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Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday!

Today is the day that we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, his resurrection. Today we look back on the terrible events that lead up to this day, and rejoice that they are over, that the doubt and fear of Holy Saturday has become the light of Sunday morning. In the resurrection the ancient promise of the messiah is fulfilled. We celebrate that Christ not only returned from the grave, but that when he rose again he raised us up with him, restoring us from sin, something only he could do for us.

Today we remember how the disciples and followers of Jesus doubted as he lay interred, only to be bewildered at how he came to reveal himself to them.  It is told this way in John 20:1-18:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have take the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead).

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my  Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’.”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Though Christ went to the grave alone, all of humanity was raised out of sin when we ascended.

We may never truly grasp the enormity of this single event.

Instead, we can only celebrate God and what he has done for us, and refresh our hearts and souls for the year ahead. When we next take the communion cup, may we remember again for the first time what it means to be in community together, to be part of a global humanity saved through God’s grace. Let us carry the meaning of Easter with us everywhere, remember in the darkness of the soul that the most devote disciples had doubts and fears, and carry the light of the message that God rose again, for us all.

Let us remember the disciple Thomas, who even after all he had seen and done while he travelled with Jesus, and the words of the other disciples that had encountered the resurrected Jesus, could not believe that he had truly returned to life. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) Only when Jesus met him, and let him see and feel with his own eyes and hands did he cry out “My Lord and my God!” Let us renew our faith in God, knowing that all that he promised has been fulfilled.

He is risen!

Holy Father, thank you once again for the wondrous gift of your one and only son, who walked among us, lived with us and died for us. Today we rejoice that you are a living God, that your grace and compassion are available to us every moment. May we keep this blessed truth close to our hearts every day, and with that knowledge, be through our words and actions reflections of your mercy. Though we are made mortal and tempted to sin, may we live in compassion and grace, as you have for us. Thank you once again for the cross, and all that it represents. May it shape our hearts and minds, so we may be more like you every day. In Christ’s glorious name, amen.

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Holy Saturday

Today we mark Holy Saturday. This is the day Jesus remained interred in the tomb after the crucifixion. Today we think of the doubt and fear of the disciples and followers of Jesus as they considered their experiences and the promises made by Christ. Little is said about this time in scripture, though services today dwell on the disciplines’ situation as Jesus lay dead in the tomb, and some consider what Christ may have had to do to overcome death and rescue us from sin.

This is how the burial of Christ is told in Matthew 27:57-61:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)

Although there is little New Testament scripture on the day we call Holy Saturday, the Book of Lamentations is often used in Holy Saturday services, as an illustration of Christ’s suffering, and faith overcoming:

He has made me dwell in darkness, like those long dead.  He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked (3: 6-9)

I remember my afflictions and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hopes are in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (3:19-26).

This Holy Saturday, let us consider what Christ’s first followers went through; the fear and doubt that wracked them as they waited after his death. Jesus promised that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days by his hands, yet they could not imagine that the temple was his body, broken and renewed so that we may be set free. We mourn Saturday knowing Sunday is coming, but though they were his most devout followers, they questioned everything that had come before, and questioned if Christ was truly the saviour they had believed him to be.

Let us remember their doubt, and let it remind us of how fragile our faithfulness can be.

Holy Father, this Holy Saturday, let us remember you, and the struggle of your followers as they were mocked for their faith, as you laid in the tomb. Dismayed at your death, unable to believe that you were dead, and filled with terror of what may come next. They waited to see what would happen, though in the darkness of their hearts, even after your wondrous works, they imagined you were merely mortal after all. May we remember today the weakness in us all, and remember how quickly the rejoicing of your followers turned to anger, how quickly the devotion of your disciples turned to doubt and fear. This Easter, may we prepare to face the cross, examine our sins, and reignite our resolve to follow you. May we find the places where fear and doubt continue to reside, and strengthen our resolve to follow your mission of compassion, generosity and forgiveness. In Christ’s name, Amen.

good-friday

Today is Good Friday.

