Mercy, not sacrifice

Like many of you I’ve spent the last week trying to process the events in Washington DC. Watching the church embrace the alt-right has been a huge source of anxiety these last four years. Not the greatest, the Pandemic holds that honour, but it has certainly been up there. I’m appalled, worried, saddened, and yes, even shocked, though frankly people should have seen this coming.

As the events unfolded, I was reminded of the lyrics of a Shawn Mullins song from the album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. It’s called Give God the Blues (you really should check it out) and the verse makes a statement very relative for these times (emphasis is mine).

God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that

There is a real tendency among Christians to invoke the notion of a “Christian Nation.” Personally, I tend to balk at this. Mostly because the history of the so-called Christian nations has not been what I would call Christian in its character and actions. In the grand history of such nations and empires, from Rome through all of Europe through to America, more decent God-fearing people have been martyred by those acting under the authority of the church then by all the enemies of the church combined.

It’s completely understandable then that many people are questioning the validity of Christianity as a faith, as a religion, as a lifestyle, as… well… anything based on the behaviour of those who claim to follow Jesus and his teachings. Not surprisingly, Jesus had something to say about this.

22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!  (Matthew 7:22-23)

In my mind this verse (and others like it) should drive all the arrogance from any believer. Note that these people were doing all the things that we tend to associate with great faith. They cast out demons, they prophesied, they performed miracles, they did it all. So why does Jesus respond the way he does? I’m going to suggest they lacked one key ingredient to their faith.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)

On the surface this sounds kind of strange because didn’t God instruct the Jews in the offering of that would amount the thousands of sacrifices a year of everything from grain and oil to lambs and bulls? So, what gives? Paul puts it this way…

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

There wasn’t a whole lot of love or mercy on display in Washington this week.

Je Suis Charlie

Yes, I am Charlie! We all are.

The massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo (translation: Charlie Weekly; named for Charles Shultz’s iconic everyman) is not just about freedom of the press; it’s about the right of every person to live free and say what’s on their minds without fear!

It’s also about art; specifically, the art of satire. Since the earliest days of human civilization the number one sign of a tyrannical government, administration, monarchy or any other form of leadership is the suppression of criticism. Even Emperor Nero, for all his many faults would pardon the satirists in advance of their performance so they could present their art without fear of not living long enough to get to their next gig.  In fact, the Muslim author, Al-Jahiz, introduced satire into Islamic texts “based on the premise that, however serious the subject under review, it could be made more interesting and thus achieve greater effect, if only one leavened the lump of solemnity by the insertion of a few amusing anecdotes or by the throwing out of some witty or paradoxical observations. ” [1]

So it affects us all; even more so in our new digital, media-enhanced society because so many of us have become publishers of our opinions. For example; I have this blog. I do not have a huge following (according to the stats my largest audience for any given post was 76— not even enough circulation to get Google Ads interested), but as cathartic and/or narcissistic an exercise it may be, in a free society I have the right to express myself here, in this way, without fear of violence to my person.

So do you when you post to your Facebook page, or throw that inappropriate selfie up on Instagram, or even share you Grandmother’s recipe for pork roll ups on Yummly. We are all publishers in one way or another and it is freedom of speech that allows us to do so.

However, freedom of speech does sometimes bite us in the ass. The same freedom that lets us share what is important to us allows others to share what we would consider offensive. The problem is, if we pass laws that prevent the offensive, idiotic, bigots from having their say then that same law can one day be turned around and used to shut us up as well. It’s why I oppose hate speech legislation. As Evelyn B. Hall expressed on behalf of Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” [2]

Je-suis-CharlieSo for the next few days I’ve changed my profile pic and cover photo on Facebook to reflect my grief at the slaughter of four cartoonists and their co-workers in France. I’m no satirist, or even really an author, but I have an opinion and I value the right my society gives me to express it.

Je suis Charlie.


 

[1] Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (1976), The Mediaeval Islamic Underworld: The Banu Sasan in Arabic Society and Literature, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-04392-6.

