>It’s All There in Black And White


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Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white. – William Blake

The more I study the scriptures the more I am convinced that religion, especially Western Christianity, has it all wrong.

I’ve started to write this post a few times but I always abandon it because as I read it back I get too emotional. I tend to get angry but then usually end up just sad and tired when I think about how religion has distorted the plain and simple teachings of Jesus Christ.

I find myself getting drawn into arguments with my fellow Christians over doctrine and politics that when examined in the light of scripture are either irrelevant or plain as day. I also get drawn into arguments with non-Christians that centre on the sins of church history when my response should be one of compassion for the pain my predecessors have caused.

Somewhere in the two millennia since Jesus death his message has been terribly distorted for the political gain of an elite few and the masses have swallowed it hook line and sinker. Sadly the true message is still there in black and white, if we’d just look it up.

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? – Jesus (Luke 6:46)

Many people have tried to explain away some of Jesus more difficult and politically incorrect teachings with arguments about translations and first century context. While it is important to understand what was going on in Israel at the time of Jesus and it is equally important to understand a bit of the Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages the Bible was originally written in we also need to recognize that all English translations of the Bible ever published are remarkably similar and the message remains consistent whether you prefer the King James, New International, Revised Standard or any other of the hundreds of translations that are available to us today.

And what is that core message? Jesus was asked that same question;

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love, plain and simple, love God first and love your neighbour. Elsewhere Jesus further explained that neighbours also include our enemies and those who persecute us.

The saddest fact of all is that Christianity as a religion has been one of violence, oppression and segregation, yet Jesus, whose intention was to tear down the religious system not build a new one, was a teacher of peace, love and inclusion. There are no caveats in His teaching that allow us to condemn, persecute or oppress those who do not agree with us as Constantine and his brethren would have us believe. There is no wiggle room that can be used to justify witch hunts, crusades or inquisitions like the medieval Catholics invented. And there is no such thing as the redemptive violence or just war that most western evangelicals promote today. Those who would use scripture to justify such things are quite simply stretching the translation beyond all reasonable linguistics and misunderstanding historical context.

I could go on for days but I try to keep my postings as close to 500 words as possible. I will expand upon and back up my position in the coming weeks. For now I just leave you with this parting thought. If Jesus is your Lord re-read his longest sermon found in Matthew 5-7, submit to his authority and do as he says. I promise you, your life will never be the same.

>Don’t Be Surprised if I Offer You My Left Hand


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General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! – Ronald Reagan.

I’ve talked a lot lately about Peace and Justice and how inseparable they are. Remember the thesis, Peace without Justice is Oppression.

So if the path to true peace is a path toward justice where do we begin? If I’m going to develop my idea of peace and justice much further I need a new thesis statement. I’ve established that lasting peace requires justice but what then is justice?

Justice is Reconciliation and the forging of a Third Way.

According to Wikipedia the word Reconciliation literally means “to meet again”. In the early 90s, as decades long oppressive regimes came to an end in places like the Soviet Union and South Africa governments began launching something called “truth and reconciliation commissions”. The purpose of these commissions was to bring different groups together, to open dialogue and start to remove divisions.

We all know the story of South Africa. After years of immense pressure from the international community the white minority government finally allowed blacks to vote in multi-party elections. The result was the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. Mr. Mandela could have easily turned around and punished his former rulers in the white elite, indeed a large portion of the population wanted him to do just that, but instead he opted to take the much harder and ultimately more just and peaceful third way to reconciliation. Today South Africa is the most politically and economically stable country in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is much easier to build walls and concentrate on maintaining security within an easily defined area. Walls divide. Walls hold people in and stifle expansion as much as they keep people out. Walls are an obvious marker of the “us” on the inside and the “them” on the outside. Reconciliation on the other hand requires us to become vulnerable. In order to “meet again” we have to tear down the wall.

On June 12, 1987 United States President Ronald Reagan delivered the now famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate. He called on the Soviet Union to allow the free flow of people, goods and ideas that would promote liberalization and peace. Within 3 years of that day the Berlin Wall was down and Germany was officially reunified. The Berlin Wall never would have come down if people on both sides hadn’t been willing to become vulnerable and forge a new path. Removing walls is tricky and often dangerous work. It’s not enough to lay down your arms. Reconciliation, if it is to be a removal of walls, requires us to let down our defenses.

