Saturday, December 19, 2009

Abolishing the Death Penalty – The Ultimate Expression of Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth like a gentle rain from heaven. W. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

On 15 December the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called for a universal abolition of the Death Penalty.

As I stated in my new manifesto, ALL life is sacred. That means that punishment for any crime must never stoop to end the life of the accused even in cases of murder or genocide. Just because someone takes the life of an individual is not justification for taking theirs.

I can already hear many of my friends clearing their throats and getting ready to site all kinds of Judeo-Christian justification for the death penalty, eye for eye and all the hoo-ha.

Just think for one second and ask yourself why the United States is the only so called Christian Democracy still employing this barbaric form of punishment? Out of the most recent list of 26 countries still practicing the death penalty the United States ranks 5th behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and well ahead of such human rights pariahs as Libya, Sudan and Syria. Other than the United States the only other so called developed societies on the list are Japan and Singapore which together still executed fewer than half the number of criminals.

How do Christians justify this position? There are two Old Testament laws that are most often referenced.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:21

Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. Leviticus 24:21

At first glance it seems reasonable enough, equal punishment for an equal crime. But why then do we in the west recoil at reports of thieves who are sentenced to have their hands cut off while routinely sentencing people to death? We stopped maiming one another long ago but for some reason the death penalty persists.
In her statement High Commissioner Pillay said “I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”

For me it’s that last part that really rings true. Revenge never solved anything. Where is the grace and mercy in all of this?

Jesus held mercy in high esteem, saying in effect that those who were merciful would get as good as they give. (Blessed are the Merciful for they will receive Mercy, Matthew 5:7) It is the highest form of mercy and grace to say to the man who murdered your family, “I am within my rights to kill you, as stated in Leviticus above, but instead I will restrain myself and let you live out your natural life.”

If God is a God of mercy and if we are to be his followers we too must be people of mercy. There is no mercy in the death penalty and I agree with High Commission Pillay that it must be abolished.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My New Manifesto – Life, Love and Service

There it is; my purpose defined in a three words.

It’s taken about a month of research, careful thought and prayer but I think I’ve finally got it. What makes Lauren Sheil tick? An unwavering conviction that ALL life is sacred, the greatest commandment ever given is to love one another and that the best way to demonstrate those two convictions is through a life of service.

Life is Sacred
What does that mean? Does it mean I’m going to join P.E.T.A. or become a vegetarian? No, plants are living things too. I still have to eat but there is no point in un-necessary suffering or eating food that has a major impact on the environment. Short of moving to a farm and eating only what I raise myself it’s not possible to monitor everything about what I eat, just being conscious of it is enough.

What this really means is changing the lens with which I look at the world. Everything that affects the quality of life from obvious human rights violations to climate change policies has an impact. It goes way beyond being an environmentalist or animal rights activist. When all life is sacred there is no justification for war or oppression of any type, just as there is no justification for clear cutting forests, dumping toxic waste into a river or capital punishment.

In my second entry on this blog I stated that Peace without Justice is Oppression (My Peace Statement, Aug 9, 2009) I believe that even more strongly today. Life is sacred and any action that devalues life is sin, plain and simple.

Love One Another
36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matt. 22:36-39

I’m going to upset a lot of people, Christians especially, when I say this but NOBODY does this right. Okay, maybe some people do but they are few and far between.

The first thing to note here is that Jesus was asked to give ONE law but ended up giving TWO. Why did he do that? I think it’s because they are impossible to separate. God is so deeply involved in the lives of people that you cannot demonstrate your love for him in isolation. So showing love to God with all your heart, soul and mind is done by showing that same love to your neighbour.

But who then is my neighbour? In Luke’s account of this same incident Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a well know story so I won’t recount it here but the bottom line is everyone is your neighbour; regardless of race, health, wealth or social standing! Most Christians I know would do well to stop here and read that again. We get a bad rap in the world because even non-Christians understand the meaning of this, they look to us to demonstrate it and all too often we fail. If Jesus were to tell this parable to Christians today he could just as easily call it the Good Muslim and instead of a traveller beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road it could be a gay man dying of AIDS.

God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts than some arbitrary rule of who’s inside or who’s outside of the circle. Suffering is suffering and loving service to individuals is the only appropriate response.

