Monday, September 5, 2011

The book Chapters !ndigo somehow forgot

Chapters Indigo sent me an interesting email last week, something like this:


The NIV BibleYou can click on the pic above, for Chapter !ndigo’s full list of 50 books, definitely some very good books. It seems to me that they forgot THE book that has changed far more lives than any of these. It has been more widely read than any of these 50 books and translated into more languages than all of these books put together. Martin Luther’s translation of THIS book reformed the German language much as the King James translation has shaped the English language. It is THE book that has forever changed my life and continues to transform my future. My source of hope, inspiration and direction. Reading it is unlike any other book, for in it the faithful hear God speak to them, an experience to which we must humbly respond, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16). If you’re going to make a list of books that will change your life, how could you possibly not include the most life changing book of all, The Holy Bible?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Michele Bachmann for Pastor

Michele Bachmann preaching, picture by Brendan HoffmanMichele Bachmann for President!? How about Michele Bachmann for Pastor? I don’t see her as a strong candidate for President of the United States, but after hearing Michele Bachmann preach at a church in Iowa, I’m convinced she would be a great candidate for becoming a pastor. It’s true she won the Ames Straw Poll last week in Iowa, but why did she win it? Wasn’t it because of Bachmann’s compelling Christian testimony and her faith-inspired conservative values? If so, isn’t this poll really telling us that Bachmann would be a great pastor more so than telling us she would be a good president? I really think she could be a great pastor. She would have to drop the political rhetoric and stick to her more compelling message about her faith, her experience as a Christian, and what she’s learned from the Bible. If she could do that, I could see her being a serious candidate for becoming a pastor. Bachmann’s passion would be far better applied on this church track rather than on this bid to become President.

Michele Bachmann is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Minnesota, the first Republican woman to represent that state in Congress. In Washington DC, Bachmann founded and chairs the Tea Party Caucus within Congress. Now, with little to no political accomplishments, she’s a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. And she seems to be very focused on winning the Iowa Caucuses which is the first step toward that goal. The Ames straw poll victory certainly helps her.

In the midst of this campaigning in Iowa, on Sunday, July 24, Michele Bachmann spoke at a conservative Christian church that bans women from leadership and preaching. New Life Community Church Pastor Brian Hagerman explained, “We generally would not have a woman to come to specifically teach because we feel God calls men as pastors to be the primary teachers of their churches.” Yet they did invite Michele Bachmann to this church in Marion, Iowa to “share her testimony”—to speak as one believer to fellow believers about what God had done and is doing in her life. They just did not want her teaching the Bible or speaking too heavily about politics.

Doesn’t this beg the question as to whether Pastor Hagerman and the members of his church would actually vote for Michele Bachmann to become president? If you do not believe that women should be leaders or preachers in the church, would you be able to support a woman taking on the highest leadership role in the country? Often the belief that woman cannot lead in the church is accompanied by other conservative values like the belief that the man is “the head of household”—Presidents Bush Obama Bush Clinton Carterthe key decision maker and the preference to see women staying at home rather than being in the workforce. I’ve certainly been in conservative churches that do not believe women should run for political office. In fairness, though, when asked the question, Pastor Hagerman said, “Outside of specifically leading a church or pastoring a church, I personally don’t read in scripture that God says a man can have this job and a woman have this job.” That seems a bit conflicted to me to believe that a woman cannot lead a church of 200 people  but could lead one of the most powerful nations in the world.

Today, there are a growing number of churches which recognize that Jesus fully included women in his teaching ministry and appointed a few of these female disciples to be the very first witnesses of his resurrection. To believe that only men should be leaders in the church like they do in Marion, Iowa is to disregard a lot of evidence for women in leadership in the New Testament church. The Apostle Paul, for example, when writing to the Romans, sends greetings to 27 people who helped to lead the church in Rome and 10 of them are women, more than one-third of the church’s leadership. He clearly identifies some of their titles and positions in the church such as Junia the “outstanding” apostle, Priscilla his “co-worker,” and Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa who “worked very hard” for the church. Not only that, this letter to the Romans which some regard as Paul’s greatest theological work was delivered to Rome by Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae. It is more than likely that she would’ve presented it to the church in Rome, having been commended to the church by Paul, thus preaching the words written by the apostle. Given this reality of women in leadership in the New Testament era church, there is no reason why women should not be serving as teachers, preachers and pastors in our churches today.

Bachmann prays, pic by Brendan HoffmanMichele Bachmann is a strong candidate to become a pastor. Though New Life Community Church in Iowa said that Bachmann was not to teach from the Bible, in her speech that day, she preached a sermon, easily the best preaching I’ve heard this year. It was great. She was interesting and engaging as she shared how she grew up in the church yet somehow missed the gospel, but later did become a Christian and decided to live as a Christian making a difference in this world just as God was calling her to do. And, then, she riveted everyone’s attention as she opened the Bible and began to preach. “This is a wonderful story in 1 Samuel 14 that I want to share with you.... [King] Saul was so disheartened that he didn’t know what to do. But his son Jonathan did not give up hope. He had a heart that would not be defeated. He had a heart that said we can do this.” Bachmann continued, narrating through this incredible biblical story of courage and faith. Then, with Billy Graham-like passion, she made that Scripture come alive to every person listening, as she preached, “Oftentimes challenges that come into our life, whether they are small or whether they are large like Jonathan was facing—those challenges are often brilliantly disguised by our God as an opportunity for him to show his greatness. That he is powerful to save. And so I say to you this morning... never look at a challenge and think that you go it alone. Never think that we serve a God who is not mighty to save. He prevails.... Don’t think for a moment that he is not more powerful yet to save.” Amen!

