Devastation in Fort McMurray

beacon-hillFire officials battling a raging wildfire are braced for another hot, dry and windy day in Fort McMurray, Alta., warning that the situation could be as bad or worse than the day before, when whole neighbourhoods burned down and the entire city was evacuated.

With strong winds likely to fuel the fire, thousands of residents have fled the city and up to 20,000 evacuees are expected to arrive in Edmonton.

Allen said the focus Tuesday was to get residents out of the community to keep them safe. On Wednesday, efforts will be focused on fighting the blaze and protecting critical infrastructure, including the bridge that spans the Athabasca River and links the two sides of the city.

The next update from the Wood Buffalo municipality is expected at 11 a.m. MT.

Late Tuesday, provincial and fire officials reported several residential neighbourhoods in the oilsands capital that they believe have been lost to fire.

They also warned that Wednesday would not necessarily be any easier.

“The worst of the fire is not over,” said Bernie Schmitte, manager of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “We’re still faced with very high temperatures, low relative humidity and some strong winds.”

Robin Smith, press secretary for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said no buildings were on fire as of about 6 a.m. Smith said the focus for fire crews is to ensure no one is hurt and to prevent damage to critical infrastructure, with a focus on protecting the neighbourhoods of Timberly and Thickwood.

Read the rest here. And pray for rain; that’s the absolute best thing that could happen right now.


Thank you, Ma’am

I was born in 1958 and will soon be turning fifty-seven. In that time, I believe, there haveQueen 88th been twelve prime ministers of Britain, but only one Queen. I almost don’t know how to process that, but it’s a fact.

So today Queen Elizabeth II becomes Britain’s longest reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria. There have been several congratulatory posts on Facebook, and for every one of them, there have been abusive replies from angry people talking about how we should abolish the archaic, blood-sucking institution of the monarchy. For myself I take a pretty pragmatic approach; I’m not an especially enthusiastic monarchist, but I like the idea of having a non-political head of state who can be a focus of unity for the country. I don’t like wealth and privilege, but neither do I like the fact that it’s impossible to be elected president of the United States unless you have great wealth – or that after serving eight years as president (which seems a tiny fraction of Queen Elizabeth’s 63 years!) you can command $25,000 per speech on the lecture circuit. In other words, my attitude is ‘Well, yes, I don’t like every aspect of the monarchy, but I like the other systems even less’.

So today I’m happy to join with those who are congratulating Queen Elizabeth for her many years of service to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. Thank you, Ma’am, and may God keep you well; your potential successors don’t look quite so impressive!

Praying for our enemies – when the rubber hits the road

image.phpBishop Angaelos is the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United
Kingdom. This is his outstanding statement regarding the most recent brutal murders of Christians by ISIS in the Middle East. All I can say is, this man is showing us how to follow Jesus. Our prayers and thoughts are with those who have been martyred for their faith, and with their families, their friends, and their churches.

Statement by HG Bishop Angaelos following the murder of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

The confirmation of the murder of Ethiopian Christians by Daesh (IS) in Libya has been received with deep sadness. These executions that unnecessarily and unjustifiably claim the lives of innocent people, wholly undeserving of this brutality, have unfortunately become far too familiar. Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their Faith.

The Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia have had a shared heritage for centuries. Being predominantly Orthodox Christian communities with a mutual understanding of life and witness, and a common origin in the Coptic Orthodox Church, they now also share an even greater connection through the blood of these contemporary martyrs.

This sad news came on the day that His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury visited His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in Egypt to personally express his condolences following the similar brutal murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya by Daesh in February of this year.

These horrific murders have not only touched the lives of those in the Middle East and Africa, but have led to a greater sense of solidarity among people and communities around the world. I am thankful, in the midst of this pain, that the ghastly nature of these crimes is bringing a greater rejection of them, and of any ideology that sanctions, justifies or glorifies brutality and murder.

As people of faith and none who respect humanity and life, we must continue to speak out against such appalling and senseless violence. As Christians, we remain committed to our initial instinct following the murder of our 21 Coptic brothers in Libya, that it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes. We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.