This brings me to my final point:

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. John 13:12-14

The significance of foot washing has been lost in our modern context. Today when we come in to someone’s house we take off our shoes but in Jesus day when a person came in from the outdoors, especially after travelling a long distance they had to wash their feet. People wore sandals and so their feet would have obviously been dirty. In a larger house the job of washing a visitor’s feet would have fallen to the lowliest of servants. So when Jesus, the “Lord”, washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper it would have been shocking to everyone present, in fact Peter was so horrified at the thought that he initially refused to allow it.

Jesus teaching on how to show love comes down to this moment, as the most powerful human ever to walk the earth, he was in essence GOD, Jesus tells us to wash one another’s feet. Relinquish your “standing” in any situation and willingly do the most menial of tasks in the service of others.

So there you have it; my purpose in life and the reasoning behind it.

Respect Life, Love All and Serve.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rants from the Headlines

In recent years, Canada on the international stage has become like the socially awkward, border-line retarded cousin who gets invited to Thanksgiving out of courtesy to grandma (Great Britten). You know the one he bums a ride with his cooler big brother (USA) and then stands in the corner with a face full of cheese puffs so nobody asks him anything important. He just smiles and nods at whatever big brother says half the time not understanding a word of it.

Gone are the days when Canada could take the lead on any international issues of note. Not since Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister in the 60s have we led a major UN project, the UN Peacekeeping force. In more recent years we squandered our chance to lead the way on land mines even though the movement was spearheaded by a prominent Canadian business man. In fact we almost failed to sign the treaty at all.

In the last few weeks international headlines about Canada have made us look like a nerdy, dithering, buffoon.

I first noticed when Prime Minister Harper announced he would not be attending the UN Climate Change meetings in Copenhagen. He cited the fact that it is really supposed to be a meeting of environment ministers, not heads of state. A reasonable enough excuse but two days later Barak Obama said he would be there and in a pathetic bid to seem relevant, Harper changed his mind. The situation got worse a few days later when, as the only Commonwealth country not to have signed the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change a proposal was put forth to suspend our membership in the 53 member group of former British colonies. Never in the history of the Commonwealth Organization has a country been suspended over environmental policy. The proposal was ultimately defeated but the president has been set nevertheless.

Prior to the current climate change brouhaha, news broke that back in the early days of the Afghan mission our soldiers had turned prisoners over to local authorities with full knowledge that they would likely be tortured. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention done more to prove a point to George W. Bush that we were serious about role after having refused to send troops to Iraq than for any real militarily relevant strategy.

This week Prime Minister Harper is in China. It is his first state visit to that country in 5 years. China is our second biggest trading partner and Chinese authorities have called it a snub to the importance the two countries place on each other that it has taken so long for Harper to make the trip. I cannot say I blame them.

And finally yesterday, after the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) had already approved a $7 million funding request KIAROS, a faith based development agency, the minister responsible refused to release the funds. The reason, after nearly 30 years of helping to represent Canada in the developing world, KIAROS, which has been critical of the government on climate change, no longer fits with the government vision of international development. This is hitting below the belt. Now every organization that relays on tax payer funds, no matter how well established and respected has to be careful not to offend the governing party or risk their entire existence. Way to go!

See the full story here;


Monday, November 23, 2009

Blessings - A Life Worth Living, part 3

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1-2

Before we get started with my analysis of The Sermon on the Mount, I need to make a few things clear.

#1 – I’m not a theologian. I have had no formal training in Bible study or religious doctrine. I won’t be writing line by line exegesis here, I’ll leave that to the professionals.

#2 – I’m really only writing this for me, as a way to work out my purpose in life. The fact that it is going out worldwide on the internet is secondary. I invite your feedback and would be honoured if God spoke to you through my work but that’s not the primary goal.

#3 - Jesus spoke this sermon to his disciples. It says so right in the text. To be sure many people were there listening in but most of this teaching is directed at his closest followers. This is a manual for life as a Christ Follower. If you’re “listening in” welcome but this really is Jesus Following 101.

Here we go!

The first thing that jumps out at me is the word blessed. It’s not a word we use a lot in our daily life so I looked up the definition.

Blessed; adjective; divinely or supremely favoured –

Jesus begins his hillside chat was a list of 8 blessings, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12) Right from the start it is clear that he is advocating a counter cultural movement. Those that are to be “supremely favoured” are not what anyone would expect. Poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, seekers of righteousness, merciful, pure hearted, peacemakers, and persecuted. When you contrast this list with the things that our society gives favour to there are stark differences.

