Monday, 29 September 2014

Muslim Association shows area is changing too

Driving down 9th Ave in Owen Sound last week, I saw a sign that grabbed my attention. In the place where the Baptist Church was, there was a new sign. It said "Owen Sound Muslim Association".

I smiled.

No, I grinned. Nothing could delight me more for our community.

I drove by the sign later in the afternoon. There were a number of cars in the parking lot. Friday prayers were being held.

Our community has long been known as a bastion of Christians. Settled by Scots Presbyterians and English Methodists as well as by a seasoning of escaped slaves of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, the life of faith has always been a part of the community.

I recall back in the 1970's the United Church Observer did a feature on the churches of Hanover; there being far more churches per capita than anyone could imagine.

At one time Owen Sound had five United Churches. In Grey County alone there have been sixty five United Churches, from small and rural to large and urban.

But the world is changing. And if we think for one second we can avoid that change, we are simply delusional.

One of the other things which is changing dramatically is the number of young people who are travelling abroad to have some kind of exposure to life in other countries. They can be year long Rotary Club student exchanges or brief trips to help build schools and houses and help communities.

Churches are often organizing groups of their members to do construction work or to help in medical clinics.

I recently interviewed a woman from our community who is home from Liberia after spending time helping teachers learn to teach English. The outbreak of Ebola virus is keeping here from returning in the near future.

People in our community are travelling to the far corners of the world and helping communities bring change.

It makes sense that our community is, in turn, changing.

Last weekend I listened to the Right Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson, Moderator of the United Church of Canada speak about the future of the denomination.

Frankly, it’s not looking good. The traditional Christian church is aging itself out of existence. What we knew will be no more. It is becoming a time for experimentation and outreach, like the Highland Grounds coffee shop in Flesherton or the long distance internet televised and interactive worship services in Thunder Bay.

Owen Sound now has three days of "Sabbath". There is the traditional Christian Sunday or Sabbath, the Jewish shabbat or day of rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and now a Muslim Friday day for prayer.

I also believe the faith communities can work together to improve relationships between each other and within the larger community. It is a sign of hope that the Muslim community can re-purpose a Christian worship space and use it for their own worship. It is a sign of trust that they can erect a sign saying that they are a part of the community.

To the Owen Sound Muslim Association may I offer the traditional "As-salamu alaykum" or "Peace be upon you". May you be blessed in your worship and find peace here.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County



Monday, 22 September 2014

Religious leaders called upon to help planet

Does our earth have a prayer? If some scientists have their way, not only does it have a prayer, but the religious forces of prayer will be an integral part of stopping the global destruction of our climate and become a partner for restoration.

Science and religion have not always seen eye to eye. The Christian church has, over the centuries, punished scientists whose discoveries were at odds with church teaching of the day.

No longer. Some scientists are now saying that science and religion must work in partnership for the common good to stop the relentless destruction of this planet.

In an article published recently inn the distinguished Science magazine, Prof Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist based at St John’s College, Cambridge, say "Humanity is at a crossroads. Do we continue trends of preceding decades that lift people out of poverty and extend life spans, but in the process run down the planet's natural capital? Solutions to this profound problem will require greater cooperation among people. The rise of market fundamentalism and the drive for growth in profits and gross domestic product (GDP) have encouraged behaviour that is at odds with pursuit of the common good. Finding ways to develop a sustainable relationship with nature requires not only engagement of scientists and political leaders, but also moral leadership that religious institutions are in a position to offer."

The scientist invite the full weight of religious leaders and especially Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church to join them in specific actions to limit climate change.

"Natural and social scientists have done their part in documenting the irreversible environmental damages (albeit with large uncertainties) that we have inflicted and in spelling out specific mitigation actions," they write.

"The transformational step may very well be a massive mobilisation of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment."

They go on to argue that the "invisible hand" of the market, the term coined by the philosopher and economist Adam Smith to describe how economies can regulate themselves, can never achieve the kind of change needed to protect the planet.

"The rise of market fundamentalism and the drive for growth in profits and gross domestic product (GDP) have encouraged behaviour that is at odds with pursuit of the common good," they write.

In a companion editorial, editor Marcia McNutt says, "The problems that motivate the Vatican are no different from those that concern the scientific community: depletion of nonrenewable resources, loss of ecosystem services, and risks from changing climate. But what the Vatican contributes is the rationale for taking action: because it is our moral responsibility to bequeath a habitable planet to future generations."

