Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Give money, not stuff, to help

Canadians are generous. At least that’s the cultural myth we hold on to. The evidence does seem to support the myth, but how we are generous needs some unpacking.

In 1992, during Hurricane Andrew’s destruction of Florida, Canadian generosity was called on. It was the early days of online communication. The internet wasn’t even public. People who owned computers were thought to be real geeks.

I was one of them.

In the days after the storm, there was all kind of help sent; some of it was quite strange. A colleague told me of a bunch of unmatched woman’s dress shoes. Others told of receiving expired drugs.

Hearing these stories and of how donated goods were left to rot in the hot Florida sun, I learned then that the best way to send assistance in any natural disaster was not to send stuff but send money. Donate to relief charities such as the Red Cross, the United Way or various religious groups who normally have low overheads.

Overheads? Every charitable organization has overhead. Use your cell phone to text a small donation? The phone company takes a cut. Donate by credit card? The card company charges a fee. Religious charities will often absorb local administration costs, but even they are subject to bank charges for currency conversion.

People, it appears, aren’t listening. In the wake of the Fort McMurray fire people are still sending “stuff”. And a lot of it is ending up in parking lots and warehouses where it gets in the way. Eventually it may end up in a landfill. That’s what happened after the 2011 fire in Slave Lake. Much of the donated stuff went to a Calgary landfill.

After the 2010 devastating earthquake in Haiti, concerned mothers sent bottles of breast milk. In a country that lost its infrastructure, including electricity, a perishable product like breast milk couldn’t be kept. You know the rest of the story.

Many Canadians seem to get it. We were incredibly generous to the Canadian Red Cross, which is the lead relief agency, for the Fort McMurray fire. Money is already being distributed directly to fire victims.

In the case of local disasters here in Grey Bruce, there is an alternative. Gift cards. They are as good as cash, carry no overhead, and can be used for food, necessities or gas. Just donate some gift cards, of any denomination (smaller is better). Use local outlets or chains. Drop them off at the Red Cross or the United Way or even mail them.

Disaster relief is best left to those with experience. And it’s one line of work which will continue to grow. Just remember, “Give money not stuff” to a disaster relief effort and do it through a registered charity or non-profit with full accountability. That’s the best way to help our neighbours locally and around the world.

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

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A touch of redneck not so bad

I recently discovered that I’m a borderline redneck, not well insulated from mainstream culture.

I found that out by taking a survey at, the American broadcaster, based on a book by American political scientist and author Charles Murray, trying to get a handle on mainstream white American culture. Some are suggesting it’s helpful in explaining the rise of Donald Trump.

The survey is easily translatable into a Canadian setting and in doing so I found out some surprising things.

I found out that like many of those in white mainstream culture, I’ve worked on a factory floor, I watch TV and drive a truck. I fish occasionally. I don’t drink beer, however, and I rarely go out to chain restaurants to eat.

My score was 65 out of 100. That makes me, in Murray’s explanation, “a first generation middle class person with working class parents and average TV and movie watching habits.”

That’s odd, because both my parents had university degrees, as did my grandparents. My father, as a minister, occupied a position of privilege in the community. At the same time, I have worked on a shop floor to put myself through university. I’ve worked hard enough that my whole body ached at the end of the day. Repeatedly. . I’ve cleaned urinals and feces-filled toilets. I have unloaded rail cars so filthy with charcoal dust, with no mask provided, that black tears came out of my eyes at night, staining my pillow.

Perhaps it was my early ministry days that affected me. I have picked potatoes in cold, foggy New Brunswick fields. I’ve sat around kitchen tables with the teakettle bubbling away on the wood stove, listening to heartbreaking stories. I’ve ridden in a log hauling semi, having important pastoral conversations over coffee in the truck cab while taking a quick break from loading or unloading.

Maybe it was the people who came through my office door with one story or another, most of which were fictitious, but who appreciated whatever I could offer. Which, sometimes, wasn’t much.

The point is that there is a huge amount of insulation between levels of society in white, mainstream culture. And that insulation prevents a sensitivity to the other person in our community.

We like to think we are different, as Canadians. But this survey showed me that while there may be culturally different specifics, they aren’t as significant as we think.

I learned something about myself in this survey. I’m more rural and a bit more redneck than I imagined and by golly, I don’t live in a bubble. For a pastor, even a retired one, that’s a good thing. But even if I could, I would never, ever vote for Donald Trump.

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

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Our bathroom, ourselves

I want to talk about bathrooms. My apologies for being so forthright about this, but it is becoming a matter of life and death in some parts of the continent.

It’s a big issue in that boiling cauldron to the south of us. Several states have put laws in place regarding bathroom use. In order to “protect people”, you have to use the washroom of the gender which is listed on your birth certificate. In other words, men (according to their birth certificate) and women (according to their birth certificate) have to use the specific gender identified loo.

That poses a problem for a number of situations.

Men who are out with their female children, can not, under this law, change their children on the change table in the men’s washroom. Mothers can’t do the same with their male children.

As a parent of six children, both male and female, I have been in the position of being with a child of the opposite gender and heard the plaintive wail of “I gotta go!”. Fortunately, help was at hand and the problem was resolved to everyone’s  satisfaction.

This matter is a real problem for those who are transgender or those who visually identify or dress as the opposite gender. It is also an issue for those who dress outside of culturally acceptable stereotypes.

A friend of mine, a pastor in the US and former US Marine officer, prefers pants, slacks and jeans to dresses, especially as she grows older. She finds it a lot more functional. Another pastor prefers khaki pants, dress shirts and bow ties. She has had several difficult encounters in women’s rest rooms, although she is a woman.

I have seen American media reports that some people are intending to carry a gun into the washroom to “protect themselves from perverts”.

The bottom line is that people just want to use the facilities. Heck, we all need to use the facilities. Is that too much to ask?

The rural church is light years ahead on this matter. I have served rural congregations where it was expected that you used a bush behind the church or an outhouse. In churches where there was a washroom, it was exactly that. A washroom with one toilet. Behind the furnace. Everyone used it. The unwritten rules were that the men put the seat down and wiped the sink afterwards. The women kept it clean and the men fixed the plumbing problems. And no one got twisted out of shape about who used it. People recognized we all have the same human need.

I have known at least one transgender person in Grey Bruce who told me she never really had any serious issues with washroom use. I hope she was right and telling me the truth as she knew it. Just remember, we’re all human and at some point, we all gotta go.

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