- Blessed are the Poor in spirit? Society says; blessed are the rich in self importance. We live in a narcissistic society that values confidence and self promotion. Get with the program. Jesus says; by recognizing your inadequacies you can enter life on a whole new level.

- Blessed are those who mourn? Society says; Get over it! Dust yourself off and get on with life, quit being such a downer. Jesus says; you will be comforted.

- Gentle? Society says; nobody ever got ahead by being gentle. Lead, follow or get out of the way! Jesus says; you will gain the whole world!

- Hunger and thirst for righteousness? Society says; what is righteous in our world of hyper choice and information overload? Who are you to claim that you are right about anything? Live and let live. Jesus says; you will learn the answers.

- Merciful? Society says; you deserve what you get, you should have known better. Every man for himself! Jesus says; you will be treated in kind.

- Pure in heart? Society says; see righteousness, you pansy! Don’t waste your time making decisions with your heart you’ll only end up with heartburn. Jesus says; God will reveal himself to you.

- Peacemakers? Society says; that’s military slang for a cruise missile. You want to make peace the fastest way is to wipe out your enemies. Jesus says; you are doing God’s work and will be recognized as part of his family.

- Those who are persecuted? Society says; there is no blessing in persecution. Don’t rock the boat. See Merciful. Jesus says; you will be rewarded for your commitment.

Living this list is not easy. I fail daily. Aligning my life with these blessings is a first step in defining and living out my purpose.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Life Worth Living, part 2

Though simple sounding and easy to read, each beatitude offers a radical rearrangement of our ordinary value system, daring us to be different. What we find here, in short, are guidelines for true Christian character. Charles R. Swindoll, Simple Faith

The year was 1992. I had just left home for the first time. After 19 years of living in my parent’s house with their values I found myself on my own trying to find my way in the world.

I was still surrounded by other Christians. I had found work as a technician on tour with a Christian motivational speaker but much of what I experienced in that first year on the road was nothing like what I thought it meant to be a Christian. The rules of evangelical engagement; do this; don’t do that, turning a blind eye to obvious need while preaching a brand of “health and wealth” was like a foreign language. I’m a Mennonite boy from Southern Ontario, taught to live simply and trust God. All this “name it and claim it” you’ve already won, born again mumbo jumbo didn’t make any sense to me.

By Christmas, just 4 months into a 10 month contract I was burnt out. That’s when I saw an ad in a Christian magazine with the following headline;

In the Hurried Lives of too many Christians There’s a Peace Missing.

The advertisement was for a book by evangelical theologian Charles Swindoll called Simple Faith. This was exactly what I needed. The more I listened to the motivational message I was paid to help deliver the more I felt that they were muddling it up and leave a lot of pieces out. K.I.S.S. was my personal mantra – Keep Is Simple Stupid!

I had heard of Swindoll a few years earlier. He had gained some notoriety in Christian circles with his other book, The Grace Awakening and so without knowing very much about the premise of his follow up work, other than the title and the headline in that magazine, I went out and bought it.

As it turned out, it was a detailed analysis and commentary on what is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Jesus longest single speech in any of the Gospels. Practically all of Jesus teaching either further explains or expands on ideas first put forth in this speech. It is possible to build your entire relationship with Jesus solely on what is said in these 3 chapters of the first Gospel without missing a single major tenant of Christianity.

I recently returned to the Sermon on the Mount in my search for meaning and purpose and it was like sitting down in front of a warm fire with a nice cup of coffee and an old friend. No flashing lights or loud music and no wild claims of utopian bliss, just simple straight forward life coaching from the heart of God.

My purpose begins with putting Jesus’ teaching in the centre of it all and Jesus teaching boils down to the Sermon on the Mount.

For the next little while I’m going to dedicate this blog to my own analysis of this speech. Hopefully it will help me to refocus my purpose.

Lucky you - You’re invited along for the ride!

Monday, November 16, 2009

MCC AIDs Care Kits

This is something my Church is doing to help people in Southern Africa that are infected with AIDs

The Meeting House, AIDS Care Kit Video, Nov 8th 2009

More on Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) another time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Life Worth Living

Why are we here? What’s life all about? Monty Python

One of the reasons for this blog is to help me to continually work out my place in the world. My wife brought home a book from the library last week called “It’s Not what you Sell, It’s what you Stand For” by Roy M. Spence Jr.