Today is one of the most important days of the Christian calendar. It is a day of terrible, conflicting emotions, as we mark the day that Jesus was mocked, scorn, beaten, whipped, and finally nailed to the cross, and yet simultaneously look forward to the time he was resurrected and restored to Heaven. We remember how the people that surrounded him as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to cheers and cries of “Hosanna!” now brandish swords, the words on their lips now “Crucify him!”

It is a memorial of the suffering he subjected himself to for us, the torment people inflicted on him. It is a time to remember the disciples that were shown many signs of his power and compassion, yet in this dark hour still fled, and the one that betrayed him.

His last hours are told in this way in Matthew 15:33:

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

The power of the act of sacrifice for us is almost beyond description or comprehension. Everything in the Old Testament tradition lead to the fulfillment of God’s covenant with humanity, from the early laws laid out for God’s exclusive people, to the salvation promised for all mankind. However, hopelessness and despair reigned as the supposed Son of God and king of salvation was put to horrible death by the oppressors the people had imagined Christ had come to rescue them from. Today let us contemplate both exactly what God has done for us through the cross, and what the disciples and followers went through as Jesus died for them.

Holy Father, we cannot imagine the depth of your suffering, as you were subjected to terrible punishment and abuse, before finally being put to death on the cross. We remember the sacrifice you made for us, even as we struggle to comprehend just how much it truly means. Though we sin, we are saved by your grace. Today we hold in our hearts the knowledge of all you have done for us, and work to better be your hands and feet in the world around us. You came to earth so that we may be saved, may we work to be the light in the world in your absence, until we may see you again. In Christ’s name, Amen.

*This year, our contemporary service is trying something very different with our Good Friday service. Instead of a congregational service, we’re meeting in home church services across the city in our local neighbourhoods. Sarah and I will be hosting our local home church, I talked about it in this post and hope to write more about the experience afterwards. A little nervous, but excited for the experience!

equality cross

In 2005, Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, legalizing same-sex marriage. This was the final step in a debate that slowly swept through the provinces, with some provinces recognizing same-sex marriage as early as 2001. Through the long battle towards marriage equality here, lines were drawn between politicians and religious groups on either side of a seemingly impassable void. The agreement that was eventually struck was that civil marriages were legally available to both same- and opposite-sex couples, but religious institutions continue to have the choice to perform or not perform marriages, as per their individual beliefs. But even then the law was still in jeopardy, as several Conservative motions in the House of Commons sought to re-open the debate, until Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed the case was closed.

Now in 2013, the United States are facing a similar decision. The Supreme Court of the United States is now addressing the constitutional legality of the 1996 law DOMA, Defence of Marriage Act, which codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages, restricting legally recognized marriages to being only between people of opposite sex. Many groups in the States argue this law intrudes on the lawful ability of individual states to recognize same-sex marriage, a view that some of the federal justices seem to share. There is growing excitement both in the States and as people watch from around the world, as this law may be overturned, potentially opening the floodgates to marriage equality in the United States.

But 2013 finds the States still bitterly divided over this issue, with more optimistic polls showing support for same-sex marriage slightly above 50%; although this number is less than encouraging to Canadians that see support levels closer to 80-90%, it is still a massive shift in American beliefs. As it was here, it is conservative religious and political groups leading the charge against same-sex marriage, with arguments including the belief that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that the rest of society shouldn’t have to tolerate, and is in fact destructive to society. On the other side, people in support of same-sex marriage tend to believe it is a legal issue, not a religious one, and that allowing same-sex marriage is an important step in ensuring true equality for all.

And in the middle of it all, many of the bitter battles of words and actions are waged by Christians on both side of the issue. This is something I struggle with deeply, and find myself wondering about as I examine this extraordinarily complex issue.

How do we meet others in this debate in a respectful and considerate way?

How do we discuss with others, when our views seem so completely at odds?

How do we meet in tolerance? Do we have to tolerate intolerance?

