Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So There


From the always provocative Susan Russell:


"Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare.

You're thinking of Jesus."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Angelus

March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary to announce that she would bear the Christ Child.



In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1: 26 - 38







We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so also by his Cross and Passion we may be brought into the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.












Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tepid and too little - but it's something

Obama's health reform passage made it through the House of Representatives this evening by a margin of 219 to 212. It's tepid and too little, but it's something.

So, to my American friends, congratulations. Progress, however small, should be celebrated.

But I also say to my American friends that they should learn some tactical lessons from their opponents. The extreme right, having taken over the Republican Party, have effectively shifted the political goalposts in your country because they pay no attention to bipartisanship. They force their agenda through. With substantial majorities in the House and Senate, the Democrats made an egregious tactical error in attempting to work with a Republican Party that had no interest in anything but obstruction. (The few moderate Republicans not already in thrall to Glenn Beck and the Tea Party lunatics were quickly bullied into submission.)

Of course, the same applies to Canadian progressives who believe that the key to achieving their goals is the undermining of the only progressive party in the country and rebuilding the decaying structures of the "possibly not quite as extremely right wing as the Conservatives" Liberal Party.

Achieving progress requires boldness and backbone.

No progressive measure has ever been enacted by compromise with the hard right.

Just as a reminder, here are a pair of films showing the Saskatchewan precursor to the Tea Party movement. The footage includes progressive heroes like Tommy Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd. It also includes some of the dishonest demagogues - like Cline Harradance - whose lies to the people of Saskatchewan were the sole basis for the protests against the introduction of Medicare.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Four Friends - Save the First Nations University of Canada

I have written previously about the continuing crisis at the First Nations University of Canada. In the aftermath of my post (though in no way due to my mere scribblings), there was significant progress.

The Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, with the assistance of several bright and articulate First Nations youth, managed to persuade the majority of chiefs finally to take action to address the corrupt mismanagement of the institution. The cumbersome governance structure has been overhauled and a proper board appointed. Senior management whose conduct was under question were placed on leave. An agreement in principle has been made with the University of Regina to take over financial management functions at FNU, at least until financial confidence can be restored. A formal memorandum of understanding is being worked out.

It is unfortunate that it took the provincial government's threat to cut off funding to spark these essential actions, but so be it. I'm concerned that Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris is refusing to commit to the renewal of funding prior to the agreement with the UofR being finalized. Given the past record of the institution, I admit to understanding the Minister's reluctance. However, even making such a commitment conditional on the UofR-FNU agreement would be, in my mind, a gesture of good faith.

What I find wholly unforgivable is the arrogant intrasigence of the federal government. To date, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl has made it clear that he will not consider restoring FNU funding under any circumstances. To me, this simply stinks of the same kind of racism that has marked the Department of Indian Affairs since its inception.

At the same time as they refuse to commit $7 million to support a First Nations educational institution, the Harper Conservatives are proposing a 43% increase in spending to build new prisons. That's 43% more than last year. It's a 272% increase over what was spent before Harper came to power. As the Toronto Star puts it: Tough on crime but soft on logic.

These aren't unconnected. There is a strong link between educational attainment and educational opportunity on the one hand and crimnality on the other. Clearly Stephen Harper and Chuck Strahl prefer having First Nations and Métis people over-represented in our prisons and under-represented in education and the economy. No, nothing racist about that, surely.

University of Regina President Vianne Timmons will appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development next week. As a member of the University Senate, I have received an advance copy of her speaking notes. Please consider this story about the effect if FNUC is forced to close.


Let me share one story. In Saskatoon I met a faculty member from First Nations University, a Cree woman my age. She is very close to completing her Ph.D. She is the sole provider for her grandchildren. This pulling of funding will mean she will not be able to afford to complete her degree, and will likely lose her home. She is terribly afraid, because she knows the impact this will have on her grandchildren. There are many more such stories.

Without federal government support for First Nations University, any gains made over the past 34 years will be lost – and lost forever. Fewer Aboriginal learners will realize the benefits of post-secondary education, and Canada will be a less inclusive society as a result. That is not what I want for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students alike, and it is not what I want for your and my grandchildren.

Finally, please watch this video which has been created by several students and friends of the First Nations University of Canada. For my Canadian readers, please consider going to the website they mention and writing to the Prime Minister, the Indian Affairs Minister and your Member of Parliament.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Constraining arbitrary power


Twice in the last 18 months, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has advised the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) the Canadian Parliament.

While prorogation itself is a perfectly legitimate parliamentary procedure - frequently done by previous Prime Ministers in previous Parliaments - what is virtually unique here is the reason for the Prime Minister's advice.

Normally, prorogation happens when the bulk of the work set out for a particular session has been concluded. This does not apply to either of Harper prorogations.