Mr. Spence is a partner at a marketing and advertising firm in Austin TX and has worked with some of the best known brands in the world from Wal-Mart to former president Bill Clinton’s, Clinton Global Initiative. The primary thesis of the book is that you must figure out what you stand for, and align it with your work first and foremost. If you don’t you just bounce from one thing to another without ever making a lasting impact, individuals who don’t understand their purpose float from job to job or relationship to relationship. Purpose is True North on your compass. If you understand your purpose decision making comes down to one question, will this get me closer or further away from True North?

So I’m working on a statement of purpose.

So far I come to the realization that I view human life as absolutely sacred. Whether or not you define life with some divine meaning as I do most of you can agree that all human life is equally valuable. Let me be clear, I am not interested in a debate over the origins of life. Don’t try to draw me into some endless, pointless circle of creationism versus evolution or a pro-life argument over when human life actually begins. I don’t care! Whatever marker you use to define it; Life is Sacred.

With that as my starting point things like war, political oppression, murder, capital punishment, environmental degradation (wilful or inadvertent) the spread of poverty through preventable disease and just plain selfish ignorance are all evil! I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t also acknowledge that as a Christ Follower I stand convicted of every one of these things.

My heart breaks daily;

- When I learn that the average age of girls trapped in prostitution all over the world is 12.
- When thousands die as a Tsunami takes out coastal settlements in Indonesia.
- When children can’t walk safely to school for fear of harassment in Palestine.
- When millions continue to die of AIDS in Southern Africa because they can’t get access to life saving drugs.

But simply stating that Life is Sacred is not a purpose. My purpose in life is not to say that life is sacred and move on. My purpose is to live daily with that realization first and foremost on my heart and react to the world around me in kind.

- Help the prostitute get off the street and find a better life.
- Help clean up and rebuild after the Tsunami.
- Protect children from wars and civil unrest.
- Provide drugs and other life giving services to the sick and dying.

"The true joy of life is being used by a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one." George Bernard Shaw.

Now that is a life worth living.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Follow me on Twitter


Not sure if it's going to add anything to this blog but it could be fun...


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Universal Healthcare

I just spent that last 24 hours with my wife at Credit Valley Hospital in our home town of Mississauga Ontario. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, we are a city of just under 1 million on the western edge of Toronto. You might say that we are to Toronto what Burbank is to Los Angeles.

There has been much talk in the media lately about universal healthcare. Republicans in the US have used the Canadian system is a kind of boogie man in there debate with President Obama’s plan to over hall the system there. Our system is far from perfect, believe me. However; when you are in pain and need help the last thing you should be thinking about is how much this is going to cost.

As a resident (you don’t even have to be a citizen) of the province of Ontario I receive access to one of the best run emergency health care systems in the world. We do pay for it but the premiums deducted from our pay cheques through income assessments are based on our ability to pay, not our need or how much we use it. A healthy person who is rich pays more than a sick person who is poor on the assumption that the system is there for everyone when they need it. I pay roughly $100 per month for this access, others pay less and use it more but that’s okay.

In the last 24 hours my wife has undergone an x-ray, ultrasound and eventually had to have her gallbladder removed. She stayed overnight in a private room, had access to a private telephone line, received a meal and was given a prescription for pain medication. My total bill at the end of the day was $57.77. Half of that was for parking the other half for the prescribed drugs not covered by the government insurance plan. In two weeks she will return to the hospital for a follow up assessment by the surgeon, FREE. We visit our family doctor for routine ailments and check-ups on average 3-4 times per year, also FREE.

I don`t pretend to understand all the complexities of a government verses private health care system but when you need surgery to continue to live nothing else matters. Worrying about how you`re going to pay for it, whether or not your insurance company will cover it or if you will one day lose your coverage should never enter the debate. I know that if I lose my job tomorrow the Ontario government will no longer be getting their $100 per month from me but I will still have access to the same health care my wife needed today and that`s all the matters in the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Believer's Trust

Okay, so I had this idea...

Micro-Finance organizations all over the world are dominated by non-profit, religious based NGOs. They are there to help people by giving them a low interest, sometimes even zero interest loans to start a business and feed their families. In theory the recipients pay back the loans into the pool and the money is then re-loaned to others or they take out new loans to expand their businesses take on new employees etc and thereby benefit the whole community.

