book, The Problem of Pain.  This, along with A Grief Observed, set out Lewis’ theology of suffering, and then how he lived it after the premature death of his wife, Joy.

Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary

Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary

A book titled, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free, by Tullian Tchividjian.

This series was conceived and first preached at St Paul’s Bloor St, Toronto.  Their sermons are marvelous, preached some by our own Barry Parker.  http://www.stpaulsbloor.org/sermons  This particular series is available: http://www.stpaulsbloor.org/sermon-series/path-through-suffering Podcast subscription too.

What happens when physicians end up with chronic, untreatable chronic pain?

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1306467 Lessons in Pain Relief — A Personal Postgraduate Experience, Philip A. Pizzo, M.D

https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2016/1/6/a-doctor-learns-what-its-like-to-be-a-chronic-pain-patient My Journey From Doctor to Chronic Pain Patient, Lisa Kehrberg, MD

Miroslav Volf on how Revelation explains how all will be made right:  I was particularly interested in Volf’s discussion on violence and peace in the final chapter. He proposes that without a clear understanding of the Christ of Revelation (riding on that white horse, judging in blood), there is no way that violence can be deterred in the present. Jesus of the cross must be married with the Christ of Revelation. This is a powerful counter to the textual critics who attempt to reduce Revelation to a vague metaphor in an attempt to square the loving Jesus of the Gospels with the image in Revelation. Volf states clearly that understanding the depth of the coming judgement is the only way a Christian can understand the command to non-violence in the present.




Written by sameo416

March 25, 2017 at 7:36 pm

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