One last example comes to mind. I was a Boy Scout. One of the first things I learned was that scouts great each other with a left-handed handshake. By way of explanation I was told that Roman soldiers carried their sword in their right hand and their shield in their left. The traditional offer of your right hand is a sign of peace showing that you are un-armed; indeed that’s where we get the concept of laying down arms. But Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts took the concept one step further by instead offering his left hand as a sign that he had let down his defenses.

To this day I will often greet new people with a left-handed handshake. In the awkward moment that follows I have an opportunity to tell people a bit about my world-view, it’s been the start of some very interesting conversations. So if we ever get a chance to meet face to face don’t be surprised if drop my shield and offer you my left hand….

A word of caution, if you want to try this, I learned the hard way that certain cultures consider the offer of a left hand extremely insulting because they have traditionally used it to clean themselves after – ahem – “doing their business”. I don’t need to tell you how VERY awkward that conversation was but we both learned something that day and eventually had a good laugh.

>Let’s Label


>In his 1991 book “Simple Faith”, theologian, author and church pastor, Charles R. Swindoll describes the game we all play with one another and calls it Let’s Label. Here’s how to play;

1- Find someone who is different from you. Preferably only in the most superficial of ways like appearance, that way you don’t actually have to get to know the person to decide how different they are.
2- Form a negative and critical opinion based only on the externals.
3- Jump to conclusions about what makes the person behave the way they do.
4- Stick on a label and freely share your findings with others.

The object of the game is simple, to separate those who are like us from those who are different and to build walls between “us and them”.

Playing Let’s Label is the beginning of Injustice and Oppression. As stated in previous entries here; Peace without justice is oppression. We cannot promote peace without justice and we cannot promote justice if we stick labels of exclusion or separation on each other.

The most obvious and least useful labels originate in our race or ethnicity. It’s easy to identify “us and them” from a distance when all you have to do is look at person. The world is and has always been divided along these kinds of lines, some more obvious than others. But as the world becomes more globalized and integrated it is these very lines that are being blurred. It’s this blurring of the lines that makes the game harder to play and upsets the most active players.

There are two divergent trends in the world today. One is the erasure of the ethnic and cultural lines in essence the removal of labels through globalization, the opening of markets and homogenization of culture in the name of economics. This approach ignores diversity and oppresses those who wish to maintain a connection to their ethnicity. The other is the redoubling of efforts at separation and isolation along these very same ethnic lines in order to protect a way of life. Similar to the cold war strategy of containment, proponents of this approach refuse to engage with those who are different thus breeding distrust.

We all carry labels. Most are impossible to erase. The task in promoting justice is not to homogenize and erase the labels. Nor is it to isolate one’s self from those who are different. The task is to understand the labels, both yours and those placed on others, wear the good ones proudly and seek to erase only those that are destructive.

After explain the game in some detail Swindoll goes on to look at how Jesus told his followers to approach it.

1″Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

We tear down the walls that divide by first recognizing what parts of the wall we ourselves have built. I realize I’m mixing my metaphors here but stay with me. When Jesus says to remove the plank from you own eye I believe he is also saying, take down your portion of the wall. It’s by taking the first step toward inclusion and understanding that we can begin to build up enough trust so that others are also willing to remove their walls and accept our help in doing so.

Understanding the labels and being honest about them is the first step toward inclusion and justice and therefore a requirement of peace.

Now, where did I leave my sledge-hammer?

Lauren Sheil (Male, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Canadian)

>Will the Real Freedom Hater Please Stand Up?


>Last month Richard Reid – you remember him, the shoe bomber – was sentenced by a US district court Judge William G. Young to 80 years in prison for attempting to blow up an airliner on approach to Miami. In his sentencing speech Judge Young told Mr. Reid that in order to have done such a thing he must hate freedom.

Really?

At the risk of losing a few friends and maybe more than one reader I hereby, whole heartedly disagree with Judge Young.

I dare say; No one hates freedom. Not Muslims, Christians or Jews. Not Capitalists, Socialists, Liberals or Conservatives. Not one person on this planet hates freedom. Anyone who would agree with the statement “I hate freedom” is more likely confused than sincere.

The American historian, political commentator and leading authority on terrorism, Walter Zeev Lacqueur once said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Since 9/11 this sentiment has lost much of its popularity. I can understand why, after you have been attacked it’s hard to say your attacker was just standing up for his freedom, but it’s still a lot more accurate than calling all terrorist freedom haters.

When I began this blog several months ago one of my first posts was called, “My Peace Statement”. It’s there in the archives on August 9, 2009 if you want to take a look. In it I stated my position on peace in one sentence;

Peace, Without Justice, is Oppression.