But there are some who say that Micro-Finance doesn’t work. My guess is that the religious connections of the organizations alienate some ethnic communities, the loan amounts are too small to really make a difference, the communities are too focused on subsistence to truly run effective businesses or that it creates a culture of dependence on easy credit (sound familiar?). There is also some merit to the argument that the recipients have almost no concept of how a free market economy actually works.

The fact that the seed capital came as a donation from an individual that does not expect a return on investment also creates a culture whereby the parent organization does not have a long term investment in the recipient, without an expectation of a return there is no mechanism that allows the Micro Loan to grow beyond a very small amount, enough to effectively support a growing economy.

What if Micro-Finance were managed like a bank or bond market, complete with shareholders who expected a return on their investment?

Simply put – a Bond is a created when a debt is portioned out to a number of different individuals. If I buy $1000 bond in a mortgage company that doles out mortgages to individuals in the amount of $100.000, I in essence own 1% of someone’s house. As the mortgage is repaid I receive a dividend equal to value of my ownership plus interest and I can sell my entire bond at market value at any time. So if the house increases in value, so does the value of my bond.

As always these brain storms bring up more questions than they answer.

Questions – What are the reasons most often cited that Micro-Finance doesn’t work?
- Who can I partner with on the ground to manage these loans?
- What is a realistic rate of return?
- What kind of regulatory hurdles are there to making this work?

If anyone out there can help me answer these questions I would appreciate it....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman

With Great Power, comes Great Responsibility

Oh Spiderman – how did you get to be so wise? He listened to his elders, paid attention to experts and learned from his mistakes. That’s how!

For those of you who never read the comic books or saw the movies the basic story goes like this. Spiderman (Peter Parker) was raised by his Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben in New York City. One day he was bitten by a radio- active (or bio-engineered depending on the version) spider and gained super human strength, agility and the ability to spin webs out of his wrists.

After his uncle loses his job and the Parker’s are faced with the possibility of losing their house young Spiderman decides to join an underground fight club to make some extra money. His uncle notices a change in Peter’s attitude and delivers the now famous line. At the end of the night the club is robbed and Peter has a chance to stop the thief but doesn’t. As he is running away the thief stabs Uncle Ben. Because Peter Parker didn’t feel it was his responsibility to stop a robbery, even though he had the power to do so, his uncle died.

From that point forward Spiderman made it his mission to steward his power responsibly.

One of the most powerful institutions in North America, outside the government is the Christian Church. Some would say it is even more powerful than government.

But Jesus never taught his followers how to steward power. His only teaching on the subject was to give it away and just serve people. And not just to serve but to serve to the point of giving up your own agenda, a kind of spiritual death to self. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Jesus (Matthew 10:39).

The Christian Church is in a position of power that it was never intended to have. Unfortunately recent history has shown that the biggest hurdle many good people face when trying to serve others is none other than the Church. Church politics, arguments over doctrine and structure determine who’s “out” more than who to serve. Jesus corner stone teaching, best known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 5, 6 and 7) is inclusive and humble. Not exclusive and superior.

I get a lot of flak from people on this blog aimed at my Christian bias. One of the things I have noticed about it though is that it almost always comes from people who have been wounded by a powerful church. The message of Jesus is not a message of institutional power. It is a message of service and humility. Much of the church today looks nothing like Jesus intended. My challenge to everyone, believer or not is to read the Sermon on the Mount and ask yourself this question; “Am I living this life?”

And because I know some of you might not have a bible, here it is, just click the forward and back arrows to go to the next chapter.

I welcome your feedback!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Out of a Clear Blue Sky

“What Makes a Person So Poisonous, Righteous that He’d think less of anyone who just disagreed?”
The Gulf War Song, Moxy Fruvous (1993).

An Earworm is often described as part of a song. So it’s fitting that my first entry after I renamed the blog is prompted by a song.

Moxy Fruvous was a “one hit wonder” from Kingston, Ontario that wrote and produced a full album of politically charged folk songs in the early 90s. The hit was a fun little ditty called “The King of Spain” in which the band tells a prince and pauper type story of international trade. But the album reaches its most poignant moment on the final track, in the “Gulf War Song” a 4 minute acapella lament of politics turned to self-righteousness. In addition to the line quoted above my other favourite says “I’m just a pacifist, he’s just a patriot, if I said you were crazy would you have to fight me?”

