Saturday, November 30, 2013

That Bethlehem Journey...

I originally wrote this for my teacher friends, but I think many people can appreciate the strains that arise as the days get darker, shorter, colder...

The Bethlehem journey, it’s like this. That whole embarrassing incident with the unexpected son-of-God pregnancy? Finally fading. Those first weeks of marriage have been negotiated, discovering each other’s ‘real’ personality – all veneer gone, bad breath in the morning maybe, food peculiarities maybe, the one who wants silence when the other wants to talk. You know.

Like putting the honeymoon of September to bed, as the school year gets dark and real and rocky in late November.

But then just when everything seems to be settling down, the census gets called. Does it ever end? Damned Romans. Damned report cards. Another crisis – how to get to Bethlehem just when the baby is supposed to come? But the donkey gets loaded anyway, because it has to happen, because there is no other way, because the Romans don’t care. The journey south begins, through the heat and the rocky countryside, away from the beloved Sea of Galilee, far far away from September.

Suddenly Bethlehem appears on the horizon. Maybe everything will work out after all. But waters burst suddenly, and pains start, and there is nowhere to stop, no shelter, no home, no friendly face. Except one, an overworked innkeeper who offers a stable – a cave really – straw and a manger for the laboring mom. How did it ever get like this? The overwhelming impossibility of life when you just can’t catch a break, and you wonder where your friends are, and you wonder where it’s all going to end.

Like the classroom near the end of the term. When the marking piles up, and the parents don’t get it, and the children are lost and angry and sad and disorganized, and you wonder how you’re ever going to make it through.

And then there’s that first cry. That tiny fist. That student who makes you sweat, or swear, but for whom you make all the difference. Maybe they won’t tell you for a day, or a month, or a year, or ten years. Maybe they’ll never tell you. But you know.

The world shifts, and you realize that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, that there is life here and it matters, and that it’s being fed back to you, one day at a time, and that you are not alone.

You realize you are sometimes the innkeeper, and sometimes the parent, and even sometimes the angel, singing off-key maybe but singing anyway, because some student needs a cheerleader, because there is no one else.

You realize that this educating business is worth one more step, one more reach, one more effort, one more day.

You realize that the heat and the dark rocky road and the smelly stable of your classroom hold a little bit of heaven.

You realize that you’re at the beginning, not the end, of a journey.

You realize that every day is the birth of what is yet to come.

You realize that the angels sing for every one of your students.

And you realize, finally, that the angels sing for you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thank You, Eve

I don’t know what Eden looked like, with its trees, mountains, birds, animals and God-breath everywhere. But once in a while I hear a song, look into the eyes of my beloved, hear my children laugh, or catch a sunset, a waterfall, a falling star. The curtains of heaven part, and there it is, all of it, lying before me. And the air I breathe is love itself.

Eve never knew this before the fruit. Never knew what she had. Never knew what she could lose. And so I’m grateful for that first bite, that choice, that decision, which cures me in sudden unexpected moments from my blind and deaf ignorance to all that is real and true and good and wonderful.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bangladesh Garment Workers


"There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness." These ominous words came from Kasturba Gandhi (Gandhi's wife) more than half-a-century ago. How haunting they are now in light of recent events in Bangladesh.

The tragic collapse of the factory in Bangladesh this week and the resulting deaths of more than 400 workers has left me angry beyond words. It seems as if the world is sitting up and taking notice this time. Perhaps this is a good thing, but we all should feel profound shame at the lack of action around worker safety in the garment factories that dot the landscape in countries like Bangladesh. Sadly, our fingerprints are all over this disaster.

In 2010, a fire at the Hameem factory in Dhaka took the lives of 146 workers. In November of 2012, another factory fire resulted in the deaths of 112 workers. These incidents reveal some haunting similarities:

Most of the dead were young women.
Unbelievably, in both fires, the doors were locked. Security guards are ordered to lock the gates to prevent the theft of garments.
The sewers laboured under horrific conditions earning wages in the vicinity of 28 cents an hour and working shifts that are as long as 14 hours.

This week, workers returned to work on Wednesday morning despite seeing a crack in the foundation that went all the way up to the fifth floor. Fearing for their safety, many workers did not want to return to their sewing machines on Wednesday morning. However, they were told that if they did not report to duty - they would lose their wages for the entire month!! So, these young women were given a choice. Go up and work and pray that you are not crushed to death by a building on the verge of collapse or have your children go without food. Sadly, the wreckage and devastation that has been broadcast across our airwaves confirms the choice that was made. Down below the workers in the bank and offices on the main floor did not return to work due to the very same safety concerns. It seems like the Titanic tragedy from years earlier where the poor were locked down below while the upper class escaped to safety.

This is a snapshot of life in a sweatshop in the developing world. This is where virtually all of our "stuff" comes from. The aforementioned factories produced clothing for The GAP, Wal-Mart, Disney and Loblaws among other retailers. The retailers are quick to offer token sympathies and insist that they demand legitimate safety standards from the factories where our unending demand for more stuff is satisfied. However, the same companies avoid any serious attempts to accept any real responsibility for the death and destruction that takes place on their watch. Both Wal-Mart and Sears refused to attend a conference held in Geneva to discuss compensation to families impacted by the 2012 fire.