I’ve had the opportunity to hear several new preachers fresh out of seminary preach this year as well as a few seasoned pastors. None of them had even a quarter of the passion and power with which Michele Bachmann delivered that message. Look, I don’t understand her political views or how the Republicans could even consider her to be a good candidate for the presidency when she actually advocated for defaulting on the U.S. debt, but I do know that Michele Bachmann can preach. She’s a passionate Christian who sincerely wants to live for God. When you look at what is best about Michele Bachmann’s campaign presentations in Iowa—her biblical preaching, her faith and her Christian values, let’s be serious, she is a great candidate for becoming a pastor. I, for one, would vote for her to be pastor of a church, but not President of the United States.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Children are more important than chocolate

It sounds like a good news story, doesn’t it? Nestle is really helping Ivory Coast by distributing saplings that will grow into disease-resistant cocoa trees. This will greatly boost productivity and improve the quality of the cocoa beans. But is this really a good news story? What about the quality of life for the 200,000 children who labour in the cocoa jungles of Ivory Coast? What about the child slaves trafficked from Burkino Faso and Mali included in that number? Why isn’t Nestle doing something to help these children? They could’ve linked the distribution of these new cocoa trees to programs that are working to eliminate child slavery and end the worst forms of child labour.

The good news story is actually happening in Cameroon, the fourth largest cocoa-producing country. Companies like Mars and Cadbury have been impressed by research that shows that farmers in Cameroon cultivate cocoa trees in a more sustainable way that essentially preserves and renews the rainforest.Cargill trains Cameroon cocoa farmers This is in great contrast to the monoculture cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast where the rainforest is being razed and then with time the cocoa trees are becoming less productive. What impresses me even more is that Cameroon does not have the same high rate of child labour that keeps children from attending school nor is the country known for the same extensive practice of child trafficking and slavery. Martin Gilmour, UK-based cocoa research manager for Mars, says, “We would like to see farmers get higher prices for their cocoa. It would be better for both of us.” And it would help to eliminate the so-called “need” for child labour. So Cargill, a big cocoa purchaser and bulk chocolate producer for companies like Cadbury and Mars, is rolling out its UTZ certification farmer training programme in Cameroon which should dramatically boost their sustainable cocoa output. This UTZ certification means working with the ILO to eliminate the worst forms of child labour which includes slavery and denial of schooling. Thus, Cameroon is already in a better position than Ivory Coast when it comes to child labour and now the chocolate companies are seeing the benefit of investing in Cameroon’s cocoa production in a way that will go further to eliminating the worst forms of child labour and improving sustainability. Excellent! Now why wasn’t this good news story broadcast on TV?Hersheys Smores

Finally, summer time makes is a great time to tell Hershey’s that we want more from our S’mores! That’s right, we want fair trade chocolate in our S’mores. Hershey’s Chocolate made S’mores to be the popular treat they are, but they don’t produce any fair trade chocolate bars. As a chocolate company they continue to show a resistance to doing anything about the serious child labour and slavery problem in West Africa. I mentioned above that Mars and Cadbury are speaking up and Cargill is listening, but Hershey remains silent. Raise the Bar, Hershey is an excellent website giving many practical ways for us to get involved in the fight against child slavery and abusive child labour in West Africa.

Raise The Bar


P.S. It’s hard to ever truly find a good news story when it comes to cocoa coming from West Africa. The sources I cited above may have not been entirely accurate in their assessment of child labour in Cameroon’s cocoa industry. This episode of the BBC World TV series "Survivors Guide" looks at the ILO’s project in Cameroon. Sobering, to say the least.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why the world needs Superman

Superman responds to US criticism -- you'll have to buy Action Comics 900 to find out what happend in Iran as he was flying awaySuperman renounced his U.S. citizenship! Fox News got all upset and Mike Huckabee was disturbed last month when Action Comics #900 was released. I just had to get my own copy of this comic — no small feat as the publicity caused it to sell out fast everywhere. In spite of the media frenzy, the comic book story wasn’t really about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship. (Mike Huckabee who was so disturbed by this notion had not even bothered to read the comic before condemning it.) The story was more about the limitations of a superhero and how little Superman could actually do during the protests of the Arab Spring. Superman chose to stand with a large group of peaceful, non-resistant protesters demonstrating in Iran. He admitted this was a problem he couldn’t solve with his superpowers, but he could show his support and he did by standing with them — an action which landed Superman in trouble with the U.S. government. (Since Fox News doesn’t want him, we’ll glady give Superman Canadian citizenship. After all his Fortress of Solitude has always been in the Canadian Arctic.)

June, as it turns out, was quite the month for the iconic superhero. It saw the 10-year series finale of Smallville, the show all about the coming of age of Superman (Clark Kent). After watching it, a good friend of mine said, “It was pretty good even though I never watched Smallville before. They built up the anticipation and made you want to see Superman fly.” Humoured, I replied, “The anticipation you experienced in those two hours, I’ve been experiencing over the last 10 years! They definitely built up the anticipation. I’ve been watching and waiting for 10 years now to see the blue suit, the red cape, the first flight and the emergence of Superman.”

