Monday, 27 February 2017

Safe Injection Sites and the Gospel of Harm Reduction

I guess it is not surprising that I would weigh in on the controversial project of the proposed safe injection sites in Edmonton.  The response from people is a mixed bag of apples of course.  Health care workers and even the Edmonton Police Service know and believe this could work and be successful.  Then there are the living room critics who have shared some of the most inhumane comments I have read in various news articles.  Clearly, as a people and a nation we are losing compassion for our brothers and sisters in God.  Therefore, I suggest the Gospel of Harm Reduction as a means to understanding the issue.

The Gospel of Harm Reduction is similar to that of the four Gospels in that forgiveness, reconciliation and love are at the centre of helping people who are hopeless (Matt. 18:21-22).  The light in Gospel of Harm Reduction is not just about a safe place to inject and enabling, rather, it is about medical professionals, social workers and addiction counsellors who make themselves readily available to address potential overdoses and save lives; offer recovery and program plans to help addicts get off of drugs when someone is ready to move on; and providing safety for everyone in the community (1 Peter 4:10).

Those who are aggressively opposed to such a proposition have raised concerns that are shallow and callous in my opinion.  They argue that we as a society should just allow these people suffer and even die.  Other arguments imply that our addicts are somehow the problem of high taxes and that these safe injections sites would increase their taxes.  The issue to me is not about how much tax savings these safe injection sites will incur; to me that would reduce the purpose of these centres and the people who use them to numerical values.  These centres are so much more in that they are there to save lives, and that is the real Good News (Mark 2:7-11).

 Imagine if we give people who have suffered no dignity for so long a share in love and dignity, how that might impact their situation--kind of like what Christ does with humanity when we mess up all the time.  That we are forgiven only when we share that reconciliation with others (Luke 6:37), especially when we do it with the least of our brothers and sisters (Matt. 25:40).  It is a golden opportunity to embrace and build community with those who suffer and need professional supports in place.

Perhaps, the numbers and facts about the tax savings is what people need--but remember what happens when you mind the purse strings of money over the things that really matter (John 12:6), human life.  Let us embrace a system that has been proved to be effective and save lives and offers redemption-we can be that light for others, we can be love instead of being a barrier for our people in need by simply supporting those who are called professionally to save lives (John 11).  Hopefully, the good people of Edmonton will see the light in this matter because there are people are suffering for hope, dignity and support in their lives.

Friday, 24 February 2017

End Poverty: It will take effort and self awareness

On Wednesday I went to the End Poverty meeting at the Mustard Seed.  Since I minister to the impoverished, homeless and addicted, I felt it necessary to be more informed about the city's strategy and the barriers that may inhibit success of this plan.

First, there are some staggering facts that people in Edmonton and the rest Canada are going to have to face. One is that poverty is on the rise.  One out of eight people in Edmonton live in poverty (that is below the poverty line)!  There is less affordable housing options available with property values increasing 11 percent in one year!  This market, obviously, is bringing in investors into poorer neighbourhoods to build new housing with the intent of making the highest profit possible.

The cost of living is going up rapidly, wages stay stagnant, and new people are starting to enter the poverty world that I work in.  The demographic is changing and End Poverty Edmonton is doing its part to get secure funding for new affordable housing, encourage churches and the greater community to be more involved with the End Poverty initiative.  Is the goal lofty, sure. I see it this way, however, you never know how high you can jump if you keep the bar set closest to the ground. So if you are going to raise the bar, go for the highest setting point first, who knows you might make it.

I digress.  The biggest struggle I see in the mandate is getting outer communities to welcome the poor into their area; to embrace affordable housing in their community; and to truly be hospitable to "our people."  Of course this is a scary undertaking, but why?  Some are worried about drugs, that these people are unclean and a whole cocktail of excuses that has perpetuated the NIMBY culture.

I believe behind all the noise of excuses is a fear that by committing to our undesirable neighbours (aka as the hard to house) we are committing ourselves to a long term relationship that may even take years to cultivate.  A fear that you might actually have more in common with the "them" we fear.  A fear that maybe, just maybe, that our neighbours who are in need might be only a mirror of how truly broken our homes and society really are, and that we need to work on our own defects before casting stones.

One of my favourite saints is Francis of Assisi and he actually despised lepers because they were ugly and  poor.  Francis would purposely avoid them.  But by his misfortune, he ended up meeting them, living with them, building a relationship with them, and he had a conversion experience about his own ugliness in his spirit.  What Francis realised is that his own judgemental behaviour was a way to avoid his own spiritual cancer--it was easier to lash out rather than work on himself.
  He understood that it is not a "us" versus "them" situation concerning the fragility of our humanness, just that some hide it better due to having riches and wealth or in his case, despising the poor.

What Francis discovered is that all of us are broken, and that there is no them.  The so called them were more "whole", more together, and insightful than he was.  By embracing and even kissing the leper, he discovered that he was in need of repair, but the only way to do that was by rebuilding the whole community, not just some who are privileged.  And maybe that is what we fear the most concerning ending poverty: that our impoverished people can teach us more about ourselves, than we can by helping them.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Broken Homes and Broken Bones

For those who do not know, I live close to the inner city.  Even my neighbourhood is considered low income, despite all the re-gentrification that has happened in the past ten years.  As I walk to work, one can not help but notice all the abandoned houses due to fires or closures by the health board.  My neighbourhood is littered with them and so is the McCauley area.  Boarded up to prevent squatters, these places tend to just sit there and take up space for years, the landlords just leave the lots as they are or empty.