How we face this challenge in a Christian way is deeply challenging, though to me, the right choice is astoundingly simple. With a balance of scientific and scriptural study, I believe that Christians are called to walk with our LGBT brothers and sisters, and struggle with them towards marriage equality.

All reputable psychological associations, based on rigorous research across numerous disciplines, teach that sexuality is not a choice. In all the research I found, the organizations confirm that one cannot to choose their sexuality (while stressing sexual behaviour is the person’s individual choice). Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists states:

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.

As well, because sexuality is not a choice and therefore an ingrained part of who a person is, it is unhealthy to encourage/allow practices that try to “change” one’s sexuality. They argue that it cannot be done, and only damages the person to be “changed”, as sexuality is not a “problem” to be “fixed”. The American Psychological Association, the most respected and relied upon psychological association in the world, states [emphasis mine]:

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

This leads to the issue of what Christians and the Bible have to say about sexuality and sin. I also believe through critical and thorough reading of the Bible that one’s sexuality isn’t a sin, Christians should support same sex marriage. I find it abhorrent that the Holy Word of God, our God of mercy and compassion, is used out of context to prop up brittle arguments to restrict what should be a right. There are few enough passages that address homosexuality, written in a time when the word has little to no bearing on the meaning today. Above all, the message that speaks to my heart, that I believe should compel every Christian to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, is the Greatest Commandment:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

This takes us back to – how do we face this difficult issue in a Christ-like way?

I think it starts with open hearts, and compassionate dialogue. We should prayerfully consider what exactly it is that we believe, and meet others in a place where we can truly talk it over, and learn and consider exactly where their heart directs them. You may be very surprised where it is, and hopefully the conversation can be one of mutual enlightenment.

One of the most powerful conversations I had about same-sex marriage was with one of our pastors, someone I deeply respect and admire. I found out that our views are very different about same-sex marriage, but I believe we both left with a better understanding of the issue, and a greater respect for each other. If nothing else, by knowledge of the depth of thought and feeling we’ve each poured into it.

I expressed many of the thoughts written here, while he told me that he has prayed and thought and read over same-sex marriage for many years, and has been deeply saddened and wounded by actions of many in the global church towards the LGBT community, but also very wounded that many have assumed the worst of him because he doesn’t think the church should perform same-sex marriages. Through his scholarship and work in the church, he believes that Jesus called on only one man and one woman to be wed; I obviously disagree, but I hope that I have gained better understanding as we talked, and that I may have planted even a small seed of further consideration in his heart.

In the very end, this is an issue of marriage rights, legal and not religious. Marriage is a legal right before a religious one, and I believe that every consenting adult couple should have the ability to wed, to share a life together, and not be restricted from the legal rights heterosexual couples enjoy, and far too often, take for granted. No one should be restricted from what should be their right by their chromosomes, an issue I am honestly amazed still exists in 2013. I believe religious institutions should perform same-sex marriages as expressions of love and devotion, but it is their right not to. It should not be their right to influence the legality of the marriage. We are not theocracies.

But regardless of what I believe, this debate is largely a bitter battle between Christians as it continues to unfold, and will likely continue to long after the legal debate is settled. As we approach Easter, and spiritually approach the cross, how can we face each other, and accept both Christ and the global church into our hearts?

We must follow Christ’s divine example, and reach out with compassion, grace, and understanding.

communion

Today is Maundy Thursday.

Today we mark the day Jesus met with the twelve disciples in the Upper Room, and shared what is now called the Last Supper with them. It is also the time that we remember Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives, and his anguish knowing what the next day would bring.

It is from this meal that we take the tradition of Holy Communion, a meal of fellowship and remembrance. Christian cultures across the world have many names for it, including Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, The Blessed Sacrament, and the Lord’s Supper, yet the act of sharing a form of wine/grape juice and bread in remembrance of Jesus is nearly universal.