I still hold firmly to that statement. Terrorists are most often oppressed people that resort to violence as a last ditch effort to be heard. Their message is always loud but very rarely understood by their oppressors. All too often the response to terrorism is to redouble efforts at “security”.

We build walls, both metaphorical and physical between “us and them” that serve to create a false peace and ignore the broader issue of justice and oppression.

The world over, hot beds of terrorism are often areas of extreme poverty that are rich in natural resources like oil and diamonds. Those resources are exploited by the powerful and used as tools of the oppression. We vilify the locals calling them terrorist or insurgents when it’s really us who are the more violent oppressors.

When you oppress a local population, steal their resources and force them into abject poverty sooner or later someone is going to stand up and say ENOUGH. Nelson Mandela did it, so did Ghandi. Regardless how they were perceived by their rulers at the time, history has proven both of these men right, they were not terrorists, they were true freedom fighters. There are countless others throughout history, most notably the leaders of the American Revolution, terrorists who destroyed a boat load of tea in the name of freedom.

Do I agree with terrorist methodology? No! Do I think that we should negotiate with terrorists? No!

I do think that we need to take a long hard look at the regions of the world that spawn terrorism and figure out how to engage with the local population. We need to offer them justice so they do not become oppressed and therefore feel they have to resort to violence.

Peace and Justice, like two sides of a coin, cannot be separated.

…to be continued!

>Liberty


>Liberty is one of those words that gets bandied about in political debates like some kind of trump card. People at every point along the political spectrum will try to frame their arguments so that they appear to be on the side of liberty. With everyone trying to lay claim to this concept I think it’s time to take a look at what the word actually means.

Merriam-Webster defines liberty as;

the quality or state of being free: the power to do as one pleases, freedom from arbitrary or despotic control, the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges, the power of choice

All good stuff right? But read it again, slowly, and you’ll start to see the beginnings of something possibly quite sinister and ego-centric.

When I read that definition I am struck by what liberty is not. There is no indication of social responsibility or other-centeredness. In fact liberty is an incredibly selfish concept. It’s the power to do as one pleases and enjoy privileges without any thought for the people around you. As a result many people have used the concept of liberty to refuse any submission to authority, including the police or to justify a lack of self control in matters that would benefit the whole of society. I’ve even heard of cases where people have argued constitutional liberty as a defence against a speeding ticket, like it’s somehow a right to drive as fast as you wish without any regard to public safety.

Last week I talked about Immanuel Kant. He saw an overly liberated population as a potential fatal flaw in republican democracy.

In Kant’s time liberty was a rallying cry for people trying to gain that freedom from arbitrary or despotic control. Today the despots are gone but the concept lives on as justification for all kinds of selfishness. Patrick Henry’s cry to “Give me liberty, or give me death.” is no longer a sacrificial life affirming statement but has become a demand for personal fulfillment. The bottom line is that personal fulfillment is not a right.

In a world obsessed with liberty one of the great lies ever told is that if you try hard you will get what you want and be happy. It stands to reason then that if you don’t get what you want it’s your own fault due to laziness. To quote my friend Casey, “that’s just Bat-Shit crazy!”

The fact of the matter is that sometimes no matter how hard you try you will sometimes fail. Failure is not evidence of laziness or of some grand conspiracy to deny you the “right” to happiness. Failure does however compromise your liberty because it can prevent one from doing as one pleases.

So; if personal fulfillment is not a right and failure compromises liberty it stands to reason that liberty is not a right either. Instead the much more noble cause is to promote equality and to choose to release your hold on personal freedoms in the name of communal advancement.

Put another way;

The cure of anarchy is government under which all men agree to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. Thomas Hobbes.

Now that’s a concept of liberty that makes sense.

>Immanuel Kant says we’re Selfish!


>Are we too selfish to achieve true world peace? Immanuel Kant seemed to think so. In one of his shorter essays, “Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795)” he said as much.

Now the republican constitution is the only one wholly compatible with the rights of men, but it is also the most difficult to establish and still harder to maintain, so much so that many contend that the republic must be a nation of angels, for men’s self-seeking inclinations make them incapable of adhering to so sublime a form of government.

