>2010-01-01


>The Christmas Season has been hectic, as usual, and I haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and work through some of my more recent Earworms. I wanted to take this opportunity though to let you know what has been on my mind even if I can’t give it the thorough analysis it deserves. That will just have to wait a bit longer.

First off, a story that has been largely ignored by main stream media but exploded in the blogosphere lately has been the Canadian Government’s defunding of Kairos, a Christian Ecumenical Aid Organization that has been running development projects throughout the world for decades. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been providing tax-payer funding to Kairos for 35 years and up until November 30 all indications were that the funding would continue. Reasons given for pulling the funds (CDN $7.1 million dollars over 4 years, amounting to nearly half of the organization’s budget) are a bit suspect and seem to be more politically motivated than anyone is willing to admit.

The Earworm that has been settling in my head however has very little to do with the politics of the situation. My main question centers more around what happens when so called non-partisan organizations accept huge amounts of money for one source, be it a specific individual, other organization or government. Should they not then accept the risk that their benefactor my change their mind? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, he who pays the piper calls the tune and all that.

The other thought that I’ve been working on centers around Corporate Responsibility. Around the time of the UN Climate Change Conference last month, one of my friends told me that he believes the world economy is increasingly being controlled by a handful of the wealthiest individuals. If that were expressly true I’m sure we would know who they are but when people talk about this idea it’s presented as some vast conspiracy with shadowy puppet masters pulling strings far from the public eye. “The Company” in the Fox television show “Prison Break” is a good example of what this might look like but the theory just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Corporations are in business for one reason, to make money for their shareholders. In fact under US, and similar laws in almost every territory of the world, if the board of directors of a corporation makes a decision that they know will cause the company to lose money they can be sent to prison. It’s called “violation of fiduciary responsibility”.

In most cases the shareholders of the world’s largest corporations are not small numbers of the super rich but an army of individuals with their mutual funds and other forms of retirement savings. Thomas Friedman in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” termed these people The Electronic Herd. If the herd decides a corporation, or country for that matter, is making bad financial decisions they pull their money out in droves and literally bankrupt them in a matter of hours. In recent memory that is exactly what happened to Enron, Bear Stearns, Hollinger and the country of Malaysia.

So the bottom line is that changing the way corporations or countries behave in the world is more a function of influencing individual consumers like you and me than a handful of super rich untouchables. If we stop buying their products or trusting our retirement to their stability they will be forced to change the way they do business. Even if my friend is right those shadowy overlords of industry want to keep getting richer and they can’t do that if we stop buying their products. We cast ballots for corporate boards and the economies of entire countries every time we go to the mall.

May this be the decade when the world finally gets it.

>Abolishing the Death Penalty – The Ultimate Expression of Mercy


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The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth like a gentle rain from heaven. W. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

On 15 December the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called for a universal abolition of the Death Penalty.

www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=33259&Cr=pillay&Cr1=

As I stated in my new manifesto, ALL life is sacred. That means that punishment for any crime must never stoop to end the life of the accused even in cases of murder or genocide. Just because someone takes the life of an individual is not justification for taking theirs.

I can already hear many of my friends clearing their throats and getting ready to site all kinds of Judeo-Christian justification for the death penalty, eye for eye and all the hoo-ha.

Just think for one second and ask yourself why the United States is the only so called Christian Democracy still employing this barbaric form of punishment? Out of the most recent list of 26 countries still practicing the death penalty the United States ranks 5th behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and well ahead of such human rights pariahs as Libya, Sudan and Syria. Other than the United States the only other so called developed societies on the list are Japan and Singapore which together still executed fewer than half the number of criminals.

How do Christians justify this position? There are two Old Testament laws that are most often referenced.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:21

Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. Leviticus 24:21

At first glance it seems reasonable enough, equal punishment for an equal crime. But why then do we in the west recoil at reports of thieves who are sentenced to have their hands cut off while routinely sentencing people to death? We stopped maiming one another long ago but for some reason the death penalty persists.
In her statement High Commissioner Pillay said “I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”

For me it’s that last part that really rings true. Revenge never solved anything. Where is the grace and mercy in all of this?