In it, we remember the act of Jesus offering his body and blood to the disciples, as he would the next day for all humanity. It is both an extremely personal act, and one that binds all of humanity together. When we practice communion together, we search our hearts and prepare ourselves to take the sacred offering. We also practice a communal meal, where we are reminded in each other’s presence that we are all equally broken, and all equally saved by God’s grace.

This is how the event is told in Luke 22:14-21:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Afterwards, (Luke 22:39-44)

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Countless depictions of the Last Supper have been made, endless commentaries on all the meanings of this event, and many different forms of the ceremony across different Christian cultures and beliefs. In this time of Easter, let us reflect on what this meal means to us, and the sacrifice it represents. And let us remember what the disciples went through when Jesus offered the bread and wine to them, foretelling that his body would be broken, his blood spilled to fulfill God’s grace and redemption for us all.

This grace is new every day, Jesus’ sacrifice poured out for our sins. As another year goes by, and we mark our Easter older and more cynical than the year before, it can be easy to practice this sacred rite with wooden hearts, to think of an event that happened over two thousand years ago, instead of a reality that is just as fresh now as it was then.

Whenever we practice communion, may we endeavour to have our hearts as open as the first time we took the cup and bread. Let us prepare our hearts, minds and souls for God’s grace, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning. (Lamentations 19:22)

Father God, let us remember today the meal you shared with the disciples, and your suffering and doubt as you faced what must come in the day ahead. Let us remember that each day we are refreshed in your grace and mercy, and hold in our hearts the knowledge and truth of the greatest sacrifice you have made for us. May we meet together in Holy Communion, remembering you, and what it means for us to share together our faith in you, and faithful community in one another. In Christ’s name, Amen.

palm sunday

Every year, I find Holy Week comes with a flurry of activity, meetings and gatherings, without time to truly contemplate all that it means. As we move through this Easter season, I’ve worked to meditate and pray over the terrible, miraculous reality of Easter. My goal has been to write about the meaning of each day we mark during Holy Week, but I have continued to struggle to truly sink into a time of devotion and contemplation, to consider Easter itself more deeply.

Easter is a strange contradiction of both mourning Christ’s death and celebrating His resurrection from the grave. In this busy time, with so much demanding our attention of what is directly in front of us, it is hard to consider the true, terrible, miraculous realities of Easter. In writing about it, I hope to bring my heart closer to the centre of the season. As we enter Holy Week this year, my hope is to consider and write through the week, and welcome you to join me in this contemplation of God’s compassion, grace and redemption through the cross.

Today we mark Palm Sunday.

This is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, as foretold in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was greeted by throngs of people, eager to throw their cloaks onto the road for his donkey to ride over, and cut down palm fronds to place on the road, and wave in celebration. Jesus appeared to be entering the city in triumph.

This is how it is told in Matthew 21:1-11:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Church services today often have an air of celebration, as we remember those that greeted Jesus with seemingly all their hearts.

But there is a bitter side to this celebration. Today we mark how the people surrounded Jesus, and sing as they did, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” But we also remember the fate of Jesus less than a week later, when the same crowd surrounded him again, trading palm fronds for swords, the cries of “Hosanna!” changing to shouts of “Crucify him!”

It is a day to remember the fickleness of human nature, a terrible potential inside all of us.

It is also a reminder of how our goals for this world can corrupt us.

Jesus had been traveling extensively for years, healing, praying, mentoring and preaching, collecting the twelve men who would become his disciples, the ones who answered his call to drop everything of their former lives and follow him. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people that surrounded him dreamt of an earthly ruler, a strong leader of the rebellion to cast off the oppressive hands of the Roman Empire and install himself as the new leader, a true, just king.

The people’s dreams turned to ash when Jesus soon revealed that the kingdom he spoke of wasn’t a kingdom on earth, but that he promised everlasting life in the next, true freedom from the shackles of sin, much more than earthly freedom. It was the promise he came to fulfill, but not the freedom they wished for. Within the week, one of his own disciples betrayed him to the authorities, another denied ever being a follower, and the rest ran away.

Are we so very different today?