Prime Minister Harper sought prorogation in order to avoid being accountable to the House of Commons.

Of all the prorogations in Canadian history, four stand out.


  • Sir John A. Macdonald sought a prorogation in 1873 in order to avoid facing the House over the Pacific Scandal. It was to be fully 130 years before another Canadian Prime Minister acted such a coward.

  • Jean Chretien sought prorogation in 2003 in order to avoid facing the House over the Sponsorship Scandal.

  • Stephen Harper sought prorogation in 2008 to avoid facing a confidence motion in the Commons triggered by his own overreaching attempt to financially cripple the opposition parties.

  • Stephen Harper sought prorogation in 2010 in order to avoid facing the House over the treatment of Afghan nationals detained by the Canadian Forces and turned over to the Afghan government.



Although he has been Prime Minister less than five years of Canada's 143 year history (less than 3.5%), Stephen Harper is personally responsible for fully half of the irregular abuses of prorogation - and stands in company with John A. Macdonald and Jean Chretien, two of the most corrupt Prime Ministers in Canadian History.

Tomorrow, New Democrat leader Jack Layton will be introducing a resolution in the Commons to constrain the Prime Minister's capacity to abuse prorogation in this way. His resolution states:

“That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.”

This is a reasonable and moderate limitation on the Prime Minister's prerogative, but the Liberal Party may not support a resolution which would similarly constrain a future Liberal Prime Minister.

I encourage my Canadian readers to go here to sign the online petition to pressure the Liberals to hold the Conservatives to account . . . for a change.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Looking for Jesus

Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you.

Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good.

Look for Jesus.

And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

+Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar
Speaking at the Anglo-Catholic Conference, 1923

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nancy, your dad would be ashamed

The image to the right is not edited or photoshopped in any way. This is a true image of the poster promoting a Saskatchewan Party fundraising event in the Martensville constituency.

I didn't agree with the late Ben Heppner. Heppner was a Conservative and then Saskatchewan Party MLA, representing first Rosthern and then Martensville. He was probably farther to the right than I am to the left. But everyone I ever knew in the Legislature thought that Ben Heppner was a stand-up guy.

After Heppner's death due to cancer, his daughter Nancy held onto his seat in a byelection. It was hardly a surprise. Not only was it an emotional tribute to a much loved MLA to elect his daughter in his place, it was also one of the two constituencies the CCF-NDP has never won at any point in our nearly eight decades of existence.

In this case, it seems, the apple may well have fallen a great distance from the tree. I cannot imagine for a second the late Ben Heppner ever being involved in such a disgusting exploitation of tragedy for base partisan considerations.

I mean, really. It's so revoltingly bad that even Toronto's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail has noticed.

Shame on you, Nancy.

For the response of the Saskatchewan media, please review the following video.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Can you say "irony impaired?"

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer on economic projections in Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget delivered yesterday:


We think it might be difficult to achieve a balance with the aggressive revenue numbers they're using and the expense numbers they are using as well. I think for Saskatchewan we're going to use a more cautious approach on our revenue and a more disciplined approach to our expenditures.


. . .


We're concerned there may be a little wishful thinking.


Go into all the world

Much has been written in many, many places about the current state of the Church.

The Church, they say, is declining. In crisis. In 60 years, there won't be any Anglicans left.

And the same, they say, is true for all denominations - statistically, they are all declining. (Roman Catholic numbers are up slightly in North America, but only with the aid of immigration.) The fastest growing religious identity, according to census and survey data in both Canada and the United States is "none" - or occasionally "spiritual but not religious.

The 60 year statistic, while useful for getting attention, is a statistical absurdity. Past trends are not a reliable predictor of future trends. The same phony analysis in 1950 would have predicted a profoundly religious society 60 years on, but somehow the trends changed direction.

The current trends, however, are worrisome - and rightly so. Our current mission strategy (keep the doors open as long as you can) isn't working anymore. (Actually, I'm not convinced it ever did, but that's another post.)

So, what do we do about it?

Well, some people will doubtless decide to keep on doing what they're doing the way they've always done it. In most cases, I suspect, this will mean providing a chaplaincy service for existing members and not much else.

Others, doubtless, will surrender to despair. Proverbs assures us that where there is no vision, the people perish. The same applies to faith communities.

The place where I hang my biretta was there not so long ago. At the annual meeting three years ago, there was a discussion about choosing between closing the doors now or struggling on for a while and closing the doors later. Fortunately, they wanted to be persuadewd that there were other options.

The question is, if your Church wants to thrive, what does it need to do?