Jesus held mercy in high esteem, saying in effect that those who were merciful would get as good as they give. (Blessed are the Merciful for they will receive Mercy, Matthew 5:7) It is the highest form of mercy and grace to say to the man who murdered your family, “I am within my rights to kill you, as stated in Leviticus above, but instead I will restrain myself and let you live out your natural life.”

If God is a God of mercy and if we are to be his followers we too must be people of mercy. There is no mercy in the death penalty and I agree with High Commission Pillay that it must be abolished.

>My New Manifesto – Life, Love and Service


>There it is; my purpose defined in a three words.

It’s taken about a month of research, careful thought and prayer but I think I’ve finally got it. What makes Lauren Sheil tick? An unwavering conviction that ALL life is sacred, the greatest commandment ever given is to love one another and that the best way to demonstrate those two convictions is through a life of service.

Life is Sacred
What does that mean? Does it mean I’m going to join P.E.T.A. or become a vegetarian? No, plants are living things too. I still have to eat but there is no point in un-necessary suffering or eating food that has a major impact on the environment. Short of moving to a farm and eating only what I raise myself it’s not possible to monitor everything about what I eat, just being conscious of it is enough.

What this really means is changing the lens with which I look at the world. Everything that affects the quality of life from obvious human rights violations to climate change policies has an impact. It goes way beyond being an environmentalist or animal rights activist. When all life is sacred there is no justification for war or oppression of any type, just as there is no justification for clear cutting forests, dumping toxic waste into a river or capital punishment.

In my second entry on this blog I stated that Peace without Justice is Oppression (My Peace Statement, Aug 9, 2009) I believe that even more strongly today. Life is sacred and any action that devalues life is sin, plain and simple.

Love One Another

36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt. 22:36-39

I’m going to upset a lot of people, Christians especially, when I say this but NOBODY does this right. Okay, maybe some people do but they are few and far between.

The first thing to note here is that Jesus was asked to give ONE law but ended up giving TWO. Why did he do that? I think it’s because they are impossible to separate. God is so deeply involved in the lives of people that you cannot demonstrate your love for him in isolation. So showing love to God with all your heart, soul and mind is done by showing that same love to your neighbour.

But who then is my neighbour? In Luke’s account of this same incident Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a well know story so I won’t recount it here but the bottom line is everyone is your neighbour; regardless of race, health, wealth or social standing! Most Christians I know would do well to stop here and read that again. We get a bad rap in the world because even non-Christians understand the meaning of this, they look to us to demonstrate it and all too often we fail. If Jesus were to tell this parable to Christians today he could just as easily call it the Good Muslim and instead of a traveller beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road it could be a gay man dying of AIDS.

God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts than some arbitrary rule of who’s inside or who’s outside of the circle. Suffering is suffering and loving service to individuals is the only appropriate response.

This brings me to my final point:

Service

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13″You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. John 13:12-14

The significance of foot washing has been lost in our modern context. Today when we come in to someone’s house we take off our shoes but in Jesus day when a person came in from the outdoors, especially after travelling a long distance they had to wash their feet. People wore sandals and so their feet would have obviously been dirty. In a larger house the job of washing a visitor’s feet would have fallen to the lowliest of servants. So when Jesus, the “Lord”, washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper it would have been shocking to everyone present, in fact Peter was so horrified at the thought that he initially refused to allow it.

Jesus teaching on how to show love comes down to this moment, as the most powerful human ever to walk the earth, he was in essence GOD, Jesus tells us to wash one another’s feet. Relinquish your “standing” in any situation and willingly do the most menial of tasks in the service of others.

So there you have it; my purpose in life and the reasoning behind it.

Respect Life, Love All and Serve.