[2] Right now many of you are fuming, “That was Voltaire!” But actually it was one of his biographers Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote the line as an example of Voltaire’s beliefs. It’s been miss-attributed to him ever since.

A Very Vivid Childhood Memory

Even when our family went through it’s toughest times I never saw my father scared other than when he was facing cancer. Worried? Yes.  Scared… no.

Except for November 22nd, 1963.

I will never forget watching my parents on the sofa in our house on Guelph Street watching the news on our television. My mother was clutching my father’s arm so hard at one point he had to ask her to let go because it was hurting him. When she started crying I asked what was wrong.

My father called me over by his side, lifted my onto the couch and tried his best to help a 9 year old understand the significance of the fact the president of the United States had been shot. He tried hard to explain assassination in terms I could understand, and further to explain communism, capitalism, and the whole gamut of world politics. He failed of course; I was only 9. But then again he didn’t fail… entirely.

No, the 9 year old Dennis took a few weeks to figure it out. His grade school teachers struggled almost as much as my father to explain it to us. As the drama unfolded on television and radio the full impact  of the event became clearer. We could hardly help it, it was all there was to watch a lot of the time. Even the other kids in my class talked back and forth about it at recess and on the way to and from school, mostly just echoing what we overheard or parents saying.

Kennedy

Official White House web site photo of America’s 35th President.

But there was one thing I understood right from the start. It was abundantly clear to me that this was a big deal. A very big deal; one that mattered more than I could possibly imagine. I understood how big it was because of my father.

It was the only time I ever saw him truly scared!

Jack Layton Passes Due to Cancer. Now What?

It’s odd what associations you find yourself making sometimes. When I heard on the radio that NDP leader Jack Layton had passed away during early hours this morning, the first thing I thought about, after the initial shock, was Jesus’ apostles the morning after Good Friday.

I know, on the surface that seems more than a little strange, even sacrilegious, but stay with me and I’ll explain.

On that dismal day the disciples were, in all likelihood, shell-shocked. You couldn’t have stunned them more if you bombed Jerusalem.  Despite Jesus’ warnings, his death was the last thing they expected. I’m sure that they were waiting for Jesus to perform another miracle even as he hung there on the cross. When the miracle didn’t happen they were devastated.  Huddled in their room they sat in disbelief wondering what the future would bring – or if there was a future at all. The question rang through each of their minds, “What now?”

Right now, thousands of NDP party members and supporters are feeling just as devastated and are asking them selves that very same question.

Most commentators and pundits across Canada will agree – the NDP accomplishments in the last election had nothing to do with policy, or a massive philosophical shift to the extreme left in Quebec – it was all about Jack Layton. Frustrated with the ineffectiveness of Gilles Duceppe, irritated by the elitist prattling of Michael Ignatieff, a large portion of the country, especially in Quebec, looked at Jack Layton and saw something they rarely saw in Canadian politics – authenticity.

That authenticity drew people to Jack Layton in droves and subsequently to the NDP. And I think most people within the party recognize that fact.  That is why I’m sure many of them are feeling just as lost as the Twelve did that day so long ago. True, Jack is no messiah figure, not in the true sense of the word. But he was definitely the embodiment of the NDP dream. Jack gave them a renewed sense of determination and self-worth. He gave them a new vision for the future, a future that actually seemed possible. He gave them hope!

Now that hope has suffered a potentially fatal blow. The embodiment of the dream is gone and, unlike Jesus, Jack Layton isn’t coming back any time soon. He’s not the messiah, the foundation of a new religion, or even the second coming of Tommy Douglas.  And if you think I am discrediting the gospel by comparing the two, you’ve missed my point. This isn’t about comparing Jack to Jesus, it’s about the followers of a movement. It’s about the disciples.

And the followers of Jack Layton have one more thing in common with the disciples of Jesus; whether the dream stays alive or not is up to them. The future of the NDP is in their hands now and I sincerely pray that they are up to the challenge.

As a libertarian I seldom agreed with Jack’s politics but I often admired the man. Jack Layton was an authentic politician. More importantly he was an authentic and likeable human being. Ottawa will be a better place if his example is followed by more than just the members of the NDP.