Acts such as these do not only cause insurmountable pain to so many around the world, especially the families and communities of the victims, but can also create an even greater desensitisation in those perpetrating them to the suffering and pain which they cause. The will of God, Who created us in His own Image and likeness, can most certainly not be that we feel each other’s pain less or become desensitised to each other’s suffering.

We pray repose for the souls of these innocent men, a change of heart for those who took their lives, but above all we pray comfort and strength for their families and communities, and the many around the world who may not have known them, yet are left to mourn such a tragic and unnecessary loss of precious life.

Having seen the courageous response of the families of the Coptic martyrs in Libya, we pray similar strength, courage and peace for all those suffering as a result of this brutal act, reassured that their loved ones will never be forgotten, having died as true martyrs and paying the ultimate price, hearing the joyful promise “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Is My God Better Than Your God?

Well, my little post ‘My God doesn’t kill kids’ has attracted a little attention, both here and at the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network site. I’m grateful for the positive comments, and have carefully considered the criticisms (expressed mainly on Facebook). There are two main ones.

First, some have questioned my wisdom in titling the post ‘My God doesn’t kill kids’; it smacks of superiority, the idea that ‘My God is better than your God’. To quote one commenter:

As revolted as I am by the massacres in Peshawar, I don’t think we move forward with headlines that say, “My god is better than your god.”

And another says,

We need to steer clear of anything that even vaguely hints at Christianity putting itself above other world religions. Also, our Conservative government has sent F-18s to drop bombs in Afghanistan. How can we be sure that no children have been killed there as a result?

My response is to say that I am of course a monotheist, so I can’t literally believe that ‘My God is better than your God’; I believe there is only one God. You don’t have a different God than I do; we actually pray to the same God, we just believe different things about him. So when we say (as I did not, actually, but let’s assume I did), ‘My God is better than your God’, what I’m actually saying is ‘I think my ideas about God are more accurate than your ideas’.

Now this may sound arrogant and outrageous, but is it actually? Let me be crude for a moment. Surely we would all agree that it is better to believe that God wants us to live lives of love and compassion, rather than that God wants us to fly aircraft into tall buildings and murder thousands of men, women, and children, or bomb abortion clinics, or drop atomic weapons and wipe out hundreds of thousand of people? Can we really say that it doesn’t matter which of these two pictures of God is the right one? Is it really a level playing field, with those who say ‘God is love’ on the same level as those who murder in his name?

And yes, of course Christians have done this too; I freely admit that. I would submit, though, that when we Christians do this, we are being unfaithful to the vision of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. I have no idea how that is connected with the idea of the Conservative government of Canada sending F-18s to drop bombs in Afghanistan; as far as I know, the government of Canada does not claim to be a Christian government or to be acting in the name of Jesus (the idea that there is or ever could be such a thing as a ‘Christian country’ is very problematic to me; the New Testament everywhere assumes that Christians will be a persecuted minority!). But crusades? Conquistadores? Abortion clinic bombers? Yes, of course; we have much to repent of.

However, if it’s reprehensible to think that it’s better to follow the way of Jesus (compassion, caring for the poor, loving your enemies, living simply, seeking the kingdom of God) than the way of someone who says God is pleased with the murders of children, then I’m guilty as charged. I do believe it’s better.

The second criticism is related to the first; it’s the idea that Christianity is ‘putting itself above other world religions’. My response would be to say that that pluralism is not the same as relativism. Pluralism means that we live in a society where everyone has the right to believe and practice their own religion, and I am not going to attempt to use force to compel you to go along with my beliefs. Pluralism is a friend to Christianity; it gives me the right as a Christian to follow the way of Jesus, unlike in some other places in the world, where I would be taking my life in my hands to do so.

But it is possible for me to believe you to be completely mistaken about something – to believe that my ideas about God are more accurate than yours, for instance – and not to resort to force to try to impose my ideas on you. This is what the early Christians did. For the first three centuries Christianity got no help from the empire; the Christians had no political or military power, but were a defenceless band of missionaries taking their message all over the Mediterranean world. Yes, they believed that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God and therefore had the most accurate picture of what God is like. They did not believe that he was just another human prophet; they believed that in him, God had come to live among us in a unique way. And they were glad to argue and debate this in any forum available to them, but not on the battlefield.

