Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sing we a song of high revolt!

Here is my online friend Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, talking (for himself and unofficially) about recent events at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

The basic story is that the #OccupyLSX (London Stock Exchange) were prevented from occupying Paternoster Square (where the LSX actually is) and so ended up at St. Paul's Cathedral. When the police were about to run them off, the Canon Chancellor of the Cathedral, Giles Fraser, shooed the police instead. In response, the Dean and Chapter (ie, Giles's boss and colleagues) proceeded to have a week or more of hissy fits. Giles has resigned and the Dean and Chapter have managed to embarrass the bejeezly crap out of the Church of England. Or, as the Guardian tellingly put it:
This rather messy and absurd situation has handed the dean and chapter of St Paul's a truly historic opportunity to discredit Christianity in this country. They seem determined to take it.
In any event, here's Bishop Alan.

I am reminded of an old hymn, sometimes sung to the tune of The Red Flag. (Unable to find a YouTube.)

Sing we a song of high revolt!
Make great the Lord, his name exult!
Sing we the song that Mary sang
of God at war with human wrong.
Sing we of him who deeply cares
and still with us our burden bears.
He who with strength the proud disowns;
brings down the mighty from their thrones.

By him the poor are lifted up.
He satisfies with bread and cup
the hungry folk of many lands.
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
with him for what is just and right;
to sing and live Magnificat
in crowded street or council flat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seriously? Racism isn't that hard to spot.

So, on Friday, the Saskatchewan Party candidate in Yorkton issued an apology for remarks made at an all candidates meeting some days previously.  According to his own account:

"I don't remember my exact words, but I said something like, 'What I have been told by some of my First Nations friends is that sometimes when there are handouts or the money comes free and easy, it can be used for alcohol and drugs'."

Now, to his credit, it was actually Greg Ottenbreit's apology that broke the story.  In other words, it wasn't a media storm that sparked the apology.  Ottenbreit (perhaps with some help) managed to conclude on his own that his comments were mind-numbingly stupid and had no place in the public discourse.

He shouldn't have said them in the first place, of course.  But in the end, he did the right thing without having the media force him into it.
Conservative MP David Anderson, however, not so much.  The anti-Canadian Wheat Board hardliner produced one of those "do it yourself" videos of a supposed encounter between a Saskatchewan grain farmer and a CWB official.  Unlike the majority of prairie grain farmers (ie, those who hold permit books, unlike the CWB's would be executioner Gerry Ritz) both Anderson and his fictional farmer want to rid themselves of the benefits of orderly marketing.  In the course of the video, the fictional farmer / Anderson stand-in uses the phrase "talking Eskimo" to suggest that the Wheat Board official is not making sense.

Now, I've never heard the phrase "talking Eskimo" used in this way in all of my 50 years.  It isn't one of those dated but offensive phrases one might go back to without thinking.  Other than references to my least favourite professional football team, the word "Eskimo" has long since fallen out of use.  The people it referred to prefer to be known as Inuit - a word from their own language.

But even if the word "Eskimo" weren't offensive in itself, the way it is used in the video is simply offensive - implying that "Eskimos" are incapable of sensible thought.

Instead of apologizing for spewing racist tripe, David Anderson has simply taken down the offending video and, apparently, gone into hiding from the Ottawa press gallery.

Neither Ottenbreit nor Anderson have covered themselves in glory, but Ottenbreit, at least, has manned up.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bishop of Qu'Appelle visits #OccupyReginaSk

This evening, I had the privilege of accompanying Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson when he visited the site of #OccupyReginaSk.  There are about 50 people actually living onsite in Regina's Victoria Park.  One of the saddest commentries on the state of things is that sleeping on an air matress in a tent on a brisk October evening is actually a step up for the 10 - 15 homeless people that are part of the occupation.