Action Comics #900 (and other Superman comics too), the TV series Smallville and even the song “Superman (It’s not easy)” by Five for Fighting are examples of the postmodern revision of Superman. In these last few years, we’ve learned that behind the legend and the cape, there is suffering — a vulnerable hero, sometimes unsure of himself, lonely and insecure, hurting but hoping. And we had thought he was almost a god, invincible and invulnerable, a superhuman alien, the last son of Krypton. Tom Welling in Smallville and Brandon Routh in Superman Returns have revealed this more human, more sympathetic, and more vulnerable side of Superman. In the 2006 movie Superman almost dies, sacrificing himself to save the earth. This whole new way of understanding Superman’s limitations and his “humanness” may have begun in the remarkable 1992 comic “The Death of Superman.”

Superman-then-and-nowThis revision of Superman really does make sense. When I think back to my childhood dream of becoming Superman and being able to defeat every foe and solve every problem while never being hurt by anyone nor feeling any of this world’s pain, I realize now that wasn’t quite realistic. Seriously, how could a hero, a true hero, be untouched and uninvolved in this world’s suffering? To be a hero these days, Superman must push himself through constant trials, experience pain, and be willing to sacrifice himself. Contrast the Brandon Routh Superman of Superman Returns (2006) who struggles intensely and must use every ounce of his ingenuity, strength and speed to save a passenger jet spinning out of control — contrast him with the Christopher Reeve Superman of the original Superman movie (1978) who effortlessly rescued Air Force One by subbing in for an engine. This new young hero raised in Smallville who goes through trials and struggles to become Superman is truly a superhero.

What 9/11 taught us about heroes is that they sacrifice themselves to save others, they put themselves in harm’s way, they suffer and more often than we realized, they die in the line of duty. In Canada, the Highway of Heroes is the road travelled when fallen soldiers are returned from Afghanistan. People line the way, standing with firefighters and other emergency workers to pay tribute to our military heroes. Christians ought to pay close attention to this redefinition of “heroes” and revision of Superman. After all, we follow a Saviour who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Yet the church is still caught up in the modern era triumphalism that produced the invincible and invulnerable Superman. Whey else would we think it odd when we as Christians are touched by and involved in this world’s suffering? Why do we question the goodness of God when a young father is diagnosed with terminal cancer? Why do we as Christians believe that we should feel no pain and be healed from all diseases? Why are we so prone to insist that God should intervene at every turn and save us from harm? (Really listen to our group prayers! See what we really believe.) We don’t expect a fellow believer to land a lousy job and be underpaid or to suffer from depression or to be unable to save their marriage. Why do we protest so loudly when the way is hard and the path uncertain? Isn’t it true that the church today celebrates success, wealth and victory? Triumph to triumph!

Perhaps we’ve gotten our heroes of the faith all wrong by worshipping success. Maybe this isn’t God’s way of changing the world. Isn’t it just possible that the heroes God calls us to be in this world will struggle and be unsure at times, be vulnerable and caught up in this misery of this world, perhaps find themselves alone, hurting yet hoping. I suspect these are exactly the kind of heroes God is using to change the world. Consider again the Beatitudes, that list of what God rewards. As Christians, aren’t we called to follow the way of our real Superhero, Jesus?

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Superhero and Perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NIV but improved)

Here’s the reason I wrote this article on today’s Superman: We need a better way to translate the Greek word αρχηγος (archagos) which is used to describe Jesus four times in the New Testament (The verse above, Hebrews 12:2, and 2:10; Acts 3:15, 5:31). Our typical translations like “author” and “pioneer” fall way short of the powerful meaning packed in the Greek word αρχηγος. Though they get at some aspect of the meaning, I don’t think terms like this say enough. The mighty Hercules, really the ancient Greek version of Superman, the half-human and half-divine hero, was called both αρχηγος and saviour — superhero and saviour. These are exactly the Greek terms used of Jesus in Acts 5:31! Anyone familiar with the legend of Hercules wouldn’t imagine calling him an “author” or a “pioneer,”becoming Superman certainly not a “prince”—such words do not do him justice. Nor do I think that such weak translations of αρχηγος, though they convey some element of truth, are adequate translations of this title when applied to Jesus. It would be much better to capitalize on today’s understanding of what makes a hero and proclaim Jesus to be our Superhero and Saviour (rather than “Prince and Saviour” as in the NIV of Acts 5:31). He is the one who can show us how to make a difference in this world.

When I read what Hebrews 2:10-18 says about Jesus, I see a hero who shared in our humanity, suffered in his flesh and sacrificed himself for us. Through the trials, temptations and suffering, he proved himself faithful. Because of what he experienced, Jesus is merciful toward us, ready to help us, able to make us like himself, faithful to the end. This Superhero saves us, inspires us and is transforming us to be like himself in this world. It may not be easy, but these are the heroes the world needs to see emerging from the church today, real heroes who will make a difference.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Canada’s Ganong chocolate factory expands: bittersweet news

In late June, Ganong Bros. Ltd, Canada’s oldest chocolate factory, announced a $10 million expansion that will increase the size of their factory by 10%, add 30-40 jobs and allow them to potentially increase their sales volume by 25%. This was made possible in part by $5 million in loans from the province and the federal government, but it seems to me this “good” news is actually “bittersweet” at best.

chocolate New BrunswickAt the June 24 announcement, Premier David Alward said, “This is a very positive day for Charlotte County, for St. Stephen and more importantly for New Brunswick.” It seems the premier was assuming the 30-40 news jobs would be going to people in St. Stephen and Charlotte County, but at this same event David Ganong, chair of the board, made clear they would outsource the jobs if they could not find qualified New Brunswickers. They’ve previously hired dozens of foreign workers. New Brunswick’s unemployment is at 9.5% and with the province now putting $3 million toward this new expansion, you would think asking Ganong Bros. to guarantee that jobs would go to New Brunswickers, even if training was required, would’ve been smart. So the news is not as good as it could have been.

Ganong Bros chocolateThe federal government, through the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency, put $2 million toward the expansion at the St. Stephen factory which is happening in part because Ganong Bros. landed a long-term contract with a major international customer, with the details still being top secret. This introduces international trade issues which no one spoke about at the announcement.

Ganong Bros. makes a variety of chocolate and candy confections, but they do not source their own cocoa beans or even make their own chocolate. They purchase bulk chocolate which is melted and used to create the fine chocolate treats Canadians have enjoyed from Ganong for 138 years now, including Delecto assorted chocolates and Chicken Bones. It’s common practice, nearly ever chocolatier in Canada uses bulk chocolate. No one wants to talk about the serious ethical issues involved in the purchase and resale of bulk chocolate, but the federal government ought to take a stand.

Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana supply about 67% of the world’s chocolate, but it is increasingly coming to light that both countries have children labouring in the cocoa jungles. In many cases, children do not go to school, but instead work long hard days doing work far too dangerous for them.bitter truth CBC Reporter Carol Off investigated the dark side of the cocoa industry in her book Bitter Chocolate and the BBC Panorama documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth backed up her findings and presented more evidence. What is this bitter truth? The children who labour so hard to produce the cocoa never taste the Ganong chocolates or any other chocolate for that matter. Not only are children forced to work, but the desperately poor cocoa farmers have also resorted to trafficking children from other West African countries and putting them to work as slaves. We know this is happening and, yet, to date, Canada has done nothing about it, continuing to import the West African cocoa beans and doing nothing to discourage the practice of child labour and child slavery.

We can’t pretend this investment from our federal government at Ganong Bros. is not a failure to do something to help change the plight of the children of West Africa. Why couldn’t the federal government, for example, have made their investment contingent on Ganong Bros. committing to making 25% of their chocolate products from Fair Trade chocolate (which improves the working conditions for children, gets them into school, and eliminates slavery). How long will Canadians be content to happily eat chocolate produced from cocoa harvested by child labourers and child slaves?

Stop chocolate child slaveryJesus said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did not do for me” (Matt 23:45). Don’t we have a moral obligation to work against slavery, especially to end child trafficking and slavery? Or should we just go one indulging in our Ganong chocolate truffles pretending that we’re not contributing to the forced labour of children in West Africa? Can we treat our kids with Kit Kats and Snickers while ignoring the plight of the children who produce the cocoa but never taste the chocolate? I can’t do it anymore. And I would like to see Canada do something about it. I’m writing to the New Brunswick premier, the federal minister responsible for ACOA and others; I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I was going to post the fourth and final installment of the documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth, just in case you have not finished viewing it as I have previously posted the first three parts. Unfortunately, the high quality youtube video I had previously posted is no longer available. I’ll post this video which is part 4 of 5. You can click on the youtube button to find the fifth part. Listen carefully, it’s alarming.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Providence, Tim Hortons coffee and prayer

Providence is the expression of God’s care in everyday events. Tim Hortons coffee is delicious, especially double double. And pray matters. I read a great news article this week about two New Brunswick police officers who are convinced they saw providence at work last Thursday (and, yes, it also involved Tim Hortons coffee and prayer). Their decisions on a road trip that day had them running behind schedule, but put them at the right place at the right time to help save a man who was attempting to commit suicide. Heather McLaughlin did excellent work reporting on this in an article titled “God’s got another plan for you.” The following is a condensed version. (To read the full text, go to

A man is alive because two Fredericton police officers were [running] late. The timing put them in the right place at the right time to intervene in an attempted suicide. On May 5, Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn were en route to Charlottetown, PEI, to visit the Atlantic Police Academy… Durling insisted they travel through Maugerville to catch a glimpse of flood conditions before hitting the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway. “If you didn't take this cow path, we'd be halfway to Moncton right now,” Alchorn teasingly scolded Durling, who was driving.

Tim Hortons Drive ThruAdd in a coffee run through the Tim Hortons drive-thru near the Silver Fox Irving turnoff at Salisbury and the pair was running behind schedule. “There was a million reasons why we shouldn't have been there when we were ... Kathy and I both agree and I believe it definitely has to be divine intervention. It was just too freaky,” Durling said.

“The timing was pretty critical,” Alchorn said. “It was kind of weird that nobody else had stopped. He was very evident and I just couldn’t imagine how you wouldn't notice. A couple of seconds later, he would have been gone.”

About 12 kilometres past the Silver Fox Irving at 10:45 a.m., they crossed a highway overpass and were close to the exit off the four-lane highway that leads to Moncton and Riverview. “I observed a car parked on the side of the road with its four-way flashers on. Then I looked and saw a man sitting on the rail of the overpass with what appeared to be a white rope. Kathy and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Did you just see what I saw?’”

Alchorn had made eye contact with the man when they drove past. “He was looking over his shoulder all the time and when he turned around I looked right at him and I could see in his face, in his expression there was something wrong and when Tim started backing up, he was looking at us,” Alchorn said.