This song was written during the first Gulf War. Before 9/11, before anyone knew who Osama bin Laden was or how to spell Taliban and before anyone but a few pentagon staffers knew what WMD meant.

I haven’t written much in the past few weeks. I’ve been reading a lot of the recent history of the Bush administration and how the world reacted to September 11, 2001. Like everyone, I’ve lived that history and at times had a front row seat. 9/11 is one of those events, like the moon landing, pearl harbour or the assassination of John Kennedy that everyone who was alive at that moment will never forget.

As was often the case, I was the first one in the office that morning and I vividly recall sitting at my desk in a Toronto high-rise looking out at a clear blue sky and watching aircraft on final approach to Pearson International Airport. The thought crossed my mind that there appeared to be more planes in the area than on other mornings, little did I know that US airspace had just been closed and a number of flights were being diverted.

I had the window open and a maintenance crew who happened to be repelling down the side of the building making repairs to the balcony leaned in and asked if I had heard was what happening in New York City. They had a portable radio on their work platform. It was a surreal moment; 4 men literally hanging from a rope 19 stories above the ground talking to me through an open window about how airplanes were crashing into a similar building half a continent away. Would we be next?

As I have read the historical and political commentary of what followed two things have stood out.

# 1) In 1998 journalist Thomas Freidman said, “It’s not another superpower that threatens America at the end of the twentieth century. The greatest danger that the United States faces today is from Super-empowered individuals who hate America more than ever because of globalization and who can do something about it on their own, more than ever, thanks to globalization.” (The Lexus and the Olive Tree). 3 years before 9/11, Freidman prophesied that Globalization could become a double edged sword. Our struggle in the 20th century is to keep one edge sharp, that of expanded markets and empowerment and the other, increased poverty and widening economic gaps, dull.

# 2) Decision makers need to have complete information. In the case of George W. Bush my reading of the accounts from journalist like Bob Woodward (State of Denial) and Ron Suskind (The One Percent Doctrine) have revealed that the president was functioning with bad intelligence. The people with good intelligence were unable for various reasons, not the least of which was fear for their own jobs, to pass the information up the chain. In one instance a general on the ground in Iraq later wrote in his personal journal that he felt the government was making huge mistakes that would take years to correct and yet when given the opportunity to meet face to face with the president said that the mission was proceeding as planned.

I am not an apologist for George W. Bush, but how can you expect a man to make effective decisions when his closest advisors aren’t giving him correct information.

Over the next few posts I hope to expand on the first idea, the second I’ll leave to the historians.

Go ahead and download the Gulf War Song at:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Month - New Title

I found a new title for my Blog!

After months of looking for the perfect word or phrase that really says what I mean I’ve settled on this. These musings start out as Earworms. I’ll see something on the news, read it in the paper or a book or hear it spoken by someone in the know; it’ll get in my head and stick there like a worm.

The only way to kill the worm is to understand it, listen to it, and figure out where it came from so that you know what it wants from you. That’s what I do here.

Having an Earworm isn’t fun! The term conjures up images of creepy, crawly things in your head. These thoughts that I explore here, crawl into my brain and won’t leave until I give them the time and understanding they demand.

In short – they drive me crazy.

Welcome to life with my Earworms....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Word to My Critics

I've been blogging for about a month now. I've invited several hundred people to view my blog and submit feedback and I appreciate each and every response that I have received. Of course as I expected I have received a few negative comments that I wish to address here.

1) I can't spell.

I write everything in Microsoft word first before posting it, run a spelling and grammar check and proof read everything several times. Occationally I miss the odd word or phrase. Big deal. I've seen typos in the New York Times too. Get over it!

2) I quote the Bible too much.

Like over 60% of North Americans I am a Christian. My dad was a Baptist minister. I quote the Bible because I know it and because it is the most widely read ancient text in the world. Especially when you add to that the fact that Muslims and Jews both share more than half of the same scriptures with Christians. I use the scriptures as a starting point in an attempt to show that the ideas I'm presenting are not new and can be appreciated by people of all faiths.

If you don't have any faith that's okay too because then they're just words to you. My challenge to anyone who takes offense to my use of the scriptures is to just read the words and leave it at that.

3) I'm too opinionated.