We had planned the Bishop's arrival to coincide with the 8:00 pm assembly, where business is usually conducted and where occupiers and visitors are able to speak to the whole group.  However, with the organic logic of anarchic process, it had been decided the assembly would be pushed back so tents could be moved while the greatest number of people were there.  And yes, the Bishop and I helped move tents.  (The tents were being moved in order to have better shelter from the wind and so the grass in one part of the park would have a chance to recover.)

While the corporate media have tended to depict the #Occupy protests as little more than inchoate rage against the financial system, the Bishop and I spoke to several people who clearly understood not only that the system isn't working, but could also articulate why the system isn't working.  One of the most interesting bits of analysis came from an ex-Saskatchewan Party MLA.  (For my non-Canadian readers, that would be like an ex-Republican State Assemblymen in the US.)  He spoke about how the movement of capital and the accumulation of profit is no longer related to any productive activity.

Bishop Greg spoke only briefly - in part to indicate that his agenda this evening was primarily to listen to the people occupying the park.  Several people spoke to us afterwards about the need for religious leaders to speak about the moral dimension of the economic crisis.  I expect we'll hear more from our Bishop in due course.

We live in a strange time when the Governor of the Bank of Canada, a former US Treasury Secretary, some of the richest men on the planet and even the Conference Board of Canada can acknowlede that the system is broken and that income inequality is breaking the system even further, yet the political system is seemingly unaware of the problem.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Something for both my political and my religious readers

Today's Toronto Star carries a sad yet far from unusual story about Dan and Alice Heap

Dan Heap was an Anglican priest who chose to work in a box factory as a better means of engaging ordinary people both about the gospel and about social justice.  In time, he was elected to Toronto City Council.  In 1981, he stunned the pundits by winning a federal byelection in Spadina, which had previously been a Liberal stronghold.  His municipal ward was later represented by the late NDP leader Jack Layton, and his federal seat is now held by his former constituency assistant, Olivia Chow.

Compared to many people in today's economy, Dan and Alice are relatively well off financially, including the MP pension that the Canadian right used to rail about.  They did make the "mistake" of selling their former home at less than market value to a community based organization, but they likely still have an overall retirement income that would be the envy of many Canadians of their generation.

Yet Dan and Alice couldn't get long term care in their community.  Their needs (especially Dan's) are now well beyond what their former retirement home could manage.  They've been on a waiting list for several years.  In the mean time, members of their extended family have been staying with Dan and Alice 24/7, sleeping on the floor of thier very tiny suite.  (Oddly, just as the story came out, a space became available for Dan.  What a coincidence.)

The story is perhaps a little more poignant because of who Dan is (former Councillor and former MP) and because of who Dan and Alice are (longterm community activists).  Unfortnately, their story is not exceptional.  In Canada today, it's a travesty.

I remember Dan from when I was a divinity student at Trinity.  He had just won the Spadina byelection a few weeks before the beginning of my first term.  (The byelection was called when Pierre Trudeau gave the sitting MP, Peter Stollery, the taskless thanks of an appointment to the Canadian Senate.  Trudeau flunky Jim Coutts was expected to win in a walk.  Ah well, "the best laid schemes," as they say.)  He was my MP throughout my time at Trinity, and he was a great support in my time as Chair of the University of Toronto New Democrats.  I last saw him several years ago, on a trip to Toronto, when I attended the service at Holy Trinity, Eaton's Centre.

Because of Dan's dementia and Alice's own issues, they need full time care.  Yet ironically, there are many people in care homes (usually at lower levels of care) who, with the proper supports, could still be living in the community - and at less cost to the health system.

I've had parishioners who've been "warehoused" in hospitals or other facilities while they wait for appropriate placements.  I'm well aware that a space opening up unsually depends (directly or indirectly) on some other person dying.  In the process, our "golden years" become a nightmare.  And while some facilities are lovely environments, others are horribly run down and positively depressing.

The people who live in these facilities deserve better - both better facilities and better allocation processes.