Horns of a Dilemma

As I listen to the rhetoric start to ramp up as we slowly careen toward the provincial election in October, I find myself once again torn on the subject of who to throw my vote away on.  Do I sound cynical? Well, that’s likely because more and more I find politics so generally reprehensible that elections are starting to resemble the process where the prisoner gets to choose their mode of execution; one way or the other, you’re still dead.

My dilemma largely starts with the fact that I can’t define myself neatly on either the left or the right politically. While I have a number of conservative tendencies, I also support many policies traditionally associated with the left. The result is I’m not allowed the luxury of being able to stamp my forehead with a party logo and lock myself mindlessly in step with whatever drivel drools out of the party leader’s mouth. I am forced to examine the evidence, consider all the ramifications and try to come to a rational decision as to which political entity is least likely to cause Canada, or in this case Ontario, to follow the same course as say, Greece.

Let’s take Dalton’s tax record for example. Tim Hudak and the PC Party of Ontario love to point out that Dalton promised not to raise taxes and then promptly introduced the Health Premium; essentially a tax to help pay for health care in Ontario. As a recent cancer survivor I find myself less upset about this lie than I used to be.

In the last nine months I have had 4 CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, 36 radiation treatments, 2 surgeries, 1 colonoscopy and 26 office appointments with a GP, an ear/nose and throat specialist, two surgeons, an oncologist, and a GI specialist and throughout it all the only cash I had to fork out personally was cab fare.  I have no idea how much all of that costs. I’m not even sure I’d like to know as I am sure it’s a frightening figure; but if you were to tell me that the reason none of that cost had to come out of my own pocket was Dalton’s Health Premium, I wouldn’t quibble with you for a second.  MRIs and CT scans and Radiation machines are expensive and the money has to come from somewhere and asking me to pony up my share is entirely reasonable.

But lying about it isn’t. According to the CQCO (Cancer Quality Council of Ontario) if you are diagnosed with cancer in Ontario you have “one of the best chances of survival anywhere in the world.” [ref] And the billions we spend on health care here is the reason why; not to mention the millions raised by events such as the Ride to Conquer Cancer.  This is something we should be proud of and celebrate, but our leaders still find it hard to just be open about it and say, “Look, it costs billions to make health care happen and taxes are the main source of that money.” Then make sure you taxation strategy is fair and balanced.

But when you lie about it and try to hide it and obfuscate the details so that people who disagree with you are more likely to vote for you it does not inspire any level of confidence even if the result is largely positive. Give the public some credit and simply tell us how much stuff costs and how you’re going to pay for stuff up front. So while I understand the need for the tax, lying about it does not increase my willingness to vote Liberal.

That said, I’m also sure there’s a big slice of those billions are being pissed away paying consultants and contractors and others way too much to do things that have been done before and accomplish very little that actually results in more people getting colonoscopies, surgeries, and visits to the doctor’s office.  I’m sure of this because I know from experience that’s the way far too many bureaucracies work (remember eHealth), and b) that’s the way far too many consultants manage to stay in business (again eHealth).

I am also fairly sure there are savings to be found on the front lines as well. I used to work security for one of the hospitals in Guelph and was curious as to why the guy mowing the lawn got paid as much as the orderlies did. One of the staff in the administration office told me it was because “of the extra training and skills required to do the job in a sterile hospital environment.” I will never forget that line.  Mow the Lawn? In a sterile hospital environment? Really?? 

And yet, while I’m sure cutting health care costs is on Hudak’s agenda, most of what he has said so far leaves me convinced that I can’t trust him to be selective enough in his cutting to do any real good. Rather than separate the wheat from the chaff, I can easily picture him just burning the whole field; leaving me unable to confidently vote PC either.

So you see my dilemma, no matter which option I choose I’m fairly certain the end result will be a horn up my butt. And not just with health care. A similar each-one-is-as-bad-as-the-other scenario can be demonstrated for just about every aspect of my existence.  My only hope seems to be that somewhere in the next hundred days one or the other of them will screw up so bad the decision will be made for me.

Until next time… Shalom