“As we’re backing up, he jumped. So we jumped out and ran as fast as we could and we looked over and the rope failed,” Durling said. Below them as they peered down from the highway, Durling and Alchorn expected to see the man’s body on a roadway. Instead the motionless man lay alongside a set of train tracks. “I hollered to Kathy to call 9-1-1 and she runs to get her cellphone. I take off down the embankment to the guy and as I’m getting there, I can hear a noise that's not familiar to me.”

CN Train“I’m checking the guy out to see what’s going on and I look up and see a train coming. I grabbed him and moved him away from the tracks and 30 to 40 seconds later a train goes by,” Durling said. “I didn't have a choice (about moving him). It was life or limb.”

When Durling propped up the man, he stirred to consciousness, although he was in shock, his neck and hands showing rope burns. “I saw you coming to help,” the man mumbled.

Durling noticed the man had a set of rosary beads with him. “I knew he did some business with God, so I said ‘God's got another plan for you buddy and it’s not to die today,’” Durling told the man…

Although the man had tied one end of his rope around the guard rail, he didn't have a chance to firmly knot the rope around his neck because the officers were rushing towards him. But he managed to entwine it around his neck a couple of times. Durling said that helped spare his life because the rope held long enough to break the man’s fall before he hit the ground.

Had the two police officers been a little later in arriving - and the man tied the noose around his neck - he would have strangled himself to death. “There’s definitely divine intervention there,” Durling said.

Several vehicles passed by the man and vehicle, but no one stopped. Durling credited their police training, including the skills they develop to observe a situation, as helping them respond in the way they did. A casual driver going by might have only assumed the vehicle was broken down and not looked closely enough at the unfolding scenario.

Fredericton police officersAlchorn said police and paramedics took over from the police officers to transport the man to hospital. “He’s doing pretty good. He’s in stable condition in the Moncton Hospital with a lot of broken bones and things of that nature,” Durling said. The man has begun talking to his family and the police officers have since learned that family issues were a factor in his decision to try to end his life. “We were glad that we were able to assist,” Durling said. “He’s alive. That’s the good side of the story. It’s a sad situation, but maybe it will have a good outcome. I know he’s going to get some help where he is.” The two officers hope to travel to Moncton in a week or so to visit the man to see how he’s doing.

There were some very interesting comments posted in response to this news article. Some people took exception to the article giving credit to God for saving the man’s life when they believe it was clearly the training of the police officers in action that rescued the man. To be fair, though, it is not the reporter who makes this about God’s providence, but the police offers themselves who “believe it definitely has to be divine intervention” that was involved in their decisions that day: in choosing their slower route and driving through a Timmies. Personally, I’m inclined to accept their interpretation. The man who jumped had been praying, and through a series of everyday decisions two police officers were there to save him just in time. I know this may generate questions about why God does not intervene in so many other things happening in our world, and yet I find myself unable to abandon my belief that God rescues those who cry to him for mercy. And sometimes we find ourselves making the same realization as Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn, that somehow God has put us at the right place at the right time to show his care to someone in need.

What do you think? Do you believe in providence? Could a stop for an unplanned Tim Hortons coffee be the decision God uses to put you at the right place at the right time? Are you doing God’s will? If so, why couldn’t he reach out and care for another person through you at just the right time?

I’ve selected a few comments to re-post here that were originally posted in response to the news article (see link above). These comments could probably generate some good discussion. How would you respond? What do you think about divine providence?

"There's definitely divine intervention there"
Seriously? Come on. Does this mean god wants people to die when the police or emergency officers arrive a moment too late?
This was good police work - what they are paid to do. Thanks for looking out for your fellow man.
Thereis Nogod, Saint John on 11/05/11 09:13:06 AM ADT

For the mans' sake, I am glad you were late. Glad also to see you put your training to the test and it produced a favourable outcome. Although some would say it was divine intervention, I would rather it be said that your ability to observe, rationalize and act in accordance with the skills you have learned as police officers saved this mans life. Congratulations on a job well done.
Pierre ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 09:28:49 AM ADT

God's plan indeed! Outstanding job by the police officers! Nice [to] read a storey with a good ending for a change. Hopefully the man gets the help he needs. God bless him and his rescuers!
M M, Grandlake on 11/05/11 09:49:17 AM ADT

Good work officers.
Sgt. Durling's decision to see the flood conditions was his and not God's though.
john ---, quispamsis on 11/05/11 10:11:14 AM ADT

Police Officers like these two don't get (or give themselves) nearly enough credit by attributing any of this to "divine intervention."
HAL 9000, Fredericton on 11/05/11 12:32:59 PM ADT

They wouldn't dare mention God if they hadn't have made it on time. Only when the outcome is positive do they claim their deity had anything to do with it.
Imagine if they claimed God had another plan for him if he got hit by a train after surviving the initial fall. It simply wouldn't have happened, and it absolutely should not have happened in this case either.

Bob ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 04:27:17 PM ADT

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The children producing the cocoa never taste the chocolate

Kit KatThe cruel irony of the chocolate industry made it easy for me to give up chocolate for Lent: The children producing the cocoa beans used to make our chocolate never actually taste the chocolate. The Kit Kat bar that I might rip open, break apart and share with my kids is never enjoyed by the children who made its production possible. It strikes me as terribly unfair. During my chocolate fast, my two sons were asked to sell chocolate bars as a fundraiser for special activities at their school. Here I was helping my boys sell chocolate bars to enhance their experience of school, knowing that these chocolate bars were produced from cocoa harvested by children who will never go to school. It is a horrible injustice. Yet somehow most of us consuming Kit Kats, Mars bars and Snickers have never heard this bitter truth about chocolate.