At the turn of the 19th century modern republican democracy was in its infancy. America was just 19 years old when Kant made that statement. Great Britton’s House of Commons was much less powerful than the nobility’s House of Lords and both houses still largely differed to the will of the king. Napoleon was consolidating power in France and would soon stage a coup convincing the elected senate to install him as emperor. Monarchies were the rule of the day throughout Europe and would hold for the next 100 years in Germany, Austria and Spain to name just a few. America was looked upon with scepticism and even distain as a foolish experiment.

Kant looked at the world around him and made some very astute observations. Imperial governments do not have to listen to the population in the same way that democracies do. They are free to amass wealth and direct it any way they wish. But because imperial leaders are human they generally use their wealth to feed their ego and the more wealth they amass the more likely they are to try and push their agenda not only in their own territory but beyond. In Kant’s time governments were amassing wealth and power through imperialist expansion in Africa and the Far East that put them on a collision course eventually leading to the Napoleonic and other wars.

And so Kant concluded that republican democracy was the only type of government that could come close to achieving lasting peace. By turning government over to the masses, even if only in the form of the occasional referendum, the wealth of the nation had to be focussed on the needs of the people and not the ego of a leader. But therein lies the rub. Kant’s prediction that the selfishness of human nature would be democracies undoing seems more likely today than ever before.

The great paradox of western culture is that all have the right to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, it’s enshrined in constitutions for Pete’s sake, but with millions of us all jockeying for the same thing we are bound to get in each other’s way. My liberty will inevitably encroach on your liberty. My pursuit of happiness may upset yours. Left unchecked liberty will lead to anarchy.

I’ve been accused of being everything from too liberal to too conservative and even a bit skitsophrenic by some of my readers. Quite honestly I don’t know what any of that means. I just look at and comment on the world through the lens of my personal experience and right now I see a very selfish society that is on the path to destruction.

Immanuel Kant was right; our self-seeking inclinations are incompatible with democracy. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it work because the alternatives are inconceivable.

It’s going to take me a while to flesh out all of the implications of this line of thought so stay with me. Many of you will likely disagree with my conclusions, please comment on anything you take issue with. I crave the dialogue, it’s how I learn. I very rarely sensor anything I receive. If you do agree I want to hear from you too. As you know, when all you get is negative feedback you start to wonder if you might be crazy.

Stay tuned, I promise, it’s about to get really interesting….

>The Prayer of St. Francis


>I don’t like to use this as a forum to regurgitate the words of others but last night while in meditation the memory of my father’s Irish tenor lilting these phrases came flooding back to me. I can’t remember exactly how old I was or what we were doing but I know that he would often break into songs like this while he and I were cleaning the barn or completing some other menial task. It speaks to the kind of life my family has lived for generations.

My only hope is to honour the legacy.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi

Peace – Lauren

>Ockham’s Razor


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Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. – Albert Einstein

Ever wonder why physicists who’ve never been able to see an electron and can’t agree on the make-up of subatomic matter can turn around and treat people who believe in “god” as delusional?

I put “god” in quotations and use the lower case g here because I’m not in any way trying to make a case for God in the traditional, Abrahamic context. Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am both an unapologetic Christ Follower and staunchly irreligious. I’m merely trying to point out some odd contradictions that are over looked when taking a scientific world view and yet are the same types of contradictions that are used to make religious people look crazy.

Take for instance subatomic theory. Physicists cannot prove the existence of electrons. No machine has yet been invented that can magnify matter to that level; the best they can do is follow the scientific method of testing their theories in a controlled environment. However; in some cases electrons function very much like particles while in others they function like waves of energy. They cannot be both.

The theories that physicists have postulated for the make-up of matter at a subatomic level have been tested as much as possible at this time but they can be neither proven, nor disproven. At best we are left to continue to theorise and work within the “laws of nature” without really knowing how or why things work the way they do. That’s why I love the quote from Albert Einstein above.

Without comprehensive evidence in any one area we are left with what has become know has Ockham’s Razor. William of Ockham was a 14th century theologian who created the Law of Parsimony, most often expressed in Latin (pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate – plurality should not be posited without necessity) the law basically states that when competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions shall be considered correct. Or as Isaac Newton put it; “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

It is also interesting to point out as a side note that all three of these great men of science; Einstein, Ockham and Newton where also members of their respective churches (in Einstein’s case make that synagogue), but I digress.

Economists have a created a model for negotiation and forecasting called Game Theory, also known as a Sum Game. In a sum game you chart all of the potential outcomes of an event on a board. On one side you put all of the potential outcomes for one party, both good and bad and on the other side you put corresponding outcome for the other party. If party A achieves outcome X then party B will be affected in manner Y and so on.