These are not ivory tower issues. Climate change and sustainability are matters that concern us here in Grey Bruce. Our issues are the Deep Geologic Repository and wind turbines and their effects, among others.

Climate change has an impact on each and every one of our lives. Religious groups can provide the framework, the rationale for taking action and offer the moral framework for a sustainable climate, community and planet.

We are all in this together. It is time for religious and faith groups to step up and offer a moral framework to help restore the planet.

Science can’t do it alone. For our common good, our common future, it is up to all of us.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County

Monday, 15 September 2014

Poverty much more complex than "underclass"

One of my morning disciplines is to read several newspapers, including the New York Times and the Sun Times. I read them on line. I find that they often give me insights and understandings of the world which I would otherwise miss.

Recently an obituary for an American university professor caught my eye.

Michael B. Katz, a historian and social theorist, who challenged the prevailing view in the 1980s and ’90s that poverty stemmed from the bad habits of the poor, marshalling the case that its deeper roots lay in the actions of the powerful, died on Aug. 23 in Philadelphia at the age of 75.

Dr. Katz was the first academic to analyse the public welfare policies of the United States in te 20th century and propose the idea that very few of the social welfare policies proposed by governments in the last hundred years would or could work. His basis for that statement was grounded in how we understand poverty and community. Katz said there was a fundamental tension between the micro and macro views of poverty. In the micro view, individuals were the authors of their lives and impoverishment proof of their moral failing. In the macro analysis, large historic forces and economic trends — war and peace, the shifting interests of capital — favoured some people and disadvantaged others.

According to the New York Times, "in the 1990s, Professor Katz joined a heated debate about a segment of the poor referred to as "the underclass" — drug addicts, dropouts, unwed mothers, long-term welfare recipients and others who formed a "culture of poverty" supposedly beyond help.

In the introduction to an anthology he edited in 1992, "The Underclass Debate: Views From History," Professor Katz said the idea of poverty as an "underclass" problem was misguided.

"The processes creating an underclass degrade all our lives," he wrote, adding, "We will flourish or sink together."

Over the summer I have been reading a fascinating book by economic historian Gregory Clark about the power of surnames.

Clark’s theory, for which he presents convincing evidence from cultures around the world, is that in big picture terms, changes in social mobility in cultures are very slow, on the order of hundreds of years and predictable.

If you were born into the middle class or the upper class, your children will, in all probability be in that class and any change will occur, by and large, over hundreds of years.

In other words, the myth of Horatio Alger, that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and improve yourself and your social position, is simply wishful thinking.

We have been deeply influenced by this thinking in our society. We hear the myths of the poor being lazy and the authors of their own problems again and again until we believe it is true. We are promised that people in poverty will have a better life once they have a job.

It’s simply not true. A job is the last step and, in all likelihood, the easiest part. Housing, health, transportation and education are more important foundations before work.

What we don’t have in Canada, and desperately need, is a national strategy to prevent poverty.

We should be working towards that. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Instead, Canada has rejected calls for a national strategy to prevent poverty and opted instead for band-aid solutions like food banks.

Canada has even gone so far as to tell charities, through the Canada Revenue Agency, that prevention of poverty is not a legitimate charitable aim. A charity can relive poverty but can’t work towards prevention of poverty.

What is wrong with this picture?

I don’t have all the solutions, but I do know we all have to work together to build a better, stronger, better community. A national strategy to prevent poverty is a good start.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 8 September 2014

End of the manse reflects change in society

You can call me a lot of names, but one I will own up to and honestly confess is "Preacher’s Kid".

My father was a United Church minister. The largest part of my life has been lived in church provided housing, or a manse.

Manses are a dying phenomenon in the Protestant churches. Once part of every community across Canada, the house where the minister lived, which went by names like manse, rectory or presbytery, are much, much less common today.

Manses were often located next to or nearby the church.

When I was a young child growing up in the manse in Aylmer Quebec, my mother was giving me a bath one morning. She was called away to the phone. In a flash I was down the stairs and out the door, heading for the church where I knew I would find my father.

But there was a meeting of church ladies in the sanctuary. In those days church women wore hats and gloves to meetings and tea was properly poured afterward. Children did not attend such meetings.

Down the church aisle I ran, naked as the day I was born, looking for my father. He quickly headed towards me, lifted me up in his arms and with a brief "Excuse me, ladies!" returned me to my mother, who had come after me.