It's a Blog people! That's what it's for, to express my opinion. I don't force you to read it, if you don't like it, delete it.

I had one reader say to me that he was a "truth seeker" and didn't appreciate my forcing my opinion on him. ???

Truth Seekers beware! Sooner or later you will find find what you are looking for and then have to take a stand or become a hypocrite.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Paradox of The Victorious

The Battle for Recognition part 2

In my previous writing on the Battle for Recognition, posted August 11, I argued that all conflict stems from a single root, that we all want to be recognized as at least equal to but usually greater than those around us. I also stated that this creates some difficulty when the victor realizes he has either killed or otherwise diminished his foe to the point that no one is left to give him the recognition he fought so hard for. I called this The Paradox of The Victorious and it is that which I would like to explore further here.

I’ve spent the last couple of posts talking about Thymos, the Greek word for spiritedness, and concluded that while Isothymia or equality is a fine ideal our human nature drives us to Megalothymia or a feeling of superiority. I owe much of this thinking to sociologist Francis Fukuyama who in his book The End of History and the Last Man stated that “Man was from the start a social being; his own sense of self worth and identity is intimately connected with the value that other people place on him.”

But when one group has defeated and oppressed another any kind of value received from the vanquish foe is lessened because the vanquished are less human in the sight of the victor. In economic terms if one person has more wealth than another, their recognition of superiority gives no satisfaction because there is no equality to begin with.

So what is the victor to do?

History has shown us two ways in which winners continue to prop up their self worth long after they have already won. They either continue to look for more worthy opponents until they are ultimately defeated like Napoleon or they reach a point where they know they cannot continue to win and instead build walls around themselves and treat the outside world with contempt like Saddam Hussein. On a more local level the Napoleons of our world could be the Wall Street financers who continue climbing the ladder, leveraging themselves and their clients beyond all reason until they collapse into bankruptcy while the Saddam Husseins of our world could be the abusive men who terrorize their families behind closed doors.

On the international stage of humanitarian aid westerners must be aware of these tendencies. In the battle for recognition we’ve already won. We live in the most advanced society on earth, our economic wealth is unsurpassed. But when we move into the developing world to offer our help, be it specific expertise or simply an economic hand, we must be careful not to become like Napoleons or Saddam Husseins. We cannot ride in on a white horse proclaiming to save the world and we cannot build walls.

We must never forget that the very people we are trying to help are also fighting the battle for recognition and we cannot do anything that will make them feel diminished in any way. Otherwise their own megalotymic instincts will drive them to view us as invaders and ultimately prolong the suffering. One of the greatest criticisms of Humanitarian Aid is that the workers do not take enough time to study and understand the local environment.

For a resent example of how societies continue to build walls around themselves check out the following link from Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Third Way of the Thymos part 2

One of the most common criticisms of isothymia and the spread of liberal democracy is that it is homogenizing culture and stifling creativity. When the notion of all men being created equal proceeds to its natural conclusion not only are we all treated as equal but we will also all start to look the same, sound the same and act the same. When the lines between cultures get blurred there is no motivation to be unique and creativity ceases.

Liberal Democracy owes much of its existence to isothymotic passions but as Francis Fukuyama noted in, The End of History and the Last Man “If tomorrow’s isothymotic passions try to outlaw differences between the ugly and the beautiful, or pretend the person with no legs is not just the spiritual but the physical equal of someone whole in body, then the argument will in the fullness of time become self refuting, just as communism was.”

It is my assertion that Liberal Democracy has already gone too far. Our society is fraught with resentment toward those who work hard and achieve something great. We say to doctors who have spent a decade in school and borrowed heavily to finance their education that they or the entrepreneur who risked everything on an idea do not deserve to earn more than anyone else. It takes a healthy dose of megalothymia to be willing to stay in school for years after your classmates have gone to work or to forgo a comfortable life while you plough every dollar you earn back into an idea with no immediate payback.

On the other hand globalization has given corporations the ability to look at the whole world as one giant market and fostered a Winner-Take-All attitude that is further increasing the gaps between rich and poor.

The human tendency to make sure our own needs are covered before looking at our neighbour’s needs is far from isothymia. At best it is self preservation which stems from the idea that I am more important that you. The Third Way of the Thymos recognizes the human desire to be greater and encourages it because it also recognizes that a rising tide floats all boats. But what about the other great criticism of globalization and liberal democracy; as the economy expands what then happens to those people who have no boat?