The ultimate goal of such an exercise is to figure out what are the best possible outcomes for both parties and how to achieve that goal. This is known as the win-win. The end result is almost never an equal win for both parties however; there is always one party that wins more. The art of negotiation is to know when to accept what you have won and move on, either recognizing that you are negotiating from a position of weakness and cannot demand more or if you could get more to do so would un-necessarily oppress the other party and it is therefore prudent to stop. No one wants to lose so ending a negotiation in a win-lose scenario almost always results in some form of oppression and leads to civil unrest or war. In some instances a situation leads to a stalemate where neither party is willing to accept any of the solutions on the table. This leads to a long period of inaction that is generally only broken when the very act of not acting becomes itself a losing proposition. Stalemates are most commonly seen when unions go on strike until the financial cost to one party outstrips their cash reserves and forces them back to the negotiating table.

So, what does this have to do with “god” and Ockham’s Razor? Stay with me on this, we’ll get there I promise. But first we have to talk about one more thing.

Collective morality has evolved within societies as different cultures have rubbed up against one another and had to learn to live together. We can see throughout history that basic morality, right and wrong, are the same across multiple cultures through thousands of years. But where did all this morality come from?

If we play a sum game with evolving societies and collective morality we can see clearly that morality is a win-win. The sceptic will say “ah ha – if morality is a win-win then that proves there is no need for god, morality “evolved” because it just makes sense – we’ve got you!” But if morality evolved it would have had to have a beginning. Why wouldn’t the stronger party always go for the biggest win they could get? Remember we already established that win-win does not mean equal.

In fact win-win is against human nature. Human nature drives us to gain all we can and suffer the consequences later. Man has had to be taught to see the benefits of win-win and throughout history each generation has had to re-learn that lesson.

So if morality is not human nature and is something that has to be consciously taught to each new generation then it hasn’t really evolved at all. The seed of morality has always been there, innately within our human consciousness and it had to be planted somehow.

This brings us back to my friend William of Ockham. Sceptics will say that morality evolved naturally as man learned to live together but can never give a satisfactory answer as to how the seed got planted. I say the simplest explanation is the truest – that morality was planted in the brain of man by design.

Who or what that designer is and how you respond is a discussion for another time. All I ask is that you keep an open mind just like the great religious scientists of our past did.

>How To Get Rich (or at least not go broke)


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O God, I beg two favors from you;
let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. Proverbs 30:7-9

Hettie Ruth Wallace was born in 1916 and raised in the town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. Maple Creek is a “one grain-elevator town” on the Canadian prairie almost exactly half way between Calgary and Regina. Then, as now, the main industry was agriculture.

Although not a licensed doctor, Hettie’s father had a smattering of medical education and in addition to his homestead on the edge of town he acted as somewhat of a local healer. In the winter of 1931-32, at the height of the depression, Maple Creek fell under the grips of a major flu epidemic. The nearly destitute “Doc” Wallace worked around the clock as one by one his neighbours fell ill and died. By mid-winter his own wife would be among the dead and devastated by the loss and exhausted from the constant demands of a sick population Wallace himself would fall ill and die before Easter, 1932.

A few weeks later, as spring was returning to the prairie sixteen year old Hettie boarded a train east to live with her cousins in Toronto. During the five day journey, surrounded by the desperate and destitute forced “ride the rails” in an effort to find work Hettie made a vow, NEVER to be a burden to anyone.

She got a job and started to pay her own way right from the start. Every week, after the groceries were purchased and rent paid every penny left over was put away. She married Fred Britton, a tool and die maker from the smoke stack community of Oshawa, Ontario in 1938 and continued to squirrel away money, even just one or two dollars at a time, for the next 70 years. She raised two daughters, was blessed with seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Other than a mortgage that was guaranteed by Fred’s WWII veteran’s pension, they never carried any debt.

Hettie and Fred were a perfect embodiment of the Protestant work ethic. Work hard, spend less than you make, and do if for a really long time and you will amass a fortune that is the envy of most of the world. The generation that defeated Hitler taught us these things and ushered in the longest and largest economic expansion in history. For two decades from 1953 to 1973 the western economy grew an average of 5% percent per year, with the average household income more than doubling in that time period. But as this generation started to retire and live off their hard earned savings something changed.

As Daniel Bell put it 1976, “The Protestant ethic was undermined not by modernism but by capitalism itself. The greatest single engine in the destruction of the Protestant ethic was the invention of the instalment plan, or instant credit.” (The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism).