Father God, let us remember today the fickleness of human nature, and work to examine ourselves for you, and find places where envy, anger, hate and pain continue to take root. Let us remember that we are human, and though we know we will always be imperfect, strive to be more sincere in our words, actions, and in our hearts. May we look to you for our inspiration and our motivations, and work to be your hands and feet in this world, even as we know that you have prepared our way to the next. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Ontario Ombudsman

Photo credit: Metro News

Three times in this term of office, our City Council has been investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman for potential misconduct. Once was as a whole for going behind closed doors (“in-camera”) to decide the fate of the Occupy London occupation of Victoria Park, and twice as a minority of council for meeting together in a private meeting around the 2012 and 2013 budget processes.

I have tried my best to follow these events, and learn more about the Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin and the role he plays as I went along. I wrote these three posts about the events in 2012, and after the “Billy T’s” incident and investigation were revealed, I recently wrote this post about it, giving a short summation of what lead to this second investigation, and where we are now.

In response to being investigated for the 2012 meeting (for which the group that met were cleared of legal wrongdoing, though the meeting was called “unsavoury”), some members of Council (all having been under investigation for having participated in the Harmony Grand Buffet meeting) said that we should consider opting out of using the Ontario Ombudsman as our closed meeting investigator. This is completely within their legal right as a municipality, though it would mean London taxpayers would be paying the salary of this new investigator, while the province would continue to pay for the Ontario Ombudsman with our provincial tax dollars.

It is against this backdrop that the Ontario Ombudsman published this editorial. He says:

It has never made sense to allow municipalities to opt out of using the Ombudsman and hire an investigator of their choice. Think of it as oversight shopping. It allows municipalities to hire friendly watchdogs — anyone at all, even former councillors or city officials — who will be more inclined to treat them with kid gloves or absolve them of wrongdoing, no questions asked.

This is the concern I and many other Londoners have about the idea of appointing a different closed meeting investigator. I am also instinctively suspicious of any council member that would want to replace the Ombudsman that has been rightfully investigating their conduct with someone else. To maintain public confidence in elected officials, it is their duty to be under appropriate scrutiny.

One major criticism of the Ombudsman’s position is that, though Mr. Marin sells himself as the province’s watchdog, he is “without teeth”. This is because he can only assist and advise councillors that are under investigation, even if misconduct is found. He can say that the Municipal Act has been breached and penalize the councillors in question in the court of public opinion (a ruling that could lose them a re-election bid), but not by any other means. So he goes on in the article to discuss the merits of being able to give out even a small financial penalty:

It makes sense, because this is about enforcing the law. Ontario’s legislation carries no consequences at all. It remains hopelessly toothless in tackling an entrenched culture of backroom dealings in municipalities.

I completely agree. As Mr. Marin states, for some councillors (including those under investigation a second time for the exact same activity), the only way to make the point stick may very well be through the politician’s pocketbook. He concludes:

The solution is simple. First, have one coherent and uniform oversight system that the public can access to hold municipal politicians accountable. Second, fine politicians who flout the system. The fines don’t have to be exorbitant — perhaps they can be in line with the kinds of fines municipalities levy on the rest of us for various infractions. But hitting rogue councillors in the pocketbook would get their attention that the rule of law applies to them, too.

The Ontario Ombudsman has worked hard to push the province of Ontario to expand his oversight jurisdiction, noting that the Ombudsman Act doesn’t give him the ability to investigate in many areas allowed to other provincial ombudsman (this chart on the Ombudsman website gives an excellent demonstration of how it compares). I agree that with his assessment that a universal oversight system should be implemented, and that politicians that don’t follow the rules should be fined.

As the chart shows, currently many jurisdictions (including the extremely controversial ORNGE) have the ability to police themselves, when a third party, impartial judge should be doing the job. And we don’t have to look further than our own London City Council to see councillors that just don’t seem to get it. The electorate are the ultimate authority and judge, but I don’t think we should have to suffer for four years under politicians unwilling to follow the rules. Right now, it seems some members of Council are much more interested in seeing how much they can get away with in their time in office, instead of working in the best interest of London’s citizens. If citizen complaints and investigations by the Ontario Ombudsman are treated with contempt, perhaps the potential for fines are the only language they will understand.

