Sunday, September 30, 2012

For Teachers

The halls flood with students, noise erupting from classrooms as the race begins for the door. September rushes to an end, signaling that the school year is well underway, with all its challenges and all its possibilities.

But it’s tough times to be in education. The world devalues what teachers do, tells them they are overpaid and underutilized. Despite the every-increasing demands placed on schools, educators are still viewed in some places as mere purveyors of facts, and the first to be hit by budget cuts to education.

But teachers know they are more than that. In a world that measures people on wealth and appearance, good teachers are gift-bearers and hope-bringers. They embrace our students’ present, and point to their future. They let our children know that they belong now, here, today in their classroom, regardless of what they look like, how they learn, and how well they do. Teachers provide an alternative to the media-centered ideal of what it means to be important and good.

Beyond and above everything else, teachers develop imaginations. They tell their students: imagine what this world could be like if we treated others with respect. Imagine what your future might bring if you just keep trying. Imagine a world of sustainability, justice and peace. Imagine the endless possibilities, like stars across the sky or fractions on the number line.

Teachers give students tools and knowledge, yes, but above all they give them hope. It’s all possible.

When the world tells teachers their work is worth little, I hope they will hold to faith. Because educators are involved in something bigger than themselves, something like hope, something like love. Some days they are the only ones standing between the future and an abyss for a student. Some days they are the only ones to make a child welcome in the world.

So teachers, what you do today matters. Your life, your vocation, is a gift and a blessing. As we head into October, may you keep spreading your blessings widely. It makes all the difference in the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Conscience and the Military: The Case of Kim Rivera

In 2007, American soldier Kimberly Rivera decided that she could no longer participate in the immorality of the US war on Iraq. She had seen for herself the lives lost and the horror of war. Two-thirds of the 100 000 casualties of the war on Iraq are civilians according to the US army’s own estimates. This ongoing persecution of innocents, and the fact that Iraq never has been a threat to the US, led her to take the radical and dangerous decision to refuse participation in an immoral war.

Rivera became a conscientious objector, resigned without permission from the military, and came to Canada to seek refuge. Three weeks ago, on August 30th 2012, the Canadian government ordered her deported to face court martial in the United States, almost certainly followed by prison time and a lifelong conviction. She has four small children.

Rivera has the support of many Canadians, and of Amnesty International. Twice parliament has voted to allow US Iraq war resisters to stay in the country, just as happened during the Vietnam war. Canadians understand the importance of personal conscience, of staying true to principles that matter. But the Harper government refuses to allow Rivera any justice.

Her case highlights the problem with the military. What if a war is illegal by international standards? What if it is conducted in a morally reprehensible way (assuming there actually could be such a thing as a morally acceptable way of violence)? In the years following WWII the Nuremburg tribunal made it clear that soldiers have a duty to refuse to follow illegal orders. Thus we do not excuse the soldiers who guarded the gates of Auschwitz.

We teach our children to think for themselves, to make their own decisions and to stand up for what they believe in. But in the military as young adults, they are told to follow orders, to let their superiors do the moral thinking for them about whether to kill or not to kill. They are separated from their conscience, and taught that obedience supersedes all. They are hoodwinked into believing that it is the one who makes the decision who is really the killer, that they are simply an innocent tool, while at the same time their officers are taught to believe that since they do not pull the trigger they too are innocent. Who then truly bears the burden of responsibility?

The answer is simple. Every person involved in the process from beginning to end bears responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Conscience overrides obedience every time. This is what the Nuremburg principles teach us. This is what Jesus teaches us when he rejects violence even to save himself. It is not about obedience. It is about a rational all-giving love, that asserts the dignity of the life of every human person.

If you would like to send a message to the Canadian government in support of Kim Rivera, go to (Picture from

Friday, September 7, 2012

Looking for Rainbows

The ark creaks against barren rock, washed clean by the endless flood. It catches and holds, stabilized at last against the mountain as the waters recede into rivers and valleys. Out of the doors pour animals and humans, fleeing each other, embracing the space of a wide-open world. But the humans tumble to their knees, breathless before the slash of brilliant color lighting the sky.

The rainbow first appears in the book of Genesis, the oldest book of the bible, written thousands of years ago. It marks the end of the story of Noah’s ark, the survival of humanity in the midst of destruction and despair. It testifies to humanity’s awe before beauty, and our willingness to see the touch of God in the world around us. The story tells us that the rainbow marks God’s promise to us, the presence of the Divine in human life for all time.

But the rainbow tells us something else. It tells us to trust in a reality beyond what we see on any given day, in any given place. Apparently many types of animals cannot see rainbows. Their eyes lack the ability to distinguish colors, so a rainbow covered sky means nothing. It does not exist. It is not real.

We humans are programmed to doubt anything we cannot see, touch, hear or smell. If we were colorblind we would not believe rainbows existed. But unlike animals, it’s not that we can’t see, it’s that we don’t allow ourselves to see. We turn from the face of the other. We turn from our invisible soul. Yet we cannot see our own soul without first seeing the soul of our neighbor.

The soul thrives on compassion, hope, and love. It grows in the company of others. It has eyes of its own, that seek out the poor and oppressed, that cannot stand the pain of suffering and loneliness. This is why Jesus cries to us to care for the poor. This is why Jesus exhorts those who have eyes to see - really see- the truth of relationship, wisdom, and care.

When we reach out to the bullied, the forgotten, the poor, the oppressed, the brother, and the sister, we reach for rainbows. We witness to a truth beyond the mundane and every day. We celebrate the multicolored hues of diversity and difference. We recognize a kingdom of color beyond the grey of our daily existence. We hear laughter in silence, and see light in the dark.

This is a world we can find. It is a world we can create. It is a world we are called to every single day by a God who walks with us, whatever we choose to do, whatever we choose to see.

The topic of blindness returns again and again throughout scripture. Over and over we are told by one prophet after another to look in a different way, to seek in the physical world what lies beyond it. Here we find faith rooted in love. Here we find vision beyond vision, and reality beyond the real. Here we find our ever present, invisible, multi-colored, all-embracing, always loving God.