Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hunger in Our Backyard

How important is food to you?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? But according to our local Health Unit, 8.2% of the population of Leeds and Grenville Counties reported food insecurity (hunger) last year. That’s almost 6000 hungry local households in my area.

For those of us with enough to eat, these statistics may seem shocking. We can’t tell by passing someone on the street whether they’ve eaten anything nutritious recently. But ask any school teacher about the need for ‘breakfast clubs’, lunch stashes, and cafeteria vouchers, and you’ll realize that there are hungry children in this city. And where the children hunger, so do the adults.

This past week, the Health Unit gathered participants from their fall ‘Food Matters’ Campaign to discuss their experience of living off charity food for a week. Many of our civic leaders spent a week living off a three day supply of food from their local food bank and whatever meals they could find from Churches and community kitchens (like the local Pier Church’s meal program, or Loaves and Fishes Restaurant).

All participants, who should be heartily commended for this act of solidarity, spoke of the hardship of dealing with the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits, the blandness of the packaged food, and the difficulty of making the food stretch. They reported trouble focusing, and a sense of gratitude that it was only a one week experiment. None of course experienced the issues that poor families often have with no transportation (how do you get the food home?), lack of cookware, or figuring out how to make a non-existent budget stretch to shelter, clothing, or children’s needs. Or the hopelessness of seeing no end in sight.

Discussions afterwards focused on better ways to feed our community. I was impressed by the many creative ideas, the dedication of those present from all walks, and the leadership by the Health Unit.

Food banks are important, as are community gardens, low income restaurants and Church dinners. One participant pointed out that the dinners in particular provide a social outlet for people who may hunger for more than food. The volunteers who run Food Banks and community meals deserve our deepest gratitude and active participation. But while we should keep the practice of creating community, these also rely on charity, and charity is not enough.

It’s time for our politicians to really ask themselves the question of how they will resolve the issue of poverty. It’s not okay that you have to be a mathematical genius to budget on our social assistance programs, or that so many working families are one crisis away from hunger. It's not okay that parents must choose between eating or letting their children go to birthday parties. It’s not okay that hungry people must hope that the Churches and citizens of their town are feeling generous if they want to eat.

By the way, it’s no surprise to me that people of faith and Churches do so much to combat poverty. The kingdom of God is not accessed through a statement of creed, but rather through the living Word, action on behalf of the poor and marginalized. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my own, you do to me.” (Matt 25:40)

But we can do better. We must. In Ontario we need to figure out how to include the $100 healthy food supplement for people on assistance. We need to fund community gardens for all. We need public transportation that allows access to jobs, banks, clinics, and food. We need incentives for businesses to hire full-time workers with benefits, not a succession of low-paid casuals.

And more than anything else, we need creative compassionate political leadership at all levels of government that will make ending poverty their first priority.

Image from

More on Freedom Flotilla

Harmeet Sooden responds to Israel's condemnation of the Freedom Flotilla. I'd never heard of 'Scoop' before. Looks like a great independent journal.

Picture from

Monday, June 20, 2011

Freedom Flotilla

This coming week, the world is coming to the suffocating, captive land of Gaza.

Beyond the walls of this besieged area of humanity lies poverty, unemployment, hunger, lack of medical care and waning hope. Israel continues to hold the people of Gaza collectively responsible for terrorist acts in clear contravention of the UN Declaration of Rights. This bombed land, where movement is restricted and everyone treated as a criminal, needs our voices and our help. Forty-five percent of the population is unemployed, hunger is rampant, and medical care scarce. Something needs to be done.

So, peace activists from around the world are gathering on ships to head into Gaza carrying medical supplies and food.

Israel, predictably, wants none of it. Last year, when the first flotilla tried to approach, Israeli soldiers boarded the ships in international water in the middle of the night and killed nine unarmed peacemakers. There were no weapons on board. Even so Israel has made it clear that they will use force once again, possibly including snipers.

Israel has the right to defend itself. But it does not have the right to starve out, dislodge, abuse and bomb (horrifically and at length) an entire people. Nor does it have the right to forbid travel in international waters. Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, jointly dismayed by Israel’s abuse of Gaza, are calling for help. In Canada this includes over 150 civil rights organizations as diverse as Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, and the London District Labour Council.

The flotilla, comprised of citizens from many countries including 35 from Canada, has called on the UN or another international body to inspect their ships to put the Israeli government at ease. So far this has not been sufficient and the flotilla remains under threat of attack from the Israeli army. But the fifteen boats, including the Tahrir (‘liberation’) from Canada, are going anyway.

To those who are going, including Queens Professor Robert Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Harmeet Singh Sooden of CPT, novelist Alice Walker, politician Manon Masse and filmmaker John Greyson, I say thank you and God bless you for your courage and commitment to justice and peace. To our politicians, I say please, stand up for what is right.

Our Canadian history remains stained by a past that has not always reflected a commitment to human rights. I think only of our treatment of indigenous peoples, or Japanese-Canadians during WWII, or Jewish refugees during the same war whose boats were turned away from Canada and sent back to Germany to certain death. Could we stand on the side of right this time? Could we be a voice for justice? Could we care for our distant neighbours as God calls us to?