I can not help but to make an analogy of these broken homes with some people that I serve, those whose spirits and bones have been broken.  You encounter people like this coming from all walks of life and from all cultural and economic circumstances.

When really wounded there is always that "danger keep out" sign in front of them.  Boarded up to protect what shell of a house remains.  As sad as this analogy may seem, there is hope for the human spirit.

All human beings are given some type of foundation to work with.  People are resilient, and God only knows that I have heard my share of stories that testify how the human spirit is built to be resilient.  We all have survived from pain, trauma, fear and hopelessness from circumstances we may have or may not have had control over: we have tools that helped us to cope and continue on healthily.  These are tools and skills that we can share with others who may not know how to use them.

No matter the damage, therefore, there is always a possibility to rebuild that spiritual house.  These houses need to be rebuilt with the support of a healthy community who are in essence the landlords of the spirit of the community.

As landlords we are in charge of stewarding our communities and relationships-to be good neighbours.  Yet, I believe we often fail to support one another in such mundane circumstances.  I find that we easily judge and try to board up those who are desperately in need of our support.

Often we label these people, condemn them and tell others to stay away and pass on the responsibilities to the government and social workers to do the carpentry work of the human soul: despite the systems efforts, the system only acts like an insurance company that gives out the bare minimum funds to deal with the damage that is done.  They can not build and sustain the relational aspect missing in most of these tenant's lives.

The hope I see, in contrast, is that if we can come to see these people as our broken people, as being part of our community, part of our human family, we will be moved to help rebuild their home by being carpenters of healthy relationships, good will and peacemaking.

By doing that, we have more of a chance of helping people than just relying on the welfare state to repair the damage done.  We can give our brothers and sisters a chance to become more than just an abandoned home that we board up and leave to rot. We can give them a chance to be carpenters too, to share tools that can help others who are struggling-to help rebuild other broken spirits.   The question is do we want to be slumlords of the human spirit, or responsible landlords of the human spirit?

Peace and Joy,

Billy

Friday, 17 February 2017

My Sermon from Last Sunday

My dear friends in Christ, we continue with the Sermon on the Mount.  To remind us what we have learned thus far let us have brief review of the past Sundays.   Jesus has called us “Repent” that is to be awakened from the slumber of complacency of simply just following God’s rules.  We are called to engage God’s laws in such a way that these laws deepen our relationship with Jesus and the world. 
We have heard the great beatitudes.  Blessings that calls us to be open to a new way of living and to receive the light of life that the laws of God permeate.  The beatitudes asks us to do nothing more but to engage the world as humble peacemakers, and honest witnesses to Jesus love for us and the world.  In today’s gospel, Jesus continues his sermon by addressing the Laws of God and how they were misinterpreted or misunderstood.
            Each Law addresses a theme: murder, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths in God’s name.  These actions break apart communities, divides families and leaves a residue of pain that sometimes is left unhealed.   There was widespread debate on how the commandments were to be interpreted which led to more legalistic understanding of the commandments.  Rather than understanding God’s laws as means to build and create better relationships with God and our community, they were interpreted to protect the individual themselves through offerings at the altar.
 Instead of taking a legalistic approach to God’s laws, Jesus shares with us that God’s laws are a means for us to reflect on who we are, what we are becoming and how we can change and bring new life in the world in our relationships with each other.  At the core of these laws, the spirit of these laws, is that we embrace a change of heart and conversion of our mind—all of which are reflected in our actions.
            Behind the acts of murder, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths to God are thoughts and feelings of hate, lust, spiritual laziness, and dishonesty.  Each of these vices, are toxic to who we are.  Hate and lust hinge on insecurity, a selfish desire, a need for power, and even a need for domination over another person or our environment.  Spiritual laziness leads us to give up on prayer, relationships and fighting the good fight.   Dishonesty through oaths is more about how we manipulate the laws of God to justify our innocence when we are not perfect. 
All of these toxins manipulate what is truthful into a lie and blocks our ability to understand and receive the true love of God.  These poisons act not only on our hearts and minds, but become physical much like how a disease reacts in our body.  Except, when we allow our hearts and minds to be infiltrated with hate, lust, laziness and dishonesty we end up harming others, we can make them sick, especially those we love and that cycle becomes harder and harder to cure.  All of these sins are contrary to the beatitudes because they create disorder, they are a type of violence, and they are selfish—they do not represent what it means to be humble and righteous peacemakers of the Creator. 

Today’s gospel is clearly relevant now.  It is easy to give into hate and blame others for the lack of love we feel.   It is easy to see the commandments as a legal system to justify are wrongdoings rather than reflecting on who and what we are becoming.  It is easier to make an oath invoking God’s name rather than to take the rightful blame for our faults.  It is easier to isolate ourselves from the people we love or meeting new strangers rather than working harder in growing healthy relationships.  Christ calls us not hide behind a set of legal prescriptions that protects our basic rights: the God of Jesus wants honesty, not excuses, humility not power, action not laziness and above all love not hate.  
Amen.         

Welcome

Well this is my first blog in years.  To catch everyone up, I used to write a blog called God's Geste.  I have disbanded that blog quite some time ago.  Recently, I have been inspired again to share meditations, reflections, and sermons about my personal faith journey of working and living in the inner city of Edmonton.  As a pastoral associate in the inner city, I hear of people's struggles, pains, sufferings, successes, joy and beauty.  These themes are the inspiration for my reflections.  Thank you for taking the time read this.

Peace and God's Joy,


Billy