It's always seemed to me that the most important step in figuring out where you want to go and how you want to get there is determining where you are now. At our parish, we are going to use some tools from Natural Church Development to measure the current state of the parish and to show us what we need to work on. We've already taken several steps (a new sign, a new website, unaddressed admail, an upcoming parish fair for the whole community). Over the past few years, we've seen some growth in those indicators that are easy to measure (cash in plates and bums in pews). And visitors keep telling me it seems a joyful place.

When I was looking into what tools we might use to assess the health of our parish and to find our way forward, I asked several churchy people I knew what they thought of NCD. Not everyone was a huge fan - though most of the folk who had used it liked it. But the most salient comment came from Dean Kevin Martin of Dallas who said:




". . . whether it is Natural Church Growth or the Purpose Driven Church, any intentional and organized effort of congregational leaders to understand their congregation's strengths, reach out to new people and do this in a planned way usually will bring benefits."


In other words, the most important thing about the first step is that you take a first step.

Fr. Tony Clavier touches on much the same point in his blog today. After referencing the current language of crisis and decline, Tony notes that this is not the first time we've seen this trend. In the United States in the late 18th century, religion was in decline, fewer than 10% of the population were "churched" and the Episcopal Church, still identified with the former colonial power in the minds of many, was in particularly dire straits. Then along came first the Evangelical Revival and then the Catholic Revival.



In our present predicament a study of the great domestic missionaries of the 19th Century would enlighten and perhaps enthuse. When I feel discouraged I reach for the biography of Bishop William Hobart Hare, first Bishop to the Dakota people and then of the church in the State of South Dakota. Following him in his buggy, taking refuge in homes and boarding houses during blizzards, fighting fleas and mosquitoes in the summer, or in his latter years suffering from a frightful cancer of the face, battling for the sanctity of matrimony in Sioux Falls which had become a place where instant divorces and re-marriages could be obtained, I am humbled and inspired.

. . .


The late Eighteenth Century was not unlike our own day. The Age of Reason brought with it doubts and agnosticism about the central teachings of the Church. The rest of the population as many uprooted themselves and moved to new territories, mingling with waves of immigrants saw little relevance in the stuffy social conformity of Anglicanism. And then God acted in the lives of men and women who differed in their approaches to the Gospel and the nature of the Church, but who fell in love with Jesus and injected that love into the forms and structures of the Episcopal Church.

God is calling for a similar devotion now.


The Canadian Church has its own similar stories. I've included a picture of one of the Sunday School Vans that used to drive around rural western Canada - often the only Church people saw for weeks or months at a time.

The important thing is that these faithful heroes - saints in the best sense of the word - was that they took action. They carried the faith into the world.

Jesus tells us to "go into all the world and proclaim the good news."

Need I point out that the very first word is "go?"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

O Blest Communion! Fellowship Divine!

Over the past 24 hours, I've had the opportunity to see the real Anglican Communion in action.

Not the Anglican Communion of fudge and doublespeak.

Not the Anglican Communion of ambitious prelates with a fetish for control.

Not the Anglican Communion of arrogance, self-righteousness, intolerance and acrimony.

No. Today, I saw the real Anglican Communion.

One of our parishioners was on holiday in Honolulu. She and her husband traveled there each year with another couple, and since her husband's death, she has continued the tradition.

A couple of weeks ago, we wished her well on her trip and told her that we looked forward to her safe return.

Last weekend, while still in Honolulu, she had a severe stroke.

At this point, it isn't clear what the outcome will be, though it does not look positive. She will have a safe return, I don't doubt - but probably not the safe return any of us had envisaged. I've been in touch with some of her family by phone and some by Facebook.

So, how does the Anglican Communion come into it?

Last night, I left email and voicemail messages at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Honolulu, asking if a priest or someone on the Cathedral staff could arrange to visit my parishioner and her family members that are there. This morning, I got a call assuring me they were on it. This evening, another call from Fr. Moki Hino, the Canon Pastor of the Cathedral to give me a status report.

My parishioner and her family needed pastoral care, and they got it. All I had to do was ask.

I gather from my conversation with Fr. Moki that it is not at all unusual for St. Andrew's to receive requests like this. And conveniently, the hospital in question was just a few blocks walk from the Cathedral. But, from my end, it's clear that they did not treat this as a routine request, but as a vital part of their ministry.

If the institution of the Anglican Communion is to be nothing more than the backroom politics and the naked plays for power that it has become over the past decade or so, who needs it?

Not Jesus, certainly.

But this, today, was the real Anglican Communion - a fellowship of believers who work and live and pray together, for and with each other.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brad Wall - 111% less competent than it first appeared

Last March, the Saskatchewan government presented a budget which estimated potash royalties at C$1.9 billion. That's C$1,900,000,000.00 in potash revenues - fully 20% of provincial revenues.