Somewhere around the middle of this expansion corporations realized that people were sitting on a lot of money and in order for the expansion to continue they had to start spending it. One of the most effective ways to get people to spend money is to convince them that they have even more – the solution was credit. Buy now, pay later. Why? Because you deserve it and you’re going to make the money eventually anyway.

Thirty years after Bell made that observation the result, according to a recent issue of Maclean’s Magazine, is that the average Canadian home is now carrying unsecured debt equivalent to 140% of their annual income. Put another way, if you make $80,000 per year, you owe $112,000 on credit cards. The average rate of interest on unsecured debt is 16% with minimum payments roughly the equivalent of amortizing the principle over 5 years. That means if you stop using your cards today and paid only the minimum balance it would take a grand total of 386 months (just over 32 years) to completely eliminate your debt. Most people would likely accelerate their payments as things got easier but if we all decided to do this the economy would grind to a halt, throwing millions out of work and exacerbating the problem beyond imagination.

Having hitched our wagon to the train of easy credit can we ever go back? I don’t have the answer to that but what I do know is that we can’t continue down this path. If we all just asked a few questions before we made a purchase it could make all the difference in the world.

“Will I still be paying for this after I’m finished using it?”
“Will it become obsolete before I’m finished paying for it?”
“Will I end up owing more than I make?”

If the answer to any of these questions is yes – you can’t afford it and if you still want to purchase the item you better save up your money first.

So here is my modest pledge; In the spirit of Hettie and Fred Britton I promise to stop spending more than I make and hope you will to….

Hettie Ruth Britton (nee. Wallace) died in early September 2008 at the age of 92 – completely free of debt. Fred Britton, 94 years young, continues to live a productive and financially secure life 29 years after retirement, just blocks from the home he shared with Hettie for over 60 years.

Happy Valentine’s Day Grandpa! – thanks for the legacy.

>Food is NOT a Weapon of War


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If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17

I am growing increasingly concerned about what has been termed, the Militarization of Aid.

Last week Dr. Christophe Fournier, the president of Doctor’s Without Boarders spoke out against the military control of aid saying that dispersing of food and medical supplies is usually done with strategic objectives in mind rather than humanitarian ones. Dr. Fournier cited Kabul, Afghanistan as an example where these supplies are still desperately needed but aren’t getting through because it is a politically stable area. Instead the military is diverting aid to outlying areas as a way to “win the hearts and minds of the people.” This policy is sure to backfire. Not only are they planting seeds of destabilization in the areas they neglect but by aligning with a military force in a hostile area humanitarian aid workers and even the recipients of aid are becoming targets themselves.

Of course the argument is that the humanitarian aid convoys need the protection of the military to do their work otherwise they wouldn’t be able to travel into some of these areas at all but is that really the case? What would happen if the Red Cross, or Red Crescent as it’s known in the Muslim world were to engage directly with the Taliban, no strings (or military convoys) attached?

Indeed what would happen if one man, acting alone, with a truck load of food were to set out from Kabul on a sort of Robin Hood mission to the first group of hungry people he met? Would he get shot or kidnapped? No – most likely he’d get arrested and brought back to the city for his own “protection”.

But what if he did manage to make contact with the locals? I think he’d be a hero and likely do more to win the hearts and minds of the people in one afternoon than the military could do in a month. Of course the other point is that he doesn’t need to set out from the relative safety of Kabul at all. There are plenty of hungry people right there in the city that aren’t receiving any assistance from the military and are slowly turning to the insurgency themselves.

This past week the United Kingdom hosted a conference on the future of Afghanistan in London. By my count there have been at least 5 such conferences held in various cities around the world since 2002, in Geneva, Rome and New York to name a few. There is always big talk about development and of weaning farmers off opium production but not once have we come away with any kind of concrete plan for addressing public health or food security. The conferences have never been held on Afghan soil and you cannot affect lasting change unless the most effected stakeholders are present.

It’s time to stop treating Afghans like children and give them a stake in their own future. Even invite some Taliban leaders to the table provided they aren’t affiliated with Al-Kida, and see what happens. If you truly want to win the hearts and minds of the people, put down your guns, pick up some bread and start talking.

What have these irreligious Christians come for that they write on their cards, “don’t approach, keep away”? If these bloody foreigners try to stay away from us, then for what reason have they come to our country? Posted on a pro-taliban website; Kabul, Afghanistan 2002