Update (3:30pm 3/20/2013): Since posting this, Councillor Orser has said that having the Ombudsman as the City of London’s closed meeting investigator has created a “culture of fear”, and that after the “Billy T” investigation wraps up, he will table a motion for Council to choose a different investigator. Details can be found here and here.

light show

Photo credit: London Free Press

An embattled mayor facing a legal battle and suspicions of misconduct.

A city council repeatedly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Stagnant economic growth.

Spiking unemployment rates.

An increasingly bitter and pessimistic population.

This is the reality of London as it became time to host the world for the prestigious World Figure Skating Championship, an event the city has been planning and anticipating for years, since we first won the bid to host this massive event. Even against this unenviable backdrop, our city prepared to show the world the very best of what we have to offer.

Another point of contention has been the many items on the city budget connected to the event itself, especially the sound and light show projected to cost $600,000 to project a presentation on the side of the Budweiser Gardens every night of the competition. Many debates were held around the major item, and there was a great deal of public backlash, especially as other public and social services were mulled for trimming in the name of 0% tax increases. Deals were made, the project budget was trimmed, and many sponsors came forward as the event loomed to pick up some of the expense the city balked at.

Only time will truly tell if the expenses were worth it, but this week the sound and light show “Tree of Light” was a massive success with those that came out to watch it, both visitors from around the world, and many Londoners that came out to watch the show. The projection spectacular was put together by Montreal company Moment Factory, and made to both bring to life the skating event for those outside, and to showcase London itself. London journalist Larry Cornies wrote a detailed report and sparkling review of the event in this article.

But was the light show worth it? Check out the video below and judge for yourself.

This is the sound and light show, projected on the side of the event venue, Budweiser Gardens:

This wasn’t the only effort made to promote the event, by any means.

One element of London’s preparation for the event that I thought was brilliantly done was the selection of 5 London bloggers to promote the event, but perhaps more importantly, to promote the city itself. The site for the blogs is here, part of the larger “Canada’s London” promotion package. In reading through the posts, I discovered many new events and places I want to check out, and was reminded of many parts I’d previously explored and enjoyed. Perhaps then, this is the lasting magic of the event: perhaps we can collectively fall back into love with our home.

Something else that helped with this re-discovery was this great promotional video put together during the World Figure Skating Championship. Check it out:

London has been acknowledged by those that visited us this part week for the World Figure Skating Championship to be gracious hosts, welcome and courteous to the world. We have been told that we gave them a great time and lasting memories that they will share for years to come.

In no way will our problems disappear overnight. If nothing else, this wonderful event has been a respite from the problems facing our city, and hopefully, a breath of fresh air in a city that has in many ways become unable to see beyond the present woes. Let us return to the issues we must face in the week ahead, but work to do it without forgetting the week we just had. London didn’t hold up a false front to the world, this isn’t a case of “pay no mind to the man behind the curtain”. This week we showed the world what we are capable of, and I hope, rediscovered a potential we may have forgotten we have. This week, we showed the world our best. I hope that as we move ahead, we may continue to work to show this side we showed the world to each other.

Let’s take a moment to thank the world for what they have given us. A renewed sense of self, and knowledge that we are both global citizens and part of a very special community. Let’s move forward from this with renewed passion for our city, and set our minds to finding ways we can all make it a little better.

Calcutta

Who am I?

What have I become?

What has shaped me?

What do I want for my community?

In writing my previous post, it made me wonder at exactly how community works, at the wonderful complexity of how the society of our upbringing shapes us, and we shape it in our turn. I also wonder about whether we are truly progressing as we move forward in North America (and other “developed” nations), and what the cost of this progress will be. I continue to reflect on stories Glen Pearson and Marty Levesque told me about their experiences in Sudan and El Salvador. From the talk we had, I took this away from it:

Although through relief and long-term efforts, “developing” countries are being lifted slowly out of grinding poverty, they are also losing something of themselves in the process, something we may have already lost. While countries we consider developing (and therefore unfinished projects) are gaining something of a middle class and relative wealth, they may be losing their sense of community as the individual becomes self-sufficient, self-satisfied and self-secure. The countries we consider “developing” may have a great deal to teach us about ourselves, about what we have lost, what we must find again to be truly whole and healthy societies.

In his book “The Irresistible Revolution”, author Shane Claiborne gives a startling account of how a phone call to the other side of the world changed his life, and showed him what loving community can mean. While he was in university in the early 90’s he and some of his classmates pooled their money to make a long-distance call to Calcutta, India. When a soft voice came through the line, whispering against static on the weak connection, he asked if he had the right number to speak to Mother Teresa, if this might be one of her representatives.

The voice on the other side simply said, “This is her.”

When they asked what advice she had for them, how to live in community, how they can be a light in the world as she is, she simply answered, “Come and see.”

They went.

What they found was people in some of the worst conditions imaginable, but they also found a truly astounding community. Everyone relied on each other, and trusted that everyone would do all they were able to do, the more able taking care of the less, with Mother Teresa, as old and frail as she was, washing the feet and caring for the lepers in the community.

It was a community with so very little to share, relying heavily on the generosity of others for the supplies needed to sustain them. Yet every member seemed to know exactly where their place was, and the collective had a deep sense of self and purpose.

Shane goes on to talk about his return to the United States, and trying to make sense of a world that seemed turned upside down.

He reflected in time that the country was very much the same as he had left it, since they had only been gone 10 weeks. But everything seemed so different – he returned to a country where the middle class make up what could now be considered among the 1% of the world’s wealth, yet everywhere he looked he felt emptiness, soullessness. He encountered people burned out, depressed, angry and frightened. He found people without a sense of self, a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging.

What was missing? What is missing?

Perhaps it is through financial liberation we don’t feel the same need to rely on others, giving us freedom, but also pulling us all apart.

Perhaps it is through adversity that we find our collective strength.

I think we’ve already seen something of this in London. When the massive Electro Motive plant threatened to close in January 2012, the neighbourhood and community associations rallied to the workers’ cause, picketing with them, sharing a coffee and stories in the cold. But much more than that happened. Soon, people from all over the city were there at the factory gates with them, showing solidarity with the workers, not because they thought that it would sway those making the business decisions, but just because they could.

It was a terrible moment in our city, one we continue to feel, as the workers had to try to find other work in the area, with many having to move from the city they love to find work elsewhere. Yet it was also strife that brought all of us closer together.

Events like the financial meltdown as well as political strife and unrest can start movements global in scope, including the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, bringing people together under common cause. However, my hope is that we may start to come back together even in times of relative stability, instead of drifting back apart. How that may happen though, is much more difficult to answer.

I do think that small steps can turn into big action. If we endeavour to become more invested in where we live, it can help us get closer in tune with ourselves as well as the community that shapes us.

Make an effort to meet our neighbours. Host/participate in a community event. Become part of community organizations.

These may seem like small, inconsequential steps, but they can be rewarding beyond imagining.

Next post: Sharing Community

community building

Last week, I met for coffee with Glen Pearson, Marty Leveque and Sean Quigley. We had a long discussion on what it is to be and make community, a conversation I’m still digesting.

I feel as if my understanding of community is constantly changing, and I hope, evolving. Growing up in the small town of Wiarton, the community was very close-knit, with seemingly everyone involved in town organizations, including community boards/organizations, church groups, charities, political parties, and public office in Town Hall. The culture was very close, supportive, though sometimes almost claustrophobic with everyone so aware of everyone else’s lives.