I learned about it by watching the Panorama documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth which I have been posting in parts on this blog and by reading Carol Off’s book Bitter Chocolate. In this post, I want to share with you a scene from Carol Off’s important book, accompanied by a video excerpt with a similar scene from the Panorama documentary. At the end of the post, I will include part 3 of 4 of Chocolate: The Bitter Truth which begins to look for answers to this grave problem. My plan is to have another post on chocolate within one week (including the part 4 of the documentary) and then, finally, to suggest what we can do for the children of Africa working so hard to produce the chocolate we enjoy.

Click here to see Amazon listing for Bitter Chocolate by Carol OffThe following text is from Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (Random House of Canada, 2006) 5-8.

The village is called Sinikosson, which in the official French language of Côte d’Ivoire translates into “Faite pour Demain” and in English means “Made for Tomorrow.” In fact, the villagers seem to make everything for today, living hand to mouth with little remaining for tomorrow. They grow some corn and cassava and cultivate bananas for food, but their primary activity here is to produce cocoa for the international market. As such, they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over.
    As remote as the community is, it is also the poorest I have seen in the region. Everyone looks tired and hungry, but at least for the time being the village has escaped the violence in the surrounding countryside. The drunken Ivorian soldiers we met at the last roadblock couldn’t exert themselves to come all the way up here to either conquer or extort.
    The arrival of a visitor from a faraway country is an extraordinary event in Sinikosson. Within minutes, the covered verandah of the central house in the village is crowded with people—all of them men and boys. The few women and girls who are visible remain a discreet distance away… None of the children here go to school, and there are no services—no electricity, no phones, no clinics or hospitals. The farmers eke out an existence here in the hills, in a land infested by volatile gunmen. Yet they seem satisfied to be here. Even in the midst of all the trouble around them, they say they are better off than they would be in their drought-stricken home country, where people are chronically hungry.
    I explain to them that I am writing a book about cocoa. They all nod. Cocoa is something about which they have immense knowledge. The quality of beans, the capricious rains, the unpredictable harvests, the cost of pesticides, the threat of witch’s broom (a disease of the Theobroma tree), the see-saw prices and the exorbitant government taxes. These farmers know everything about the difficulties of growing cocoa in this region.
    “What would you do if you couldn’t grow cocoa anymore?” we ask.
    “A catastrophe,” one man answers, and they all look grim.
chocolate bitter truth children    “This is our life,” declares the chief, Mahamad Sawadago. He tells me he is fifty-four, but he looks many years older. Three of the women here are his wives; he has eleven children.
    “Where does the cocoa go after it leaves here?” Ange asks the villagers. There is a confused silence, and everyone turns to Mahamad.
    “It goes to the great port of San Pedro,” the chief explains with authority, “and then on to people in Europe and America.” They all nod.
    “What do those people do with the cocoa beans?”
    Silence again, and everyone looks to the chief. But this time, he too seems puzzled.
    “I don’t know,” he answers honestly.
    He’s certain they make something with it, for sure, but he doesn’t know what.
    They make chocolate, I explain. Has anyone ever tasted chocolate? One man says he tried it once when he was away from the village and thought it tasted good. No one else even knows what it is.
Even Ange Aboa, who reports on the Ivorian cocoa industry, is surprised by how little these people know about the commodity they harvest. Ange tears a sheet of paper from his notebook and rolls it up into an oval tube. He explains that people in the West grind up the cocoa and add lots of sugar to make little bars this size. The bars are quite sweet and delicious. Sometimes milk and even peanuts are added. Children in Europe and America often get such things as treats.

    Ange goes on to explain that one of these bars costs about 500 West African francs (roughly equivalent to a Canadian dollar). Their eyes widen in disbelief. The sum strikes them as staggering for such a small treat—almost enough to buy a good-sized chicken or an entire bag of rice. It represents more than the value of one boy’s work for three days, if they are being paid at all, which I’m sure they are not. I explain that a child in my country will consume such a chocolate bar within minutes. The boys look awed. Days of their effort consumed in a heartbeat on the other side of the world. And yet they don’t begrudge North American children such pleasure. West Africans rarely express envy.
    As I look at the young faces, the questions in their eyes are the measure of a vast gulf between the children who eat chocolate on their way to school in North American and those who have no school at all, who must, from childhood, work to survive. And I feel the profound irony before me: the children who struggle to produce the small delights of life in the world I come from have never known such pleasure, and most likely, they never will.
    It’s a measure of the separation in our worlds, a distance now so staggeringly vast. . . the distance between the hand that picks the cocoa and the hand that reaches for the chocolate bar.
I tell the boys of Sinikosson who do not know what chocolate is that most people in my country who eat chocolate don’t know where it comes from. The people in my country have no idea who picks the cocoa beans or how those people live. The boys of Sinikosson think it would be a good idea if I told them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Royal Wedding: The Scripture Reading and Prayer

Kate Middleton’s brother, James Middleton, read the only Scripture reading during the Royal Wedding. Prince William and Kate Middleton chose the royal wedding reading after spending time with the clergy in preparation for the ceremony. And they chose to have it read in modern, gender-inclusive American English, from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It’s a great reading about being transformed, love being genuine, and, as James Middleton read on Friday, it urges the royal couple to “associate with the lowly.” Reading the Scripture from the American NRSV may have been a bit controversial with Church traditionalists, including The Prince of Wales who is the Patron of the King James Bible Trust and is known to be a passionate advocate for the "poetry and cadence" of the old Authorized Version. Prince Charles supported this year's 400th anniversary celebration of the King James Bible and even recorded this video reading of John 14 in the KJV. So while it may have been a bit controversial, it was certainly the right decision. When Scripture is read, it should be clear and understandable (See: "There's a lot to be said for clarity" by Ken Symes.) This reading at the royal wedding sounded relevant to Prince William and Kate Middleton, and to all of us as well.

James Middleton reading ScriptureRomans 12:1-2, 9-18

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Truly a great passage of Scripture that gives us all a lot to think about, to experience and to live. I don’t recall ever hearing it read at a wedding before, but it was great. I’m presently updating an Internet resource I authored a while ago for couples who are getting married: Bible Readings for Weddings. Please feel free to direct anyone you know who is getting married to this link.

image-1-for-royal-wedding-wills-and-kate-tie-the-knot-in-westminster-cathedral-gallery-785155735The Royal Wedding also included a prayer written by Will and Kate. Such a prayer is typically included in the Anglican wedding ceremony, but it was refreshing to hear a couple write something new and fresh in place of the traditional prayer for families.

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

All in all, I must say I was impressed by the Royal Wedding. It was uplifting and inspirational. In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance of the event, I just wanted to highlight the great Scripture reading chosen by Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as the great prayer which they wrote together. I hope they will be true to this Scripture and prayer. May God bless them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Franklin, you are no Billy Graham

Franklin, I knew Billy Graham, I recommitted my life to Christ under the ministry of your father. I was a counsellor at a couple of his crusades. Billy Graham was a spiritual advisor to 12 U.S. Presidents, both Republicans and Democrats—he was non-partisan. He tried not to wade into issues that would distract from his preaching of the gospel. I knew Billy Graham, Franklin, and believe me,  you are no Billy Graham.

Rev. Franklin Graham interviewed by Christiane Amanpour, ABC This Week On Easter Sunday, you gave an interview to Christian Amanpour. You said three things (or more), just kind of off the cuff, that made me question, What were you thinking? How do we recover from the embarrassment you bring on the church by such bizarre speculations? These comments just don’t strike me as what Jesus had in mind when he advised us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Your father was good at that. He would’ve responded very differently to these questions—not in wild speculation, but focused on the gospel and non-partisan in politics, but always supportive of the president. Franklin, you would do well to consider how Bill Graham would’ve responded to these questions about the second coming, Palin and Trump, and President Obama’s birth and faith.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: So, what will the second coming look like?

Jesus iPhone cross REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION: Well, the Bible says that every eye is going to see it. And—well, how is that going to happen? There's so many phones today.

And just look at what's happening in Libya or Egypt and everybody's got their phone up and everybody's taking recordings and posting it on YouTube and whatever and sending it to you or—and it gets shown around the world.

I don't know, but he says that he'll be coming on the clouds and the world is going to moan. They're going to groan.

AMANPOUR: I don't mean to be disrespectful—


AMANPOUR: —but could there be a second coming by social media? Is that what you mean?

GRAHAM: No. I'm just saying that how the whole world will see him when he comes, and he's coming back for his people.

How is the whole world going to see him all at one time? I don't know, unless all of a sudden, everybody's taking pictures and it's on the media worldwide. I don't know. Social media could have a big part in that.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

AMANPOUR: Is [Sarah Palin]the kind of candidate you would like to see run for election? Would she be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: I don't think Sarah's going to — I don't think she likes politics. I think she likes speaking on the issues, and I agree with many of the issues that she brings up, but I believe — I don't see her as running for president.

AMANPOUR: If she did, would you support her? Would she be your candidate?

GRAHAM: It depends on who the other candidates are.Sarah Palin appreciates Donald Trump investiating President Obama's birth

AMANPOUR: So, that's not a yes.

GRAHAM: No. I mean, we're so early. But I do like Sarah.

AMANPOUR: Well, there are people in right now. Would you support Mitt Romney, would you support—

GRAHAM: I've met—

AMANPOUR: —Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I've met Mitt Romney. No question he is a — he's a very capable person, he's proven himself. Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke. But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know? Maybe the guy's right. So, there's a —

AMANPOUR: So, he might be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: Sure, yes, sure.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

AMANPOUR: President Obama has come to you and your father, you've all prayed together. How would you say he's doing?

GRAHAM: I think he's a very nice man. I think he's a very gracious person. But I think our country is in big trouble.

President Barack Obama meeting with Billy Graham and Franklin GrahamAMANPOUR: Does it bother you that people like Donald Trump for instance right now, are making another huge big deal about birth certificates and whether he's a Muslim or a Christian and where he was born?

GRAHAM: Well, the president, I know, has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don't — I was born in a hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born.

I don't know why he can't produce that. So, I'm not — I don't know, but it's an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.

As it relates to Muslim, there are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that. Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?

For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior.

ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour

I’ve told you what I think, but what do you think? Did Franklin Graham do a good job of presenting a Christian response to these questions? How would Billy Graham have answered differently? Post your opinion in the Comments below. To be fair to Franklin, I’ve posted a video of the full interview below. The full transcript is also available by clicking on an ABC logo above.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Helena Guergis deserves better, Mr. Harper

Suppose the Toronto Star realized that their company’s management was mostly male and began an effort to move more qualified women into leadership. Let’s say a good reporter was moved into position as a department editor and that she was doing well and was asked to serve on the task force charged with mentoring and promoting women within the company. Now, if she were suddenly dismissed from her editorial position and demoted back to being a reporter, don’t you think the company would need to give the reason? Wouldn’t the optics require it? And what if later she was sent to work for a smaller newspaper in the chain—wouldn’t that look terribly unfair? Wouldn’t someone need to give a reason for these decisions? So if the Prime Minister of Canada dismisses the Minister for the Status of Women and then ejects her from caucus, shouldn’t he have to give a reason? And shouldn’t that reason be something more substantive than rumours and criminal allegations completely dismissed by the RCMP? Now that his report of “serious allegations” have tarnished Helena Guergis’s reputation and caused her significant grief, stress (during per pregnancy) and unwanted publicity, shouldn’t Stephen Harper do something to make this right?

You can click here to see an excellent summary of the Helena Guergis story, but I’d like you to view this interview of Helena Guergis herself. Watch closely when the counter gets to 4:47 and the reporter begins asking Guergis about the cross she’s wearing. Do you think that was fair?
[I want to thank J MacShimmie who posted this video and then asked if I would write an op-ed. I don’t usually do politics, but there is a real intersection of faith and culture happening here.]

Helena Guergis is looking for redemption and that seems fair given that she has done nothing wrong. No evidence has ever been presented to the RCMP or to the public to substantiate what the prime minister has said or the rumours that his office leaked to the press about her. The reality is that Stephen Harper has seriously damaged the reputation of this woman for a motive which is still unclear. If he was CEO of the Toronto Star, if this was corporate Canada, I doubt that he would get away with this demotion and public humiliation of a high ranking member of the executive team. To my mind, this action is clearly sexist. Guergis was Minister for the Status of Women—if you’re going to demote and then remove her from caucus, you ought to have a substantial reason that can be announced, something other than baseless character assassination.

This was quite a good interview, but then suddenly CBC reporter Carole MacNeil decides to question Helena Guergis about the cross she’s wearing (4:47). What do you think about this questioning? Do you think it was fair? Relevant?

CBC Anchor Carole MacNeil: Ms. Guergis I notice when we see you, uh, recently, that you’ve been wearing this cross around your neck more prominently than you had in the past, what’s the significance of that?

cbcnn_hgi.mp4_000292059Helena Guergis: Actually Carol, that’s not true at all. This is a cross that I was given by my grandfather who is a Reverend, and I’ve been wearing it around my neck since I was 14 years old.

MacNeil: OK. No it’s just I say we’re noticing it more now than we ever had in the past –  I’m not suggesting that you put it on for any other reason,  but I was just curious what it means to you.

Guergis: Well, you have to look to your faith, when you go through a difficult situation, and you know God only gives you what you can handle.

MacNeil: (Long pause.) Alright. (Pause) And are you handling this? Do you think you can handle this?

Guergis: Yeah… Yeah, I think I am. Yeah. It’s difficult, but we’ll get through it…

Personally, I do wonder why MacNeil went after the cross even after it had been asked and answered. I think Helena Guergis gave a pretty solid Christian answer. Difficult life situations often do deepen our faith and cause us to turn to God with a growing trust. It is that hope that somehow God will redeem even the most difficult circumstances that gets us through. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Back in June 2010, Guergis told Jane Taber (Globe and Mail) she believes that what is happening to her is for a “greater purpose.” “I keep telling myself that,” she said. “I don’t know what it is at this point, but I do continue to go back to my faith… It’s a challenge and every day I turn around and say, ‘What is it going to be tomorrow?’”

Since MacNeil can go after Helena Guergis’s faith, how about we have some other reporter go after Stephen Harper’s faith—he claims to be a Christian, doesn’t he? Does Christianity have anything to say about gossip,Stephen Harper sweater spreading lies and treating someone so poorly? As Bishop Fred Henry said so famously to Jean Chretien, “When you’re prime minister, you can’t take off your faith at the door like it was a sweater” [paraphrased from memory]. I suspect Jesus was talking to politicians too when he said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). Guergis said Harper would not meet with her, would not disclose the allegations and did not give her a chance to defend herself. Now that she has been cleared by the RCMP and Freedom of Information requests have shown that the prime minister had no evidence to support the criminal allegations he raised against her, isn’t it time for Mr. Harper to do the right thing? His handlers may have decided against it, but isn’t it time for Stephen Harper to put his sweater back on?

Perhaps, I should have finished with that previous line, but here’s the deal with scandals. The news focuses our attention so much on so few details about the person that we lose sight of the bigger picture of who this person is, what else they’ve done and whatever we used to think about them. While researching for this post, I stumbled across this great video of Ricker Mercer’s “interview” with Helena Guergis in her riding, Simcoe-Grey. I think you’ll find it quite entertaining, especially if you watch through to the last couple minutes. Personally, I think this time spent with Rick Mercer gives us a truer, more fair picture of who Helena Guergis really is than Harper’s baseless accusations and all the headlines spun from that a year ago. I, for one, vote for redeeming Ms. Guergis and lifting the cloud of suspicion—seems like a good Christian response.
    x   Ken Symes


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