At the time, opposition MLAs and sane people everywhere said that the C$1.9 billion estimate was simply unrealistic. Potash revenues the previous year had been at record highs. It was imprudent - at least imprudent - to make the blithe assumption that revenues would be even higher following on a record breaking year.

Of course, that wasn't the only lily-gilding assumption the Wall government made. They also estimated provincial GDP growth at a rate significantly higher than any private sector analyst. In fact, their projection was nearly double the best private sector projection.

Well, Jesus tells us what happens when you build your house on sand, and common sense tells us what happens when you build your budget on the assumption of winning the lottery week in and week out.

It isn't like nobody noticed. Then Opposition Finance Critic Harry Van Mulligen called the budget "completely unrealistic" at the time.

Since then, regular fiscal updates have recaclulated the potash projections several times. And, oddly, they've never really felt the need to adjust them upward.

Today, however, came the fiscal update that puts Premier Brad Wall and Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer in a class by themselves as fiscal incompetents.

It turns out that some of the potash companies had made installment payments to the province prior to the fiscal year based on revenue projections which, while not as stupidly drug-induced as the government's, were still a trifle high.

The upshot? Not only will Saskatchewan NOT receive C$1.9 billion in potash revenues in fiscal 09-10, but Brad and Rod will actually have to refund money to the potash companies.

Projected potash revenue in fiscal 09-10: C$1,900,000,000.00

Actual potash revenue in fiscal 09-10: (C$204,000,000.00)

Difference between projected and actual revenues: C$2,104,000,000.00

So, to be clear, their projection for the largest single revenue stream in their "budget" was out by C$2,104,000,000.00 or 111%.

And not in the good way.

The net effect is to suck 22% of revenue out of the budget.

And that's just in this one line item.

I'm trying to think of some funny line to close this post, but I can't.

It turns out that the Saskatchewan Party government of Brad Wall is actually too incompetent to satirize.

Monday, March 1, 2010

One awaits the desperate spin of the Schismopalians

The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear an appeal filed by schismatics attempting to steal property from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. The more charitably worded news release of the Diocese of Los Angeles is here.

Given that a three-fold defeat in the Church of England General Synod last month was spun as a tremendous victory for the so-called "Anglican Church in North America," one is moved to wonder how the schismatics intend to spin this SCOTUS decision into a great victory.

(Corrected name of diocese.)

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant

On this feast of their patron saint, my heartfelt greetings to the people of Cymru.

Following is a wonderful and well known hymn - quite properly in Welsh.

No success finding leeks at the market earlier today.


Sports, Culture and the Intellectual Left

I have frequently been struck by how profoundly elitist so many progressives can be, given that elitism is, at its core, antithetical to our political creed. This can be particularly true of a particular "vanguard of the working class" type of left-wing purist - whose family hasn't usually been working class (in any meaningful sense) for a generation or more. In another context, I once referred to those who are happy to stand in solidarity with the working class - just so long as they don't have to stand anywhere near the working class.

One of the policy areas where this intellectual arrogance comes through is in the tendency of some on the left to set sport funding and culture funding against each other - with cultural funding deemed a social good while sport funding is written off as "bread and circus" spending.

I posted the following as a comment to a Facebook note by a friend of mine. I must emphasize that his criticism of the Own the Podium programme was about its fiscal effectiveness - which is an entirely different kettle of fish. I don't class him among the "vanguard of the working class" elitists by any stretch of the imagination. It was just that his note sparked my reflection.

Apart from a couple of sports which have broad commercial appeal (hockey, football, baseball and [outwith North America] soccer), the development of elite competitors requires a combination of broad corporate sponsorship and direct government subsidy.

In this respect, elite sports are rather like the arts.

I find it interesting that, in general, the intellectual left support substantial funding to the arts while being highly sceptical - if not downright hostile - towards similar funding to elite sport.

It strikes me that this reflects an odd class-based bias. The intellectual left, broadly speaking, do not come from the working class - at least, not recently. Their sensibilities are largely middle class and even bourgeois. Thus, even if they can't stand opera or ballet, these are deemed more worthy objects of government largesse than the sweaty and workmanlike physicality of sport. By contrast, the broad mass of working class folk would rather watch Sidney Crosbey than Swan Lake and would prefer Toews and Iginla to Tristan und Isolde.

Personally, I'm a big fan of massive subsidies to both sports and culture, both for the representative importance and for the aspirational influence. To the degree that the intellectual left elevates culture while denigrating sport, we play into the hands of those right wing demagogues who recast progressives as the elite who hold back the "ordinary" folk of the working class.

And now, to demonstrate how sports and culture can interact for the positive improvement of both, here are some Canadian Morris Dancers performing to that Canadian classic, The Hockey Song by Stompin' Tom Connors.