Then when I was 15, my parents and I moved to the town of St. Thomas, which with a population of about 37,000 (along with its close proximity to London) seemed massive. In Wiarton, the closest large population was Owen Sound with a population of about 24,000, whereas I had moved to a place where the nearest city was London. Needless to say, it was a large adjustment.

In living in St. Thomas and then London, I have struggled to re-discover what it means to be in community, living in much larger urban areas where the frameworks I came to know growing up weren’t so readily apparent.

This change in my life was along the backdrop of the shifting of our world from smaller communities to a global village, with the advent of the internet, global contact and global shopping/shipping. As our scope of consciousness has broadened, we face questions of where our place in the world is, what role our community has in our lives, and how we fit into our community.

In some ways, we are enjoying a new freedom by becoming unrestrained from the societal constraints of previous generations, from expectations of joining certain clubs/associations, political parties, religious institutions. But at the same time, we may be becoming detached from the societal pillars that are foundational to our communities. Our greatest challenge as a global generation may be re-finding where we belong, and re-discovering the role we have to play in building the community we want for the future.

I am heartened as I see around me many people, communities and cities working to re-discover their roots in this new global reality, to work to truly see themselves even as they try to find their place. London has a great way to go yet, but we’ve already come so far, as more and more citizens take up this call of discovery and re-discovery.

One person that has helped both with my personal journey as well as helping build our collective consciousness as a community is Glen Pearson. Glen has built a remarkable body of work on citizenship, public engagement, and what it means to be a community with his blog “The Parallel Parliament”. His latest book, “A Place For Us: Thoughts on a City in Transition” gives poignant thoughts on London’s past, about the challenge we have of truly discovering who we are, and how we can work together to build a community of the future we can truly be proud of.

This takes me back to the conversation I had with Glen, Marty and Sean. One of the main points was stories Glen shared of his experience in Sudan and elsewhere, and a recent mission trip Marty was part of in El Salvador. Marty and Glen described how their experiences have changed their perceptions, of our society’s assumption about what it means to be a “developed” and a “developing” country.

Although through relief and long-term efforts, “developing” countries are being lifted slowly out of grinding poverty, they are also losing something of themselves in the process, something we may have already lost. While countries we consider developing (and therefore unfinished projects) are gaining something of a middle class and relative wealth, they may be losing their sense of community as the individual becomes self-sufficient, self-satisfied and self-secure. The countries we consider “developing” may have a great deal to teach us about ourselves, about what we have lost, what we must find again to be truly whole and healthy societies.

One of the most fulfilling projects Sarah and I have taken up in our new community of Argyle is joining first the Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle Steering Committee, and then the Argyle Community Association. It gives me both a sense of achievement and a source of hope to be part of a new generation renewing their commitment to their community, and staking a claim in its future. It is a terrific way to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication of the generations that came before, and to take up the torch for generations to come.

The global movement has been blamed for furthering the shift of power from the many to the few, sparking events of global consciousness and awareness, including first the Arab Spring and later, Occupy Wall Street.

In examining groups like Occupy Wall Street (and closer to home, Occupy London), I appreciate the effort and expression of such groups, working to bring awareness to massive global issues, and representing the 99%, the 99/100 working hard for a living and yet being left out of global politics and global power.

But in following the movement, and speaking to many that were/are a part of it, I became disheartened. There were some I encountered that want to “change the system from the inside”, but far too many in my opinion refused to have any connection, collaboration, cooperation with people in public office, or even in places of authority in general. I believe we should, need to work with existing organizations, even as we shape them through participation to the future we imagine together. Imagine if we all worked to:

Occupy community associations.

Occupy charities.

Occupy religious organizations.  

Occupy corporations.

Occupy small businesses.

Occupy community organizations.

Occupy service boards.

Occupy City Hall.

Occupy Queen’s Park.

Occupy Parliament Hill.

We all have a part to play in our communities. My hope is that in finding our role in our community, we may each learn more about who we are, awaken a deeper understanding of who we are as a community and society, and build bridges to the future we all desire.

Next post: Re-Creating Community