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.

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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.

‘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
pitied

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

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
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
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

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

Salem! Peace! Finding Some in Sarajevo!


I took a trip to Sarajevo, the Olympic City! I left Paris feeling nervous that I’d not care much for this city. Hadn’t war just happened there 20 years ago or something? Would the buildings be full of bullet holes and would poverty be around every corner? Driving from the airport to the center of town did not help change my mood. It was wet and grey and the nondescript apartments that lined the road did little to make me have hope. But my fears were not realized. But something happened, maybe after day two… I fell in love with the people and the city. I saw the hopeful signs of life.

May I tell you of a very personal, but perhaps for you, an odd experience? I do tread a bit here worried of your disapproving frown. Please do not rush to judgement. The rain had finally stopped and I ventured outdoors on my first evening. I was glad to only have to walk for about five minutes into the Old City. Immediately I could feel ancient history on cobbled stoned roads and through narrow alleyways. It didn’t take long to discover that there were many mosques. I had no idea of the make-up of the population. I did not know that over 50 percent of the population were muslim. I had a lot to learn about this land.

While walking further into the old section of town enjoying the architecture of one particular mosque, the call to prayer sounded. I know that sound well because in Thailand I lived near a mosque for years. I had never gone into a mosque there, to my shame! So I listened and caught the call to Prayer on video and watched as a small number of young men went into the mosque to pray. I wanted to go in and observe, but was quite hesitant. “Is it allowed,” I thought? That’s when I caught the eye of a more elderly man motioning me to come in. I pointed to my boots, I knew that they had carpets everywhere. But he motioned and gave me a thumbs up. I followed him in the small well-lit domed mosque. He showed me the proper place to put my boots. And I hesitantly joined the sparse second line of men who had come to pray. And that’s the part you might find that odd, unless you really know me. You see, I am at heart an adventurer and like to see where life and God will take me!

There I was, my first time in a muslim service. No expectations. No knowledge. And no one looked at me weird. At the front facing a wall, Mecca, was a young man in a cleric’s garb. He might have been barely thirty years old. He sang in perfect pitch his prayers beautifully. He then led the men in bowing, holding out the hands in a prayer position and then the literal touching of the head onto the carpet. It felt like humility was happening, the recognition of a greater God and His supremacy over us. And yes, I followed the actions awkwardly eyes open and silently praying to my heavenly Father. Over and over we did this for what seemed like about fifteen or so minutes. And then near the end, when we all were sitting on the carpet, one of the young men grabbed a basket of beads and threw me a set to use in order to recite more prayers. I prayed my own prayers starting with the Lord’s Prayer. Before I knew it everything was over. No sermon. No singing by a congregation, although there was one 30 second solo effort by the same young man who threw me the beads. My first Muslim service was simply participation in the movements of the body, respect for God, and for mostly silent prayer.

Afterwards I shook hands with each young man. One took the time to hug me. Smiles. Camaraderie. The older gentleman who invited me in stayed by my side. He introduced me to another older gentleman who spoke a few words of english. He began pointing at things in the mosque and telling me the meanings. I understood maybe 10 percent of his words. Maybe he was hoping I would convert? He showed me a newspaper article that pictured a Muslim cleric, a Jewish rabbi, a Christian Orthodox priest and a Catholic priest. Was it his way of saying we all need to find ways to love each other? I left that night feeling light. I had prayed. I felt close to my Lord. I used my own words coming from my own heart. This wasn’t at all about religion but the heart. My heart and my God.

The next day I heard the bells of the cathedral ring. It was Catholic Mass. I went to the door to go in and observe. The man at the door told me I couldn’t go in! I said I wanted to observe. He looked at me and said, “No pictures!” And the church was quite full. It was beautiful inside. There was a trio of singers, professional singing. It was pretty, violin and all! But no one joined in, even as I tried to harmonise. The reading of scriptures was done a couple of times. A long sermon. I didn’t understand the words but I was familiar with the structure of the service. I quickly began to be bored as the Dominican priest droned on and on. I wasn’t participating really. There simply was nothing to do but watch others, professionals, do their “holy” thing. And I left that night no lighter and wondering what had just happened? For me, the best answer I can come up with lies in the participation. I was truly invited to participate in the first service. In the second service I was more of a spectator. I enjoyed being in both services, but what I came back with is that participation equals value. Its true of everything in life.

My God, We Need Change!


Some days I think, “What difference can I really make?” I am nothing but a tiny dot in this vast universe. I have practically no political influence and my voice is reduced to 5,000 friends on facebook and some twitter followers! If you are reading my blog, I am surprised, but honoured, because deep down, I want to make a difference somehow in this tiny little planet called earth.

I want to see our world able to thrive, survive, be alive with all the beauty that can be! I want a world where animals can roam, forage, and run like the wind. I don’t want to see another dead whale with a belly full of plastic bags and bottles! Let every environment be clean and our living spaces are safe for children and adult alike. Listen, I want a world where women can be respected and not fear for their safety. I want a world where war is no more, violence is shunned, marriages are sacred, rich nations help poorer ones to become better. I want a world where religion is about living out the highest ideals and living it humbly.