For more information go to or Then write to Stephen Harper at, and ask him to publicly support the flotilla. We can’t all go, but we can all send our spirit and speak up for what is right, true, just and compassionate in this world.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011


I believe I've finally fixed the comment function for this website. To leave a comment, click on the title of a post. This should open a comment box at the bottom of the piece. Hopefully that'll do it! Looking forward to hearing your views and opinions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 20th Day of Solidarity

The clock is ticking towards June 20th, the National Day of Solidarity for Canada’s Indigenous People. On that day Canadians will gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in other venues around the country to show their support for our First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.

Why is such a day necessary? Perhaps because suicide rates in Canada are five to six times higher for Indigenous youth as they are for other Canadians. Perhaps because Canada’s Indigenous women are far more likely to face violence than anyone else. Perhaps because the Canadian government continues to abuse the lands of Indigenous peoples without respect for history, tradition or environment.

This truth was highlighted again on April 29th when the largest oil spill of the past thirty-five years in Alberta spilled out onto the land of the Lubicon Cree. The Lubicon never ceded their land to the Canadian government, but this has not stopped logging and oil companies from exploiting the community’s resources. In Alberta, companies are ‘self-regulating’ in terms of environmental regulation. Imagine how effective that is.

Canadians need to listen more carefully to Indigenous peoples. We need to learn about the history, way of life and current struggles of the country’s first inhabitants. We need to challenge current approaches and insist that human rights be respected for all Canada’s citizens.

And there’s one more small concrete thing we can do:

We can make a banner. Kairos, the social justice organization of 11 Canadian churches, is calling on Canadians to participate in their ‘Roll with the Declaration’ campaign and send banners to Ottawa for June 20th. The 2 x 4 banners, calling on the Canadian Government to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, will be collected this week at train stations across Canada. In Ottawa they will be attached together with Velcro to make an eye catching statement of solidarity.

My banner is almost done. Will you join me?

More information on the June 20th celebration as well as how to make a simple banner (and where to deliver it) is available at

Monday, June 6, 2011


We built a Church my second year in Malawi. I was twenty-one years old, Catholic, not a missionary. But my volunteer teaching contract had already exposed me to more pain, more joy, and more eye-opening, soul-expanding experience than I had bargained for. With no television, computer, telephone, video games or anything else to tempt and distract me away from real encounters with poverty, friendship, celebration and, well, God, I needed worship.

The nearest Catholic Church was a four kilometer walk across maize fields and woods. Services were in Chichewa, the local language, but my visits caused such a stir that I dreaded them. It’s not that people weren’t kind and welcoming – they were, in more ways than I could handle – to such an extent that I felt put on display and found it hard to settle into the kind of contemplative meditation that I treasure in the Catholic Mass. I was the only non-Malawian present, a clear outsider, and people fell over themselves to make sure I was comfortable, obliging me to sit on a scavenged chair in the center of the ramshackle building, checking on my well-being, smiling and watching me for the entire mass. Protests went unheard. Throughout the service, people craned around, children stared and pointed, and I felt I had ruined the celebration for everyone.

Had I been older, I might have stayed with that Church and rode out the novelty until people accepted that I was just another parishioner. But I was already doing that at my school, and I craved a place to worship where I wouldn’t be such an outsider.

My roommate, also a Christian but not Catholic, suggested we try a new Church she’d heard about in the capital city Lilongwe. We had motorbikes so the 25 km ride would be manageable. The congregation was meeting in a rented room, and she had heard that it included Malawians and expatriates. She assured me that, although it was nominally Baptist, there were attendees from all different Christian backgrounds.
We rode in with some trepidation on our first Sunday, dust flying behind us, signaling our need for prayer and community. Sure enough the congregation was welcoming and diverse, and still majority Malawian. I had never attended a Baptist service before, but enjoyed the music, prayer and sense of common reaching for God. The congregation had raised enough money for a Church building, and ground was just being broken.

Over the course of the next few months, we continued to worship, plan and build. I contributed little I admit, having no expertise in building, and no knowledge of the needs of a Church. I helped clear debris, and assisted with planting when the time came. Funding was provided by generous donors from the States. But all ideas were welcomed, including mine. I would still attend the Catholic Church from time to time – the mass had meaning for me, and I missed it. But I considered the Baptist Church my home.

The Church took shape rapidly, but what truly left an imprint on me, was the coming together of all these people from different nations and faiths, with a common desire for worship and community. Many of us were from different denominations, and this enterprise required understanding, listening, patience and tolerance. It worked.
I didn’t agree with all the theologies I heard. No doubt many people disagreed with me too. But we didn’t stop conversing.

As we approach Pentecost, I’m reminded of those days of sharing. After that experience, I found myself seeking out other denominations, and taking the time to listen and learn. There are hidden truths in each of our churches, clarity of vision, a commonality of purpose that we need to remember.

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Mary, they burst forth in conversation, in desire for community, for building the kingdom of God beyond denominations, beyond languages, beyond barriers of all kinds. The Holy Spirit still calls us to this, to build a Church for all, embracing difference, invoking Christ.