This is true pluralism, and I welcome it. Of course I believe that where Christianity and Islam disagree, Jesus is right and Muhammad is wrong; if I didn’t, I’d be a Muslim, not a Christian. Muslims believe the same thing in reverse! To state this idea is not Islamaphobia; it is simply to recognize that when one religion says, ‘Jesus is the incarnate Son of God’, and another says, ‘God has never had a son, nor could he’, you have to pick which one to believe in; they can’t both be right.

But pluralism is not the same as relativism. Pluralism says ‘Everyone has the right to believe and practice their own philosophy of life’. Relativism says, ‘All philosophies of life are equally valid’. With respect, no one believes that, not even the relativists! Get them into a political argument and see how quickly they abandon that idea!

Right – back to Christmas service preparations!

My God doesn’t kill kids

In the light of today’s outrageous attack on a school in Pakistan, I think it’s vital for people of faith all over the world to stand up together and say very clearly, ‘Our God doesn’t kill kids’.

In no way do I judge the whole of Islam by the acts of the Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed responsibility for this act. This year, at the prayer service for peace organized by the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network, we were joined by several people from the Muslim community in our city. I know that they are people of compassion and love, who pray and work for peace as much as I do.

But we have to stand up – all of us who claim to believe in a loving God – and say to the whole world, ‘We cannot do this kind of thing in the name of God’. I say this as a Christian, one who believes the things that Jesus taught about God and what God asks of us. Jesus taught us that little children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, that the way we treat a little child is the way we treat him, and that the children’s angels in heaven always see the face of his heavenly Father. Furthermore, he called on all his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who hate them, to turn the other cheek, and to imitate God who pours out his love on good and bad alike. To murder a child in the name of God is completely incompatible with these teachings of Jesus.

It is not, however, incompatible with some of the stories in the Old Testament, in which God is purported to have commanded his people to destroy cities and kill all their inhabitants – men, women, and children. I think we Christians have to face those passages honestly and say, “Jesus taught us a better way”. There is a reason why the writer to the Hebrews tells us that the new covenant is better than the old. There is a reason why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you” (see Matthew 5:21-48). We Christians believe that the Word of God in all its fulness is found in Jesus Christ; everything else in the scriptures is seen in the light of his life and teaching.

I am not familiar with the sacred texts of other religions in the same way that I know the Bible, but I am aware of many Jewish and Muslim people who say that they, too, interpret their holy books in such a way as to emphasize the love of God for all people. I hope that they will stand together and say, as I want to say, ‘Our God doesn’t kill kids!’ Those who are murdering children in God’s name must stop misrepresenting the God of love who hates nothing he has made, but loves everyone and wants everyone to come to him and live by his love.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Pakistan tonight. As my Facebook friend Steve Martens says, ‘I judge a person’s religion by the amount of love they show everyone’. I pray that the people of Jesus will be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, and that the followers of all religions will proclaim the love and compassion of God for all people, and God’s desire that all people learn to live together in peace and justice.

Cross-posted to Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network

More on Bombings and Beheadings

Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network board member Ike Glick had this letter published in the Edmonton Journal Friday September 19th:

Re: “Are beheadings a sign of miscalculation or desperation?” Commentary, Richard Spencer, Sept. 15

The West has been embarrassed by the ultimate put-down and the powerless feeling imposed by the beheadings of Western captives by ISIS. It is not hard to get consensus that “something must be done.”

But it is not likely that the bombing response will be any more effective than the Bush administration’s knee-jerk overreaction to the 9/11 embarrassment has been. Somehow the current response seems similar.

While giving the West a semblance of taking control and a hubristic demonstration of power, there has been no apparent attempt to understand the deep resentments toward the West by much of the world, nor recognition that our response only intensifies those resentments. By what logic do we imagine that repeating a more intense version of what didn’t work after 9/11 will be effective now?

Is the West’s conventional response because we lack the imagination for any other approach? Or just because we can? Perhaps we fear being reminded of our exploitive economic policies that favour the West and continue to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor, including unfair minimum wage levels in our own country.