As the images of this latest disaster sift into public consciousness, some companies are responding with a renewed commitment to uphold fire and safety standards in all the production factories they do business with. It is time that we all demanded much more than that. Let's start with our unconditional insistence that all workers are paid a decent living wage with real human benefits and the right to organize. In July 2010, when garment workers in Bangladesh struggled for a 35-cent-an-hour wage, women were attacked, beaten with clubs, shot with rubber bullets and hosed down with powerful water cannons, using a dye so protesting workers could be identified and arrested.

This is the real face of globalization and we should be outraged. Silence is complicity - and it is time for all people of good will to demand real, meaningful change.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Holding Time: For Boston

Eleventh hour, twenty-sixth mile, moment before the moment of celebration…
Ripped apart
Beyond sound
Beyond possible
Beyond why
Empty, wordless silence, explosive void
Nature abhors a vacuum
Angels rush in, fill the abyss, staunch the blood
Hold the hand
Hold the Spirit
And hold
And hold
Until it is time to run again.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Idol, No More (A Teen Perspective)

I welcome Luke Carroll as guest blogger today. Luke is a grade 12 student,deeply concerned with human rights issues, basketball, and his next meal.

Canada once was a nation that I could look up to as a teenager, something like an idol to me, and maybe other nations. We made mistakes but the country was at least trying to follow its morals. Canada stayed away from wars like Iraq, We had great health care; we care for the poor. Now what do we have?

We pulled ourselves out of the Kyoto agreement saying that we would take care of environmental issues in our own ways. What has happened? Nothing. Just recently a Canadian mining company won a court case allowing them to set up a gold mine in a recovering El Salvador against the wishes of the Salvadoran people and their government. What is there to be proud of now?

Enter Idle No More. The new omnibus bills, passed without proper consultation with First Nations, have just crossed the line. Our treatment of aboriginals in this nation has been disgraceful at best in the past but now it is something completely different. We have forgotten that they were the first ones here and that they helped us develop. We can also never forget about the poor treatment they received from fellow Canadians. Forgotten treaties, residential schools, racism etc.

It has now come to a point where I wonder as a teenager what there is to be proud of, in this great nation of ours. Saying this does not make me anti-Canadian, it just means that I also believe that it is time for a change. Theresa Spence is on this hunger strike for the same reason. She wants a great nation. So do I.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Somewhere on this dark cloud

Floats a wisp of hope

Angel feather-light

A breath

Drawing tomorrow

Unspoken, unheard, as-yet-undreamed

Just there, just now…


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Idle No More (and the Pharaoh)

Truth is, like most middle class white Canadians, I don’t know enough about First Nations affairs. Sure, every once in a while an issue arises that demands my attention. I’m thinking of the Lubicon Cree and the Tar Sands, or the Ardoch and their fight to save their land from uranium mining, or the travesty of residential schools, or the Kashechewan crises, or the Attawapiskat housing problems, or the disappearance and death of way, way too many aboriginal women. I’ve signed petitions, made banners, handed out leaflets and educated myself as much as possible. But in the end, I’m still a ‘settler’, and my knowledge of things aboriginal barely scratches the surface.

The question is then, should I have anything to do with Idle No More?

As I see it, Idle No More stands for fundamental relationships: Relationships between peoples, relationships between the environment and humanity, relationships between past and present. It’s about learning from others' experience, going forth in conversation and most importantly, standing up for the things that matter.

It matters whether we have clean water. It matters whether we can breathe the air of this planet. It matters whether animals and plants can live, not just as food for us, but as part of vital ecosystems with value in their own right. It matters that we honour treaties. Histories matter, traditions matter, forests matter, lakes matter, religion matters, housing matters, and responsible government matters.

At this point Canada is rated by most organizations (pick any one) as one of the worst environmental offenders. Forget Kyoto, or Rio. The Harper government’s environmental and economic policies reflect a slash, burn and sell attitude that is wresting Canada out from under us, even as we twiddle our thumbs obliviously watching reruns during this non-NHL season. Bill C-45 with all its blatant erosions of treaty rights and environmental protections will be implemented easily if we as Canadians display our usual limited interest. It’s already passed but it can be opposed if we care enough.

Enter ‘Idle No More’. The name says it all. This is about paying attention. It is about caring whether or not our treaties are upheld. It is about caring about whether our lakes and rivers are protected. It is about caring whether all Canadians have access to homes, education and water. It is, in short, about caring, just caring. And then pulling ourselves out the door during this cold January weather and doing something about it. Like Chief Spence. Like the four women who started Idle No More.

The bible as usual has ancient reminders for us about our situation. Few people notice that the Book of Exodus begins with a description of Pharaoh’s greedy environmental and economic policy. He is hoarding food in the store-cities of Pithom and Ramses even as he turns into an oppressor to the Israelites, those whose ancestors had been welcomed as guests at his own ancestor’s table. The Pharaoh of Exodus has betrayed the hospitality of his people to the ruin of all.

How is this relevant? Harper has become our modern day Pharaoh. He believes, wrongly, that the land is his to dispose of how he sees fit. He believes, wrongly, that he need not sit down at a table with those whose ancestors entered into treaty with his nation. He believes, wrongly, that this will end well for him.

But it takes a people to stop a Pharaoh. It takes people like the Egyptian midwives or Pharaoh’s daughter, who entered into solidarity with those who were threatened most. It takes people who won’t rest until justice is done. It takes our first nations people, and it takes me, and it takes you.

Idle No More Facebook page:
For an excellent reflection by Naomi Klein go to:
For a decent outline of Idle No More FAQs: