“We cannot walk alone. We are all taking the same route, headed in the same direction, and there is space for us all. Remember that picture of the earth as a globe. It once helped us realise our oneness, kinship and our fragilities. Now, not so gentle reminders shout: ‘We are all on the same boat, fill the holes! Don’t let us sink!’” ~Hossam Fazulla, a film-maker who has made Britain his home because he cannot return to his country for fear of his safety.


How do you even begin to explain to a young child how adults have repeatedly to this day perpetrated exclusion and racism, commited torture, war and genocide on each other throughout human history?

Humans hate other humans. Ugh!  Just saying it bluntly like that, well at least to me,  is embarrassing. This destructive hatred is a shameful indictment on our species.  We hate other humans. 

I received a message this week about a little boy  who had been poisoned in one of the refugee camps in Uganda. He was given arsenic because his mother had been in a heated conflict with another woman.  Now he fights for his life. Hatred’s claws gouging our human story. How do we reconcile these too often occurring actions in our minds? In order to combat hatred some countries have added a category in their criminal codes now called hate crimes. In Canada these are crimes based on a bias, prejudice or hate against people of another race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability or any other similar factor. Judges now have the added authority to give harsher sentences when crimes committed are motivated by hate. 

I realize that I am writing on a topic that will be read by a mostly Canadian audience. It might catch some off guard. After all, Canadians are some of the kindest people on earth, right? That’s the story we’ve told ourselves, we are the sweetest, politest, kindest nation on earth. Perhaps we are. Just avoid reading the news. Last week a twenty year old Canadian man made headlines across the globe when he purposely targeted a Muslim family on a Sunday. He took his newly purchased Dodge Ram truck and rammed it into a family taking a leisurely walk , brutally killing the father, mother, daughter and grandmother. The only survivor of this vicious attack was Fayaz, a boy of nine years,  now maimed, orphaned and likely traumatized for life. This crime was perpetrated because of the hatred that he formed and nurtured against those who followed the religion of Islam.

And another recent story….

This time it’s headlines about the discovery of a mass grave of 215 First Nations children near a residential school run by a Christian Institution in B.C . Once more we were in shock, this is our history? Likely there are more graves filled with indigenous children that never made it home to their fathers, mothers and family. Why bring something that happened long ago up now? Well, I for one never heard the stories of what we did to the First Nations growing up in my Canadian education. I need to think about what our history means to those who were forced to give up their cultures, language, way of life, and religious beliefs, not to mention the devastating loss of life, especially all those young children, all in the name of the dominant power. Clearly a deep bias prevailed in Canada among the colonizers, blinding them to the beauty of diverse cultures. Treaties were created and signed that forced a once-proudly-nomadic-people into reserves. They were on the wrong side of intolerance and discrimination and bias. 

Over a hundred years of segregation have allowed the seeds of distrust, disrespect and disillusionment to grow among us and especially among the First Nations people. What should concern us today are the lingering intergenerational effects of treaties and policies that can be traced to the late 1800’s. It is common knowledge that disproportionate rates of depression, addictions and suicides exist in their communities when compared to the rest of the population of Canada. The hopelessness is that strong.

It is hard to make the word hatred fit into a precise definition. It is subversive, it can hide respectfully under the guise of patriotism, it can also be extreme and obvious. Perhaps it’s easier to describe it by what we see in front of us today, that all-too-pervasive anti-this and anti-that, anti-colour, anti-gay/queer/trans/bi, anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, anti-Christian, and the list could go on and on.  It has become acceptable behavior to be anti-something. I wonder though, where are the voices that say this is not cool! The only ‘anti’ we should be is anti-hate. 

Finding workable answers to the healing of hatred admittedly is no easy chore. Moralizing has done precious little. Some say we need to forgive and forget the past. I get that, but before forgiveness is granted, a little anger may be called for. We should give permission to people who have been discriminated against for so long to express their anger. In fact if all good people everywhere voiced their anger over a world prone to hate and violence we might begin to see change. Barbara Holmes, author of Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, says that a theology of anger is needed to wake us up from the lull of denial we have lapsed into. She confidently affirms that anger is the correct and healthy response to injustice and that it is irresponsible to forgive quickly “without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or any attempt to heal the wounds?” Thus she concludes that the first step to creating healing and safe boundaries between the haters and the hated begins with this public and peaceful anger. 

Why I care…. 

The cynics say to care is wasted energy that cannot change a thing. But I am a person of hope, and I have a personal stake in this conversation, my family. I have a grandson who will be well aware of his Jewish heritage. Anti-Semitism is once more on the rise. My granddaughter has Tunisian grandparents. Islamophobia is growing. I have an Asian adopted daughter. People of Asian descent have been of late pushed, hit, kicked and slurred as the cause of the Coronavirus. I also have a gay son. I need not say much about the awful treatment of the LGTBQ community in our world, truly it’s sad. That’s why it’s hard for me to not think about hatred’s harm directed towards their futures, whether subtly or overtly. 

Humanity’s new story should be full of diversity. A celebration of diversity might begin with empathy. Empathy happens when we walk in the shoes of another. It begs the question relating to our indigenous brothers and sisters as to how many Canadians have walked in their  moccasins?  How can we be sympathetic to their plight without any meaningful contact, connection or relationship? The same could be said for our relationships to Muslims, Jews, or LGBTQ communities. Don’t separate yourself from their voices and suffering. Use your imagination and try to understand what they may be going through. It sounds pretty basic, but how many will take that step? 

Truthfully, diversity is us! And proper understanding of healing anger with the willingness to engage respectfully with those different from you will go a long way to celebrating our future of diversity. The onus is on us the change the old story of hate into a new story of appreciation, respect and love for our neighbor. There is room and space enough for us all.

I’ve Got 59 of Them Now!

I’ve officially accumulated 59 years on this earth, just one shy of sixty. In that time I’ve walked a lot of steps, made some missteps, fallen down countless times and gotten back on my feet again, given up at times when I shouldn’t have, but more often endured long enough to get to the other side where I could laugh again, enjoy again. I am thankful for life, though admittedly not always thankful.

The other day my wife cajoled me for leaving a pile of messy papers on top of the dish cabinet beside the table, the table I use for my office. For some reason I lashed back stronger than I expected, bemoaning the days when I had a real office, a secretary, loads of filing cabinets, daily I sat in my padded office chair at my cherry wood desk, not like this Ikea table set and chairs I have now. So I pouted, “You try doing your work on the kitchen table and having to move everything each time we eat!” My daughter who was within earshot chimed in, “Dad, if the people on the street that you help had what you had, they would think their dreams came true!” Ugh, truth spoken by a 21 year old. I guess perspective is everything. As they say, “Every viewpoint has a point from which we view,” and from where I was viewing I sadly lacked the clarity my daughter enjoyed.

Comparison can be one of life’s curses, the death of joy, according to Mark Twain. When you start comparing your life with others, the size of their office, their deeper suntans, their travel pictures, or the newly finished renovations; perspective gets easily lost. And with it contentment. Further still, when you compare your present journey with some of the perks or advantages you enjoyed in the past, once more your joy falls flat. I’ve done that far too often. The real hard lesson to learn in life is to be content with your present, with the hand you have been dealt and make something good happen!

In 59 years of life, I’ve come to see that life is often messy. At least mine has been. No matter how spiritual I might think I am, or how deserving of a smooth life I should get, life doesn’t always cooperate. I’ve seen men, a hell lot more spiritual than me, get run out of their churches. I’ve seen friends, ministers even, struggle with the greatest of despair when one of their beloved family members decided to call it quits and without much warning took their own lives. When I was young I thought the formula was foolproof, keep God first, keep humble, and tithe, you’ll be successful in family life, health and wealth. I was still thinking this way into my thirties, when messiness began to clutter my everyday living. I wondered if my marriage could last the winds of time, I had disagreements with those I worked closely with, I felt the disconnect with my adult children who lived on another continent because of my work, and then there was that brain tumour, all of which made me realise that life, my life could get messy.

I could be wrong, but to me there is only one world, one of beauty coexisting side by side with injustice, fear and terror. Like nature where the poisonous mushrooms, gorgeous wildflowers, hungry hawks, unsuspecting bunnies, snakes and bugs of every type live, kill, pester and procreate in our ecosystems, our human world is full of love and war, families laughing and families destroying each other. Paradox. When I see the acres and acres of the yellow canola flower or the blazing orange red of the poppies in the french countryside, its beauty saturates me. A silent ‘wow’ goes up to God! The paradox of mother nature is that she can inspire awe and, at the same time, fear. When the lion patiently stalks his prey only to put it’s fangs into the neck of an antelope or of a baby elephant, I wince at the unfairness of the weaker vessel to the strong. What am I to think of these things? The God who created both lion and lamb has to be mysterious and His thoughts are higher than mine.

With my granddaughter Mira, one of life’s best blessings.

Now that I look back a bit, I wish someone would have told me to explore the beauties of the world while in my twenties. Instead I found myself trying to keep my head barely above the water of church planting. How’s that for stressful when you just turned 21 years old, still a newlywed, then a new dad, and working in a new language in a strange place so far from home, Quebec. I had very little time, nor encouragement to explore, nor to fail, laugh and play. Instead I prayed hard, fasted as much as I could, mostly for more results to show my peers I wasn’t a loser! And to my wife’s chagrin I spent every extra cent on books that would give me knowledge of the Bible and preaching, but sorely lacked true life experience. I spent too much time worrying about why my church wasn’t growing and not enough time just exploring.

Thankfully my fifty-nine years, despite a few relapses, has taught me to learn and even enjoy the paradoxes. I’m learning to live with the clutter, the imperfect scenarios, the lack, as well as to enjoy the blessings, and there are more of them than curses! I’ve learned to dig deep, tap into the roots of my walk with God more in the messiness than the blessing. Another way to express this content is the word trust. “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” has been a prayer I’ve learned from the dying man on the cross. It’s more than acquiescence, its ruthless trust, (Thank you Brennan Manning for that phrase). My shortest and most spoken prayer has been, “Give me grace oh God!” And I’ve felt the grace sustain me over and over.

For me, now, life is less stressful and paradoxically more stressful! I worry about what people think of me a lot less, but at times I worry about not owning a home to go to in my old age or a pension healthy enough to sustain me and Patricia! Does anyone relate to this? All in all, fifty-nine years has taught me to keep living fully, generously and enjoy the person you have become, who you are at your core. And I fear repeating myself here, but I’ve come to love the mystery called God. I’ve trusted His promises for all my life. Of course lessons we all need: Be thankful. Be kind. Enjoy grace. Love. Doing these things will take care of the stress of old age and help dissipate the worry about ‘who will care for me?’ Fifty-nine years on planet earth has convinced me that I have no better choice than to do what I can for myself and to leave the rest with a God who shows himself to be good, merciful and kind.

That’s it for now, when sixty years come, they may surprise me with greater clarity, calm, and joy!

Thoughts about life at 59

Death Comes and Then Rebirth

I started checking death tallies from the very beginning of the Coronavirus spread in China. I pretty well tweeted daily the increasing numbers of fatalities, never expecting China or now France, where I live, to be so severely hit. Some of the people following my Twitter account must have thought I was obsessed with death stats. I guess I have a propensity to think about death, but don’t we all? We know very well that we all die, we just never think it could happen to us! But here we are again, half the world’s population in lockdown, and now more than ever, reminded of the fragility of human life.

When I had brain surgery in 2012 I didn’t know if my tumor was malignant or not. I just had a sense I’d be okay, I was 50 years old, never spent a night in the hospital and I felt invincible. Three years later my invincibility-swagger changed when my mom died of cancer. after my dad called me with the news, I knelt at my bedside and sobbed. A part of me was gone, forever. And I knew, saw it clearly too, I would one day henceforth join my mother in leaving this ‘land of the living’.

The death stats of Covid-19 are no laughing matter, especially for those over fifty. The percentages don’t lie, our ability to overcome this virus as we age decreases. Drastically. And age we do, it started the day we were born! But not everyone sees life as an incredible gift to be honored and respected until… …you see your mortality in some way. The more we are in awe of the life living through us, the better we see that each day is a story of gratitude. Even so, much about life is out of our control; it seems random, who gets sick and who doesn’t? It has little to do with who deserves sickness or health more, or believes or doesn’t believe certain religious stuff, or any of that nonsense. It just randomly happens and without pity. Nonetheless, we do remain in control of at least one thing, and that is our response to whatever circumstances come our way. We can respond with courage or we can act in fear. But for courage to take ascend in us, we need to find some meaning in our circumstances.

I’ve come to the conclusion that courage is a learned response. It is gained with adversity. Fear is seems to be innate, it can overpower us so quickly. Fear is like borrowing tomorrow’s emotions about some future that we are sure is nothing but terrible. Courage says no to those fear emotions. But it is not foolish or uncaring. It simply says, “I am ready for the good and I am ready to accept whatever comes my way, if and when it comes to my life. And I choose to not be afraid, even when statistics tell me to be.”

Europe is in an unprecedented death-crisis in my lifetime. Italy, Spain and France continue to see countless covid-19 deaths daily. Now America has woke up to its greatest challenge. The anvil of adversity is busily shaping the future of the planet. And though we still don’t know what all of this will look like three or six months from now, there is a growing hope that our world will change, really change! We hope for a humanity that will be more environmentally sensitive. Wars, we hope, will become more rare. Societies will become increasingly fair and enjoyable for all. Yes, we should hold out hope for a kinder world where everyone matters.

It will take tremendous courage for us to not default back to the selfish survival instincts that got us to the place we are, but instead take new steps to bring about a new way of living life. Though I’m not that far removed from reaching sixty, considered the more susceptible demographic of not surviving if I get the coronavirus, I still chose courage. I do not want to live bound in fear. And I choose this hopeful scenario for our planet over the doomsday sayers telling us ours is the Late Great Planet Earth. No, we are not in a countdown to the end, but to a birthing. Our present pain is full of meaning. Mother Nature is talking to us, if we are listening she says a new world is possible, that something new and beautiful can come our way.

Our Holiday Feast

And though there was a general strike in France and transportation was next to impossible, 70 of us got together to encourage and celebrate our special guests. Those guests are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Guinee, Rwanda, Sudan, and many other difficult countries. The night was sponsored by Serve the City Paris and The Refugee Ministry of the American Church in Paris. We also had many guests from Kabubu who help refugees integrate into France through sports.

Here are some of the pictures of the night taken by Liam Boath. Find him and his excellent work on Instagram @elbowphotography or http://www.elbowphotographyparis.com

Daniel and Jason regaled us with some fun songs.
The dance began dramatically with the theme of loneliness, a theme we all can relate to.
Barima and his trio then danced through deeply emotional and poetic movements that kept us spellbound for 20 minutes.
We enjoyed getting to know each other better through icebreakers.
It was a potluck with prepared food on site in the kitchen by Montasarr and Alycia
Patricia translates from French into English as Abdul shares some of his experience.
A beautiful hug for Abdul after he shared about coming last winter and had no where to stay. He ended up coming to the 100 Nights of Welcome at the American church of Paris. That’s where I met him for the first time, as we welcomed asylum seekers to overnight in the gym. He thanked all the volunteers for their hours of service. He then shed some tears and we hugged.
I had Abbas come and share impromptu. He got results from his appeal at the Court of Asylum Demands that very day. We expected the worst. He got the best! A ten year visa for life in France. Yet he did share the anxiety he had all the time waiting almost two years for an appearance before the three judges. Thank God his future looks so good!
Hanif walked 1.5 hours with his two friends to get here. We played a game where we cut pictures in two and gave one half to each person present and you had to find the other half. Hanif liked what he got!
We finished the evening with a group dance, all 70 of us, asylum seekers with expats and French locals.
Thanks so much to all who contributed to a wonderful and inspirational evening. Lets do it again real soon!

Not Loving the Label!

Have you ever found yourself labeling those who are different from you? I have. I grew up in the 60’s and became a teen in the 70’s; it was a predominately white culture where it was normal for me to hear words like fag, queer, and from time to time the ‘n’ word. I never thought much of it, no one seemed to. My world was small and the demographic was mostly unicultural. It was the way we interacted. But I must say that those three words, as a boy, sounded unusual to me. But I was never actually aware of anyone who fit in those categories, at least not for a long time. As for the ‘n’ word, I would go to the corner store and ask the owner to fill up a little paper sack with 10 cents worth of ‘nigger babies!’ What? Yep, those delicious black licorice candies in the shape of little people were called nigger babies. That was my world. And I never knew the effect that these labels would have on me as I grew up. 

The demeaning label that I heard most was ‘fag or faggot’. Boys would sometimes call each other that in jest, but it was meant, in a weird sort of way, to degrade the masculinity of the other. The label was powerful. I recall a conversation I had years later in a Chiang Mai restaurant. A visiting friend found out I loved watching the Amazing Race on television. The current season at the time featuered a gay couple. That was rare then. As I was always a week behind watching the series, when the visitor let it slip that the gay couple had won,  I responded in disgust, “No way, not those fags!” The words came out so quickly that they surprised even me. I had believed in the label.

Months after that conversation about the gay couple, I was at the Don Muang airport waiting for guests to come through the arrival’s gate in Bangkok. I saw a white man dressed as a woman. I immediately went into critical mode. “Man, that’s a white guy! Shoot! And he can’t even put lipstick on right!” As I silently mocked him, another inner voice spoke to me, “Peter, would you be so offended if that was your own son?” It felt like a spiritual slap in the heart!  The phrase ‘if it was your son’ woke me up to my bias against the gay community. I was guilty of seeing that man as less than part of the human family, judging him as somewhat unworthy, all because of the lens of my demeaning label.

I am Canadian. We are known for their tolerance. So when NHL commentator Don Cherry castigated immigrants to Canada on live television as, “You people,” it riled up a lot of people. How could he talk like that! Don was upset because, in his view, the immigrant population disrespected Canada by not  wearing a poppy during the Remembrance Day holiday. He called them, “You people!” Then off he went about these people not appreciating the sacrifices our soldiers made to give us Canadians ‘milk and honey.’ Soon it was frontline news worldwide! To the surprise of some, Sportsnet fired Don faster than a Bobby Hull slapshot!  To a lot of boomers it seemed like a lot of hoopla about nothing. But was it just a slip of the tongue? We’ll never really know, but what we do know is that no one appreciates being dehumanized with a label. 

And this is the thing, we all have used labels at some time or another. Throughout our lifetime we have unconsciously accumulated these biases and, for the most part, are unaware of them. Those sneaky biases snuck through the backdoor of daily conversations, politics, culture, and even religion. Religious and political leaders disguise labels and biases as concerns. One is worried that their followers will be contaminated by too much relationship with the world, while the other stokes our fears by repeating their concerns for the safety of the country, families, jobs, and the future. 

“If we let all these people in they will make it worse for all of us!”

So take a look at us now, thousands of years of humanity living together on earth and we still see whole people groups through the lens of demeaning labels. We seemed to have forgotten our history lessons about the pogroms and genocides and religious wars! Here in France the majority of descendants of immigrants still feel like they can never truly be French. Why? White French culture told them to wear the label ‘not-really-french’.” It’s too easy to see that labeling remains present in every realm of life. And honestly they do nothing to bring healing to our world. 

I’ve had to come to grips with my own biases and labels and change the way I saw certain groups of people. It could be that, like me, you do too! Maybe the way you see gays, asylum seekers, overweight people, handicapped folks, old people, blacks, and any race for that matter, etc, as nuisances at best and unworthy at worst. 

What should we do then? Begin by reminding yourself of how easy it is to fear those who are different than us. Start there. Do you harbour fears and biases towards those who look different than you or believe passionately in things you don’t? If you do then realize that any labels you use will only divide the human race. It begins with avoidance and usually ends in some kind of judgement. We divide the world into good and bad, worthy and unworthy, etc. The last step is the one we most need to hear. Please listen to the words of Jesus in my paraphrase, “It’s easy to love those who like you back. Nothing special about that at all. But I say go and love even those to whom you have given the label ‘wrong’, ‘unworthy’, or ‘enemy.’” Can’t find any advice much better than this in today’s bookstores! 

I have had to let go of my labels, many times in fact. It took time and a deep look at my own heart. I finish with a story of a boy, a son, who came out as gay. He was 15 years old when he wrote to Patricia and I something like this, “Dear Mom and Dad, I need to tell you that I am gay!” That day my world was turned upside down. Though my label of ‘gay’ had started to be dismantled in a Bangkok airport, I was still holding on to the idea that gay people are just damaged by sin. I told my son that evening he was mistaken, that he was straight. I took him rock climbing and did more father things with him. But he remained gay. We took him to counseling. The counselor, a christian, sat us down and said, “Your son is really gay. Love him without trying to change him into your image.” And through love, ours for him and his for us, we have learned to never look at gay people through the lens of dissapointment, derision or scorn. 

It’s time we drop the demeaning labels that have to do with gender, race or religion and chose to love unconditionally all people.  This has become for me the only way to live in the neighborhood!

Joel has taught us many things, one being how to see people and accept them as they are. Most importantly we are learning how to love unconditionally all those that don’t fit into our neat categories of ‘correctness.’

A Refugee Reality: Fight! Fight!

I have a hate affair with anger. I simply cannot bare to watch violence up close. But I’ve seen it erupt quite a few times in France, far too often. So not to sound self-righteous, when I think of anger I have to admit that it has at times burned in me. I know what it feels like to lose perspective and control. We’ve been told it is good thing to express your anger. I am not sure its a licence to go nuts though! Nonetheless, there are some things that should make us angry and we need to express it with conviction. Injustice is one of those things, it should elicit a strong sense of emotion and then action in us. Yes, we can be angry without becoming aggressive and hateful. All anger and wrath that leads to harsh words or hurtful actions is what we all, every human, should put away.

I’m writing about anger because I don’t want to forget what I just experienced. You are undoubtedly aware of the refugee crisis. It’s worldwide. However in Paris the amount of asylum seekers living rough on the streets begs an answer. The large group of refugees and asylum seekers that came today for the feeding program that includes a simple baguette and tea and instant coffee was staggering. Lines of waiting people were longer than usual. And the patience of some wore thin. Then a fight broke out. One man who had cut the line numerous times to pick out a piece of bread was shoved by another and it escalated. They were from different countries and that might even have made things worse. I found myself jumping to action squeezing between the two and temporarily shoving them apart. It was impossible to stop the anger. One took off his shirt to show his sculpted muscles and I knew this was not good. That’s when I took an errant fist to my chin by the other. It wasn’t hard, but it rang in my ears for a bit and my jaw ached. So many people came to stop the two and common sense took place and the muscular one laughed and the two stopped. That was fight one!

The second fight occurred about five minutes later and was even crazier when one of the asylum seekers snatched a knife from the bread cutting station and chased another who had offended him. Luckily there are some refugees that hate violence too. And a few strong refugees were able to wrench the knife away. Soon after it was calm again. But one of the leaders of the Association was telling everyone that if they continued this stuff they’d close down shop!

In a way I was glad that my visiting six young men and women from Quebec saw this. It was a reality shock for them. I had asked them to organize activities with the men and they planned accordingly to do so with this same group of men. However after the fights there were second thoughts. I was wavering too. I wanted the asylum seekers and refugees to have fun. I talked to a Palestinian woman who volunteered as a lawyer to help these men figure out next steps about what just happened. We discussed the trauma of living rough in Paris especially for those who had seen so much violence and hardship in their homelands, not even counting the arduous and dangerous journey to get here. My heart was being stirred again.

Thankfully, in the end the atmosphere calmed down and the Quebec team felt safe enough to play a quick game of soccer with some of the men. I sat while they played with four afghans in the park. I tried to figure the game of cards they were playing. While we politely chatted exchanging names they put away their cards. They wanted to talk. They described to me how in the last week two of them had been separately robbed while asleep in their tents. This is far too common a story with people living rough. Tents are often ripped open with a knife and bags stolen without the sleeping one even hearing a sound. Sadly for these afghani men, all their valuable papers were gone. The smiles were gone, it was a moment of despair. Now this, I say, is exactly what should make us angry! And in that moment I felt deep compassion and righteous anger, I guess, stirring in me again. “Next time”, I said, “If you have really important documents, give them to me, I’ll hold them for you!” They appreciated the gesture.

Our little world is brimming full of anger because of repeated injustices inflicted on the helpless, including, or especially on the asylum seekers. Paris has made me realize once again that many thousands have little in life. Over one hundred thousand people applied for asylum in France last year, a record. Once here is nowhere else for these men to turn. They left their horrible situations with hopes of a better life. The journey to get to Europe was fraught with danger, hard and rough. Not all who attempt to cross the sea make it alive, the latest statistics say every day six people drown trying to cross the Mediterranean! The ones who finally made it to Europe, to what they thought was salvation, discover this is no heaven here. It is lonely. It is dangerous. Its is poverty. It is disdain. It is a loss of dignity. It is almost without mercy. No wonder fights do break out; its surprising there aren’t more!

Photographer: Yannis Davy Guibinga

As I write these words, I need to call out, ” Peacemakers come forth!” We may be hesitant to get between two fighters, but the real call is to leave the safety of our comfort zones and bring encouragement, practical kindness and love! Maybe you are one of those? My jaw doesn’t ache now, but my heart still does, for my Parisian world, and for all those other distant places where dignity is stolen by war, poverty, culture, religion and racism, places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Guinea, Chad, and Syria and……. and ……. where peace is almost non-existent.

Home Is Where….

There once was a wealthy man who owned the best farmland in the country. His hired hands were well-trained and the farm prospered. But the real love of his life, even more than the farm, were his two beautiful boys, who for the record, couldn’t be any more different!

The oldest boy was the kind of son every father dreams of, disciplined, hard-working, and rarely questioning what he was asked to do. The younger boy, however, was of the free-spirited kind, always asking questions, and he would rather play than work anyday! While the older boy carefully learned the tools of the trade preparing himself for the day he would be a landowner himself, the younger carefree son couldn’t wait to get out and discover the real world!

Some weeks after his 20th birthday bash the youngest son said to his father, “Dad may I have a minute with you?” And for the longest minute he spoke frankly of his boredom on the farm and how he dreamed to discover the world out there. “Father,” he said, “I hear the world calling for me, I have to go and discover my place in it! And I know it pains you for me to ask you this, but the only way forward for me is to get my portion of the inheritance right now.” The father was silent for a moment, although he knew deep down that this day was coming, it still took him aback to hear his son’s request. “You are free to go,” he finally exhaled and sadly watched as his playful and curious son walked out of their lives.

The young man rented a large upscale apartment in a bustling city. He was fascinated by all the sights, the lights and his newfound freedom. He could now go to bed whenever he wanted and wake up and not worry about chores. His carefree spirit, good looks and seemingly endless wealth attracted a lot of attention. He soon became the toast of the town, but not always for the right reasons. His apartment unexpectedly became ‘the place’ for the best parties. The pretty girls couldn’t be more plenty. The drugs always found a way into the parties and enhanced his feelings of happiness. “This is the good life,” he thought. But little did he know he was being played as much as he loved to play. The girls had their way with him and his wallet. His new friends knew how to pry one more joint, pop one more pill, stay for one more drink, order another pizza, and, of course, party all weekend. It took its toll on him and his bank account. The bills for repairs and the endless parties for his so-called friends kept adding up. The day came, of course, when it was all gone, every cent of his inheritance.

The owner of the apartment had no choice but throw him on the street. He was homeless. The timing couldn’t be worse, a deep recession hit the land and the only job available was one he loathed to do, raising someone else’s pigs. The pay was so poor that he could hardly afford food. Sometimes he would even try eating the pig food to save a few coins. After weeks of this he came to his senses. He said to himself, “I’ve screwed up bigtime. This is not how it was supposed to turn out! How could I have been so stupid!” His thoughts went back home and to his father’s eyes. How sad they were the day he left home. “I could be such an idiot and he’d still love me,” he faintly smiled to himself. He thought of the time he crashed the truck and how his father would still let him drive the car around! “Man, he was the best dad a boy could have,” he knew it. “I wish I could go back, but how can I now? I’ve embarrassed the family name. But I’ll die of starvation here, maybe if I went back and asked him for a job. At least I know his employees have good food to eat and comfortable sleeping quarters. It’s a million times better than this squalor I’m living in now. I’ve got to go find my way back home even if I have to walk all the way back.”

And so he left on foot for home, all the while practicing what he would say to his father, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and I’ve sinned against you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But could you find it in your heart to let me live with the servants and I’ll work hard for you until I pay every cent back. I’ll get back on my feet.” He kept on repeating it, “I’m no longer worthy, no longer worthy, no longer worthy…” And the tears fell to the ground.

But while he was still a long way off his father saw his silhouette. He knew right away that it was his younger son. His heart raced as he leapt to his feet and ran and ran through the fields towards his son. When he came upon him he threw out his arms and embraced him and kissed him over and over. The son was so overwhelmed he had been expecting the worse, he expected his father to say, “Why are you even here?” “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” But he couldn’t finish his speech, he just crumpled into his father’s embrace crying, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.”

The father called out for his servants explaining his boy had finally returned. “Quick”, he said, “Go get him a clean robe, some shoes, and the family ring. And oh, lets not forget the celebration, tonight, yes, invite everyone you can, prepare the best food, and don’t forget to kill the fattened calf! At long last my son is home!!!!!

That evening the guests arrived and while the feast was being served and the music played. the older brother had just come back from a long day in the fields. When he heard the music from afar he wondered what he had missed. When one of the servants told him it was his younger brother come home, he refused to go in. “Get me my father,” he barked, “ I need to talk to him, NOW!”

And when the father came out to greet him he saw how angry his oldest son was and asked him why he was so upset. “How could you do it, Dad? How could you let yourself be duped by this rotten so-called-son of yours, not just once, but twice! He’s a freaking dishonour to the family name! I can’t believe you are actually feasting and celebrating in his honour!” There was a long pause as the father looked him in the eyes, but the older son turned from his regard. And then the son let it all out, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years. I’ve done everything you asked me to, and more! You never had to worry a single minute about my whereabouts. And did you ever throw a party for me? Not even once, Dad! What’s wrong with that picture!”

The father put his hands on his son’s shoulders and looked directly at his angry boy, “Look at me son. We are all in this together. Everything I have is yours. Everything, yours! That will never change. But this my son, your little brother, was lost. We thought he was gone forever, but now, thank God, he’s back. Can’t you see, he was as good as dead to us, but he’s alive and at home at last! Come on in, please,” and nodding his head yes the father added, “And he’s excited to see you, too. Let’s welcome him back home together.” With this the father gently kissed him, but the older boy just stood there shaking his head, staring off into the distance.

*This is the famous story that has been called the prodigal son that Jesus told. I’ve paraphrased it to make it sound more 2019 ish. I’ve given it a title, but if you could suggest a better title for it, I’d like for you comment. I’ll ‘subjectively’ pick what I think is the best one. Thank you.

The Fracture Factor

The world of humanity is fractured. All of us, at some time or other, have contributed to the problem. We are a divided bunch. Chalk it up to our upbringing with it’s differing cultural values and education. Or blame the media for it’s fear mongering and biases. Even the varied climates and geographical terrains can and have shaped people’s lives and responses to the outer world. But perhaps our take on politics, race and religion is the greatest fracture-factor in the deepening of divisions. You would think at least religion would bring us closer as brothers and sisters in the human family.

I have visited Sri Lanka often over the years. I can still remember the many sandbag checkpoints throughout the capital city of Colombo with soldiers toting machine guns. At each checkpoint our driver would have to stop and produce papers and be questioned by the soldiers as to where and who was in the car. A few times I tried to speak some Sinhala, but never got as much as a smile. Those were tense times! The country was deeply divided among ethnic lines. Though the war was officially declared over in 2009, tensions remained over politics and religion. Even those of the same religion or denomination had a hard time getting along! When feelings get hurt, there is resentment. Where there is favoritism, there will be jealousy and envy. We become so childish that we no longer have the maturity to apply wisdom to the situations that occur. And you know what? All the sermonising in the world won’t make a difference!

So what will?

Well, before I get there let me tell you what won’t change our world, in fact I can guarantee these two evil twins will make our world worse: they are hatred and revenge. The late Maya Angelou once wrote, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Think about that! The problem as I see it with hatred is that if we hate those who hate, we now become haters like them. It’s like trying to build a positive building on a negative foundation. Will that building really be positive and can it stand when the hatred in its various forms comes towards us? We cannot perpetually attempt to make our world a better place with the practices of hatred, violence and exclusion and think we can remain innocent ourselves. All manners of hatred simply generate new manners of hatred. Yes, we do need to hold responsible all those who do evil. Their ways are loathsome and diabolical. We do not close our eyes to their evil crimes against the human race. But to become haters ourselves only leads to more hate and revenge.

So, here we are again faced with the awful Easter Day terror attacks in Sri Lanka. The fatalities keep rising and thousands of people are adversely affected, a whole country in mourning. The latest revelations say that what occurred was the result of revenge attacks to avenge the fifty who were killed in a Christchurch mosque by one hateful shooter. It’s the same lousy narrative we have been hearing over and over in our world since time began. Friends, we need to break this cycle of hatred. It won’t be broken by nice words, Facebook posts, or as I’ve said, by sermonizing. It can only happen by an opposite force that recreates our way of thinking and identity.

Darkness will not lift the darkness. Only love can overcome hate! Now you may think I am getting all ‘religiousy’ with you here, but hear me out. I am a follower of Jesus. That’s not a secret. So let me talk about Him for a moment. Jesus came with a message of love, reconciliation and a new kind of kingdom paradigm. When He started to speak publically it began with a call to ‘repent’ and that had more to do with rethinking everything, our perspectives on God, on blessing and our responses to evil and hatred. The word repent, you see, had not as much to do with crying for our past mistakes as rethinking our future. (Although crying once in awhile over our mistakes might be a healthy thing to do!!!) When He cleansed people of ‘unclean spirits’ (however we understand that term) and made the lepers clean, His aim was to reintegrate the excluded into the human community.

Another observation of the life of Jesus was that His love knew no boundaries. Think of that. He wanted to break the walls of exclusion, recreate us all, regardless of culture, background, geography and the like, into a family. And that is why he little trouble hanging with ‘sinners,’ prostitutes, tax-collectors, and all manner of people. I am sure that if His mandate happened to be in our day He would have lots of LGBTQ friends, refugee and homeless friends. You may not like that, but that just the truth of the matter. His was a message of a purity of heart and learning to see God in all places and people. His hardest command was to love our enemies. Can you imagine how that went over in a culture where destroying the enemy was a spiritual duty!

In the end the greatest question could be, “Did Jesus live out His own words, you know loving even the enemy?” Well, that’s the Easter story you are asking about. The story of His betrayal, the trumped charges, the mocking, and the torturous crucifiction would shout out yes! While the nails ripped through His flesh, hear Him pray aloud, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” If we could learn to love our enemy and bless those who curse us, and stop calling others ‘idiots and heretics’ it would nip so much bad stuff in the bud! We don’t know what will be the end of the story in Sri Lanka, will the church with resurrection life rise above rhetoric that divides and live into the newness of a life that loves? My hope is, and it is the hope of all who are born of love, is this will be the church’s finest moment in Sri Lanka.

People are not Labels

Have you ever found yourself labeling those different from you? We all do it at some time or another. We have biases that we have learned, unconsciously accumulated and are mostly unaware of. These biases have snuck in the backdoor and now we see whole people groups as labels. These labels fuel our fears pressing us to avoid certain kinds of people and seek the company of those who are more like us. Studies confirm that we trust more easily people with the same skin colour as us. They are pointing out the truth of unconscious biases. 

The challenge confronting us is to remove the lens of labels and change the way we see. We begin by examining our hearts to see if we indeed harbour fears and biases. This is no easy task for biases often disguise themselves as concern. It goes a little like this: We are concerned for the safety of our country, our families, and our future. “If we let all these people in they will make it worse for all of us!”

So here’s my thought when it comes to the mass of humanity so different from you and I fleeing their countries and arriving on our shores: Realize from the start that these refugee populations crossing mountains and seas are enamored with very same concerns that you and I have. These concerns are what compels them to leave their countries, homes and families. They just want to live safe. That is why, in many cases, their fathers, mothers and extended family love them so much that they urge them to flee and find safety and a better future in some far off land. Sometimes they do leave together as a family. Many times they get separated. Other times one child is sent off with hopes high for the entire family. I think of H. who left brother, sister and parents in Aleppo at the request of the family. Miraculously all his family survived and he too of the horrendous journey to Germany! He is safe. His future is secure. His family can breathe a sigh of relief.

You see, they all did not leave solely because of the bombs or persecution or poverty. They did not leave, as in the case of many, because of the pressure that gangs exert on their children to join. Those factors admittedly played a part, but it goes deeper than that! It is a desire to find safety that compels them and thus a better future for the ones they love most. That’s all. When you hear it like that you realize that these souls sound a lot like us! Maybe we can now see through new eyes knowing we have more in common with the refugee than we thought?

‘Home’ by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled 
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between 
your legs
or the insults are easier 
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you 
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.