Monday, 27 July 2015

Respond to hate with hospitality and care

Just when you think the wold is going to hell in a handbasket, things happen that cause you to shake your head and realize that just maybe there is cause for hope.

Two recent events in the news cause me to think that way.

The first was the response by a former Ontario MPP and cabinet member, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, to the social media postings of Diane Francis, Editor-at-large of the National Post newspaper.

Francis, in a series of social media postings during the recent Greek financial crisis, called for a return to a military dictatorship in Greece, among other things. This naturally enraged the Greek community in Canada. That was a terrible time in recent Greek history. Some threatened legal action. Others wrote public pronouncements of outrage.

Bountrogianni had a different response. She invited Francis to come to Greece to meet her family. All 275 members of her family.

She said Francis would be impressed by their hospitality. And, she continued, “Many of them have survived more than one military dictatorship. Other families were not so lucky. Hundreds were killed in the last dictatorship in the late sixties and early seventies— killed for nothing more than speaking out against the government!”

No response to the invitation from Francis yet.

The second sign of hope was a story out of Vancouver, where the Vancouver police reported on an undercover operation in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

The Downtown Eastside is sometimes called “Canada’s poorest postal code”. It is  noted for a high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime, violence, as well as a history of community activism. It has a high rate of HIV, Hepatitis C and was the site of North America’s first safe injection site, reducing the spread of HIV considerably. 40% of the homeless population in the area, according to the city, suffers from mental illness.

Last spring, in response to a string of robberies in the area of people in wheelchairs, police launched a sting operation. According to news reports, for five days, Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley wheeled through the neighbourhood in a wheelchair. He told people he had a brain injury and couldn't count and wore a waist wallet with money spilling out.

Expecting to encounter street thieves, Horsley, a 30-year police veteran, instead met men and women who looked out for him, gave him money and even prayed for him.

No one tried to rob him or short change him during transactions.

"Not one person took advantage of my vulnerability," Horsley said at a news conference, "This community has soul."

When I shared the story with church colleagues who had worked in the Downtown Eastside, they simply agreed and said “That’s the way people really are there.”

In a world where many, including our politicians, try to stir up our emotions by fearmongering and tell us the whole world is a dangerous place (and make no mistake, there are dangerous places in the world), real people respond to the human condition with hospitality and kindness. Real people care about others. And real people offer, by their actions, not just words, but real hope.

No, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. And it will get better if we respond to hate with hospitality and offer care, even in the smallest way, for each other.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.