>Rants from the Headlines


>In recent years, Canada on the international stage has become like the socially awkward, border-line retarded cousin who gets invited to Thanksgiving out of courtesy to grandma (Great Britten). You know the one he bums a ride with his cooler big brother (USA) and then stands in the corner with a face full of cheese puffs so nobody asks him anything important. He just smiles and nods at whatever big brother says half the time not understanding a word of it.

Gone are the days when Canada could take the lead on any international issues of note. Not since Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister in the 60s have we led a major UN project, the UN Peacekeeping force. In more recent years we squandered our chance to lead the way on land mines even though the movement was spearheaded by a prominent Canadian business man. In fact we almost failed to sign the treaty at all.

In the last few weeks international headlines about Canada have made us look like a nerdy, dithering, buffoon.

I first noticed when Prime Minister Harper announced he would not be attending the UN Climate Change meetings in Copenhagen. He cited the fact that it is really supposed to be a meeting of environment ministers, not heads of state. A reasonable enough excuse but two days later Barak Obama said he would be there and in a pathetic bid to seem relevant, Harper changed his mind. The situation got worse a few days later when, as the only Commonwealth country not to have signed the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change a proposal was put forth to suspend our membership in the 53 member group of former British colonies. Never in the history of the Commonwealth Organization has a country been suspended over environmental policy. The proposal was ultimately defeated but the president has been set nevertheless.

Prior to the current climate change brouhaha, news broke that back in the early days of the Afghan mission our soldiers had turned prisoners over to local authorities with full knowledge that they would likely be tortured. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention done more to prove a point to George W. Bush that we were serious about role after having refused to send troops to Iraq than for any real militarily relevant strategy.

This week Prime Minister Harper is in China. It is his first state visit to that country in 5 years. China is our second biggest trading partner and Chinese authorities have called it a snub to the importance the two countries place on each other that it has taken so long for Harper to make the trip. I cannot say I blame them.

And finally yesterday, after the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) had already approved a $7 million funding request KIAROS, a faith based development agency, the minister responsible refused to release the funds. The reason, after nearly 30 years of helping to represent Canada in the developing world, KIAROS, which has been critical of the government on climate change, no longer fits with the government vision of international development. This is hitting below the belt. Now every organization that relays on tax payer funds, no matter how well established and respected has to be careful not to offend the governing party or risk their entire existence. Way to go!

See the full story here;

ottawa-ceases-funding-of-overseas-human-rights-group

>Blessings – A Life Worth Living, part 3


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Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1-2

Before we get started with my analysis of The Sermon on the Mount, I need to make a few things clear.

#1 – I’m not a theologian. I have had no formal training in Bible study or religious doctrine. I won’t be writing line by line exegesis here, I’ll leave that to the professionals.

#2 – I’m really only writing this for me, as a way to work out my purpose in life. The fact that it is going out worldwide on the internet is secondary. I invite your feedback and would be honoured if God spoke to you through my work but that’s not the primary goal.

#3 – Jesus spoke this sermon to his disciples. It says so right in the text. To be sure many people were there listening in but most of this teaching is directed at his closest followers. This is a manual for life as a Christ Follower. If you’re “listening in” welcome but this really is Jesus Following 101.

Here we go!

The first thing that jumps out at me is the word blessed. It’s not a word we use a lot in our daily life so I looked up the definition.

Blessed; adjective; divinely or supremely favoured – Dictionary.com

Jesus begins his hillside chat was a list of 8 blessings, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12) Right from the start it is clear that he is advocating a counter cultural movement. Those that are to be “supremely favoured” are not what anyone would expect. Poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, seekers of righteousness, merciful, pure hearted, peacemakers, and persecuted. When you contrast this list with the things that our society gives favour to there are stark differences.

– Blessed are the Poor in spirit? Society says; blessed are the rich in self importance. We live in a narcissistic society that values confidence and self promotion. Get with the program. Jesus says; by recognizing your inadequacies you can enter life on a whole new level.