Recently the United Church announced changes in its compensation system which made housing allowances the new standard. But they could not get rid of manses. It seems that the founding Act of Parliament of the United Church does not allow a minister occupying a manse to be charged rent. So manses, such as still exist, will stay.

In the assumptions upon which the United Church based their compensation changes it was discovered that 80% of United Church ministers own their own homes and do not live in manses. In addition, that same number commute to work in their church, sometimes up to two hours a day.

Losing the manse changes a community dynamic.

The very first manse I lived in after my ordination was on a main road accessing the Trans Canada Highway in New Brunswick. I could not understand why so many transients and travellers passing through knew where and when to stop to ask for a handout. Then I saw a picture taken a few years before. On the manse was a big sign with the United Church crest which said in bold, black letters, United Church Manse.

No wonder people knew where the minister lived.

I have lived in homes that I could never have afforded. In one, the view from the master bedroom down the Baie de Chaleur was postcard perfect. In another, the screened porch under a glorious maple tree was a fabulous place for a summer afternoon nap.

If there is a down side to manse living it is that the minister is at the mercy of the congregation. If they do not keep the manse well, like any good landlord would, then it can lead to hurt feelings and mistrust.

I have known colleagues who have had to evict the racoons from the manse before moving their family in or found the spring flood included the manse basement.

A minister is also responsible for taking care of the manse they live in, just like any tenant. I recall inspecting a manse where the minister and children had broken fifty panes of glass in the house windows.

The decline of the manse is a significant cultural shift in Canada. It has changed the nature of the community. And I think we are the poorer in community for that change. I can’t stop it, but I can name it. My own children are likely the last to grow up in a manse. And given my experience, that’s too bad.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Missing aboriginal women more than criminal

When I looked at the picture of 15 year old Tina Fontaine, I could not help but see the face of my own daughters.

Young women are young women. They deserve every chance at life and living. Tina Fontaine lost that chance, her body found in a bag dragged from the Red River in Winnipeg.

Too many aboriginal women have died, all to often at the hands of their own family members. Others have simply disappeared.

Statistics Canada also points out that the death rate of aboriginal men is also far, far out of proportion to the general population.

Does Canada give a damn?

Our Prime Minister, somewhat callously, seems to think not. He has dismissed the matter of aboriginal death and especially deaths of aboriginal women as a criminal matter for the RCMP to deal with.

Somewhat to their credit, they have. But they have clearly said themselves that "There is a need, however, to address the fact that Aboriginal women face considerably higher risks of violence and homicide."

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that this is not a matter of sociology but a matter for police.

The RCMP suggests that it is much larger than that. The method of death may be violent murder. The cause of death, however, goes far deeper.

The academic study of how we live and behave together in community is called sociology. Mr. Harper, by saying that the epidemic of deaths of aboriginal women is not sociology is simply talking nonsense. What he appears not to understand is that crime has sociological roots. Crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens when there is a loss of hope, when there is poverty, when there is lack of opportunity, not only in one generation but over many generations.

This country has a very poor record of relating to our aboriginal population. The broken treaties, the residential school system, the destruction of culture have all contributed to the place we find ourselves today.

Do we need another inquiry into the deaths of aboriginal women? Perhaps. But more to the point, we have to revisit the work that has been done by many previous federal and provincial inquiries and see if there are things yet to do.

I suspect the list will be quite long.

At the same time, there must be a radical, total shift in the larger Canadian society and how it views aboriginal people and culture.

That’s sociology. And that’s what we must change.

Many years ago I lived near Curve Lake First Nation. The children from Curve Lake attended our local public school. As part of the school curriculum the school board brought in an Elder to teach the children Ojibway. Once the children from Curve Lake had been accommodated, there were spaces for the rest of the students.

Two of my children participated. They learned a lot, as did I. And although the stories, language and traditions are not mine, it did leave my family with a respect and appreciation for a language and a culture which is not only worthy but essential for preservation and nurture.

There will be calls for a government inquiry on the deaths of aboriginal women and there will be just as strong resistance on the part of the federal government.

But the issue goes far deeper and goes on for far longer. The larger, dominant society needs a reality check. There must be changes in our attitudes and understanding. It will not be a quick fix. It will be generational in scope. But we can start now to make a difference.

I fully intend to commit sociology. I hope and pray the Prime Minister and his government to do likewise.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County