And even though I am a minor player in the grand scheme of things, I will continue to live out the change I want to see in the spaces that I inhabit here in my city of Paris. And maybe, just maybe I can bring some hope and love to someone, somewhere and somehow.

May we all bring the change we hope for and need in 2019!

Ha! Happiness.


It takes a lot of wisdom to be happy and more yet to stay happy. No one has to tell us that wisdom comes with experience, meaning through the muck and mess of life. Actor Jim Carrey might of had this in mind when he said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Exactly! How we all wished for that experience, if only we could have more fame, more spending power, you know, to find out if it brings us happiness or not. Ha! If I was given a buckfor every time I’ve heard someone say, “Money can’t buy you happiness,” I’d probably be unhappily rich by now! Happiness is easily the hardest human lesson and some never learn it.

I dined with a homeless man today. He told me a great story that reminded me of one great secret to happiness. The story went like this: While he was walking the streets of Paris he found a twenty euro bill lying on the ground. He picked it up and thanked his lucky stars. Not long after he came upon a woman who was crying in the street. Being a compassionate sort, he asked her what was wrong. It turned out she was thrown out of her living arrangement by her partner and had nowhere to go. He looked at her and gave her the twenty euro bill. “That,” he said, “gave him a great deal of happiness”. My first reaction was why would he do such a thing, he needed the money as much as she! So I dared to ask him how he came to feel so sorry for the lady? “I’ve been where she’s been!” That’s how we answered my query, without any hesitation. Yes, I tried to agree. So I let his sentence echo in my mind. “I’ve been low, so low too and I know how it feels.” That’s wisdom learned the hard way from experience and it’s an incredible secret to happiness.

Listen once more to an ancient truth written 2,000 years ago and still pertinent for the rest of 2018… “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.”

And So the Moment Happened!


History talks. She reminds us and shows us things. “I am not here just so you can recount stuff,” she said to me out of the blue!

And the conversation began.

“Do you remember when you used to think your path would never end,” she asked?

“I do, all that walking and all I could think of was my sore back and feet,” I replied.

“You were always in a hurry back then,” she scolded.

And I didn’t learn much either, I thought. “I just wanted to get over there as fast as I could,” I said meekly. “Now it seems I want to slow ‘er down a bit.”

These days I’ve been living and walking in the older version of me, in what now seems as though weeks are like days and the minutes have shrunk to seconds. I no longer want to hurry. I want to smell the air, hear the rustling leaves, even taste the earth.

“Well, you look much better, connected to the moment when you walk a little slower, don’t you?” History chided. I thought she was making fun of my gait. It’s true I am 57 years and I am not prepared to believe that I am that old either.

“Too bad time slowly washes us wrinkly white and we come out looking perpetually tired like a piece of driftwood,” I laughed.

“Why? It’s not all that bad. I like it when I see you stopping more,” History added with kindness. “Yes, that’s looks better on you.”

“Well, I guess I am letting things happen more. I don’t have to judge each moment like before. It’s like I can  relax,  stop and take it all in, the good parts and the boring bits.”

“Like the seals and whales,” History asked?

I remembered  this history, to how I heard my traveling partner, Patricia, shrill with joy, “Seals!”

“Seals, really?” I stopped the car quickly.

And I glanced and I saw them too, those silvery grey wonders dancing on the waters of the Baie des Chaleurs. The doors opened as two humans crossed the road. I was running with my iPad in hand, and I jumped the fence and started filming those bopping seals. There I was, happy, all the while giving a running commentary.

“Ha! Seals!” I said confidently, “Look at them!” I continued while squinting my eyes against the bright sun, “See how lucky am I! God thank you, thank you! You knew how much this would mean to me.”

My traveling partner had her phone out recording too. Was she recording me? We had both watched long and hard for this, hours of travel along the coastline. It was either whales or seals we longed to see. And then after a few minutes, yes that long, I noticed the seals were not seals. I laughed to myself now knowing they were some sea birds bobbing for fish. I deleted my video, not in the least disappointed. It was the moment that counted.

And I have to admit that this story was repeated twice. Yep, it was actually the second silly moment of that day. This was the trip we saw seals and whales. And both times I deleted both videos and my commentary with it.  It was really kind of funny.

History spoke up while chuckling at me, “You won’t forget this trip, will you? Those bird-seals and the rock-whales. However, the thing you should always remember is how you let the moments happen.”

I promised History to try and remember the lesson.

When I turned back towards the car and saw the happy eyes of my beloved traveling partner, they too reminded my heart. We were both learning to let things happen, no disappointment and without judgment. “It was not to be,” she said, “You always find what you look for, right?”

“Right,” I answered! “Let’s keep letting the moment happen.”

“And finding the seals and whales and the beauty of the moment,” she added.

Heaven surely must have laughed out loud as she looked down on us that day and wondered where we got our wisdom. You could say hearing History start up a conversation with me played a role in slowing us down. gaspe