– Blessed are those who mourn? Society says; Get over it! Dust yourself off and get on with life, quit being such a downer. Jesus says; you will be comforted.

– Gentle? Society says; nobody ever got ahead by being gentle. Lead, follow or get out of the way! Jesus says; you will gain the whole world!

– Hunger and thirst for righteousness? Society says; what is righteous in our world of hyper choice and information overload? Who are you to claim that you are right about anything? Live and let live. Jesus says; you will learn the answers.

– Merciful? Society says; you deserve what you get, you should have known better. Every man for himself! Jesus says; you will be treated in kind.

– Pure in heart? Society says; see righteousness, you pansy! Don’t waste your time making decisions with your heart you’ll only end up with heartburn. Jesus says; God will reveal himself to you.

– Peacemakers? Society says; that’s military slang for a cruise missile. You want to make peace the fastest way is to wipe out your enemies. Jesus says; you are doing God’s work and will be recognized as part of his family.

– Those who are persecuted? Society says; there is no blessing in persecution. Don’t rock the boat. See Merciful. Jesus says; you will be rewarded for your commitment.

Living this list is not easy. I fail daily. Aligning my life with these blessings is a first step in defining and living out my purpose.

>A Life Worth Living, part 2


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Though simple sounding and easy to read, each beatitude offers a radical rearrangement of our ordinary value system, daring us to be different. What we find here, in short, are guidelines for true Christian character. Charles R. Swindoll, Simple Faith

The year was 1992. I had just left home for the first time. After 19 years of living in my parent’s house with their values I found myself on my own trying to find my way in the world.

I was still surrounded by other Christians. I had found work as a technician on tour with a Christian motivational speaker but much of what I experienced in that first year on the road was nothing like what I thought it meant to be a Christian. The rules of evangelical engagement; do this; don’t do that, turning a blind eye to obvious need while preaching a brand of “health and wealth” was like a foreign language. I’m a Mennonite boy from Southern Ontario, taught to live simply and trust God. All this “name it and claim it” you’ve already won, born again mumbo jumbo didn’t make any sense to me.

By Christmas, just 4 months into a 10 month contract I was burnt out. That’s when I saw an ad in a Christian magazine with the following headline;

In the Hurried Lives of too many Christians There’s a Peace Missing.


The advertisement was for a book by evangelical theologian Charles Swindoll called Simple Faith. This was exactly what I needed. The more I listened to the motivational message I was paid to help deliver the more I felt that they were muddling it up and leave a lot of pieces out. K.I.S.S. was my personal mantra – Keep Is Simple Stupid!

I had heard of Swindoll a few years earlier. He had gained some notoriety in Christian circles with his other book, The Grace Awakening and so without knowing very much about the premise of his follow up work, other than the title and the headline in that magazine, I went out and bought it.

As it turned out, it was a detailed analysis and commentary on what is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Jesus longest single speech in any of the Gospels. Practically all of Jesus teaching either further explains or expands on ideas first put forth in this speech. It is possible to build your entire relationship with Jesus solely on what is said in these 3 chapters of the first Gospel without missing a single major tenant of Christianity.

I recently returned to the Sermon on the Mount in my search for meaning and purpose and it was like sitting down in front of a warm fire with a nice cup of coffee and an old friend. No flashing lights or loud music and no wild claims of utopian bliss, just simple straight forward life coaching from the heart of God.

My purpose begins with putting Jesus’ teaching in the centre of it all and Jesus teaching boils down to the Sermon on the Mount.

For the next little while I’m going to dedicate this blog to my own analysis of this speech. Hopefully it will help me to refocus my purpose.

Lucky you – You’re invited along for the ride!

>A Life Worth Living


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Why are we here? What’s life all about? Monty Python

One of the reasons for this blog is to help me to continually work out my place in the world. My wife brought home a book from the library last week called “It’s Not what you Sell, It’s what you Stand For” by Roy M. Spence Jr.

Mr. Spence is a partner at a marketing and advertising firm in Austin TX and has worked with some of the best known brands in the world from Wal-Mart to former president Bill Clinton’s, Clinton Global Initiative. The primary thesis of the book is that you must figure out what you stand for, and align it with your work first and foremost. If you don’t you just bounce from one thing to another without ever making a lasting impact, individuals who don’t understand their purpose float from job to job or relationship to relationship. Purpose is True North on your compass. If you understand your purpose decision making comes down to one question, will this get me closer or further away from True North?

So I’m working on a statement of purpose.

So far I come to the realization that I view human life as absolutely sacred. Whether or not you define life with some divine meaning as I do most of you can agree that all human life is equally valuable. Let me be clear, I am not interested in a debate over the origins of life. Don’t try to draw me into some endless, pointless circle of creationism versus evolution or a pro-life argument over when human life actually begins. I don’t care! Whatever marker you use to define it; Life is Sacred.

With that as my starting point things like war, political oppression, murder, capital punishment, environmental degradation (wilful or inadvertent) the spread of poverty through preventable disease and just plain selfish ignorance are all evil! I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t also acknowledge that as a Christ Follower I stand convicted of every one of these things.

My heart breaks daily;

– When I learn that the average age of girls trapped in prostitution all over the world is 12.
– When thousands die as a Tsunami takes out coastal settlements in Indonesia.
– When children can’t walk safely to school for fear of harassment in Palestine.
– When millions continue to die of AIDS in Southern Africa because they can’t get access to life saving drugs.

But simply stating that Life is Sacred is not a purpose. My purpose in life is not to say that life is sacred and move on. My purpose is to live daily with that realization first and foremost on my heart and react to the world around me in kind.

– Help the prostitute get off the street and find a better life.
– Help clean up and rebuild after the Tsunami.
– Protect children from wars and civil unrest.
– Provide drugs and other life giving services to the sick and dying.

“The true joy of life is being used by a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one.” George Bernard Shaw.

Now that is a life worth living.

>Universal Healthcare


>I just spent that last 24 hours with my wife at Credit Valley Hospital in our home town of Mississauga Ontario. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, we are a city of just under 1 million on the western edge of Toronto. You might say that we are to Toronto what Burbank is to Los Angeles.

There has been much talk in the media lately about universal healthcare. Republicans in the US have used the Canadian system is a kind of boogie man in there debate with President Obama’s plan to over hall the system there. Our system is far from perfect, believe me. However; when you are in pain and need help the last thing you should be thinking about is how much this is going to cost.

As a resident (you don’t even have to be a citizen) of the province of Ontario I receive access to one of the best run emergency health care systems in the world. We do pay for it but the premiums deducted from our pay cheques through income assessments are based on our ability to pay, not our need or how much we use it. A healthy person who is rich pays more than a sick person who is poor on the assumption that the system is there for everyone when they need it. I pay roughly $100 per month for this access, others pay less and use it more but that’s okay.

In the last 24 hours my wife has undergone an x-ray, ultrasound and eventually had to have her gallbladder removed. She stayed overnight in a private room, had access to a private telephone line, received a meal and was given a prescription for pain medication. My total bill at the end of the day was $57.77. Half of that was for parking the other half for the prescribed drugs not covered by the government insurance plan. In two weeks she will return to the hospital for a follow up assessment by the surgeon, FREE. We visit our family doctor for routine ailments and check-ups on average 3-4 times per year, also FREE.

I don`t pretend to understand all the complexities of a government verses private health care system but when you need surgery to continue to live nothing else matters. Worrying about how you`re going to pay for it, whether or not your insurance company will cover it or if you will one day lose your coverage should never enter the debate. I know that if I lose my job tomorrow the Ontario government will no longer be getting their $100 per month from me but I will still have access to the same health care my wife needed today and that`s all the matters in the end.