Whatever the reason, a negotiated conversation with ISIS leadership, if such is possible, might at the very least provide some clues as to why young Canadians are being enticed to their ranks.

Ike Glick, Edmonton

Interestingly enough, it seems as if at least one Post Media writer might agree with some of what Ike has to say. In Friday’s Edmonton Journal Michael Den Tandt wrote:

OTTAWA – Tom Mulcair is deeply uncomfortable with the precious little we know, so far, about Canada’s involvement in the expanding war between the West and the Islamic State. He wants answers, more debate and a vote. For his troubles he will be dismissed as a naïf, willfully blind to the “dark and dangerous” reality in which we now live.

If only the NDP leader weren’t right…

He ends the column (which is well worth reading in full) by saying,

What do Canadians, even highly trained special-ops soldiers, have to teach the Kurds of northern Iraq about warfare on their home soil? If the 69 Canadians are JTF-2, which seems likely, it stretches credulity to suggest they are merely providing helpful advice. These are the most lethal, capable soldiers in the Canadian military.

In the earliest days of the Afghan war, though it wasn’t publicly known at the time, JTF-2 operators fought under American command. Mulcair correctly notes that, early on, that conflict too was billed as winnable through a combination of special forces and air power, with local armies and militias bearing the brunt on the ground.

As it turned out, Western ground forces were indeed eventually necessary in Afghanistan, in their hundreds of thousands – including 40,000 Canadians, over a decade – and even with that, the war was lost. In year eight, more or less, of a 20-year nation-building project, the international community – including one Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper – decided to cut its losses.

It is all well and good to rail against the Jihadists, chronicle their barbarisms, and insist that, as civilized people, Canadians have no choice but to join in the fight. Perhaps that’s true. But we’ve seen this narrative before. It didn’t end well. Mulcair is wise to ask tough questions. The government would be wise to answer them.

Indeed. And for Christians who are trying to figure out what it means to follow the challenging teachings of Jesus, who we call ‘Lord’, the questions get even tougher.

(Cross-posted to Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network)

Blogging appears to be slow right now

2547739081_63653b3a13Just a word about the general lack of posts from me right now.

We started a new service at the church on January 6th, Sundays@4. I don’t preach every week, but some weeks it means two sermons instead of one, so about eight hours of sermon preparation instead of four. I love Sundays@4 and I love sermon preparation, so this is not a sob story, just an explanation.

We’ve had a lot of pastoral stuff going on at the church too (bereavements and the like) which has taken up a lot of my time. And then, it’s the silly season of church life: the Annual General Meeting is coming up, and that means a lot of time writing reports, soliciting reports from others, etc. etc.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work on traditional folk songs in my ‘spare time’ – ‘renovating’ them, as I like to call it. This usually involves extensive lyrical revision and often a new tune. I get a lot of enjoyment out of this, so again, not a sob story.

And after Christmas while on holiday I started writing another piece of ‘recreational fiction’. I may post this in a month or two, when I’m fairly sure I know where it’s going.

All of this is to say that creative thought is going in other directions right now. So blogging is going to be light for a while. And, of course, Lent is only a month away, and that means goodbye to the blogosphere for six weeks.

‘ The tasks before us are worship and generous sharing of the good news of Christ in word and deed.’

Will the world get the impression that the new Archbishop of Canterbury is an issue-driven person (especially the issues of female bishops and gay marriage)?

What is the difference between this video…

…and this video?

If you only watched the first video, what impression would you get about what Bishop Justin Welby’s main concerns are? (Hint: watch the second video, it gives the whole statement!)

Here are some quotes we must not lose:

‘Let’s be quiet for a moment and then pray: Come Holy Spirit to the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love.’

‘Our task as part of God’s church is to worship Him in Christ and to overflow with the good news of His love for us, of the transformation that He alone can bring which enables human flourishing and joy. The tasks before us are worship and generous sharing of the good news of Christ in word and deed.’

‘How we do those things is, of course much more complicated. The work of the Church of England is not done primarily on television or at Lambeth, but in over 16,000 churches, where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the job they have always done of loving neighbour, loving each other and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside the church a month. They are the front line, and those who worship in them, lead them, minster in them are the unknown heroes of the church.’

Read the whole thing here.