A democratic system is by definition equal but individuals are by nature self promoters. To put it another way, we need a system that encourages individual megalothymia while maintaining a corporate isothymia. After all, it is the ambitious individual who contributes the most to rising economic standards and in turn makes possible, through employment and taxation, the creation of a social safety net. Benjamin Freidman made this clear in his book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” by examining how expanding economies encourage the liberalizing of politics and stagnant or recessionary economies result in the closure of social programs and ultimately the oppression of weaker individuals. In the United States, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would not have been possible had it not coincided with a long period of sustained economic growth.

So where does that leave us? How then do we balance our individual drive to be greater with our group desires for equality? Not just on a local or national scale but also how does this influence foreign policy? How do we respond to corporations that exploit foreign workers? How indeed do we define exploitation when what we in North America would consider slave labour is seen as a good wage in other locations? These are all questions that continue to haunt me and will no doubt result in further postings.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Kings!

The Third Way of the Thymos

In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit – Judges 21:25 (NIV)

The story of the people of Israel as told in the book of Judges is a story of a society not unlike our own. It was a society that was based on a rule of law; this was after all the people who brought us the 10 commandments, but lacking in a strong central government. This lack of government eventually caused the society to collapse in on itself and gave rise to an oppressive monarchy.

Today “rulers” have been replaced by prime ministers and presidents that are servants of the people, thus weakening central government authority.

At first glance this may sound like a good thing but all too often a week central government becomes servant to special interests or puppets of the rich and powerful. They are forced to walk a tight rope between interests of the free market economy and social ideals. They cannot enact laws that will offend either of these groups for fear of upsetting the general population or worse, upsetting the capital markets and sending their economies into a tailspin. The rule of law alone still leaves far too much open to interpretation by the legal profession and manipulation by special interest groups. So we end up like the early Israelites, without a king, and everyone doing as he sees fit.

The rise of liberal democracy has made it impossible to live in a class based society. All men are created equal after all. But the idea that all men are created equal also means that no one is better equipped to make the rules than anyone else and everyone can question authority.

When we recognize that all men are created equal we are recognizing that everyone is human and all have the same spirit. The ancient Greeks had a word for this; they called it the Thymos which is loosely translated as Spiritedness. Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and The Last Man spent a great deal of time exploring thymos and how it has related to political structure. Thymos manifests itself in our society as either Megalothymos, the desire to be seen as greater than the rest or Isothymos, the desire for equality.

Fukuyama theorizes that all of history has been leading up to a moment when all societies will adopt liberal democracy and the world as a whole will reach a state of Isothymia. He calls this The End of History because the need for major world-shaping events like wars and treaties will no longer exist and history itself will cease to be interesting. The Last Man at the end of history is the one man left who has been living with a megalothymos and finally recognizes the equality of all.

However; I disagree with Fukuyama’s assessment of history and where it is leading us. Despite all our best efforts society is nowhere near a state of isothymia or complete equality and I do not believe that there will ever come a day when megalothymia will be vanquished. In fact I believe that our liberal democratic society is schizophrenic at best, more likely hypocritical or even deliberately deceiving us. On the one hand we claim to be striving for equality through social welfare programs, universal health care and free education while on the other hand we are encouraging and celebrating megalothymia, rewarding those in business or sports who achieve great things.

This is not really a bad thing. Where would the world be without Bill Gates or Michael Jordan?

True isothymia stifles creativity by limiting its rewards. Marxist communism was very isothymic; Lenin turned it into a megalothymic power play. Total megalothymia oppresses those without the will or ability to fight back. We need a third way. Over the next few posts I intend to expand upon what I am calling, for lack of a better phrase, The Third Way of the Thymos. This is a new way of looking at the world that still rewards megalothymia and recognizes the sameness and potential for equality in all people.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gutenberg, Luther and the Literate Masses

On the headquarters building of the Toronto Sun newspaper, there is painting depicting the first printing press made by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1450. The message they are trying to portray is simple; “we owe it all to this machine.”

Gutenberg’s mechanical printing press was the first machine in Europe that used movable type to reproduce books, newspapers, and all manner of printed material. The use of movable type was a vast improvement in both quality and speed over the previously used methods of publishing; woodblock printing or handwriting. Use of Gutenberg’s printing press spread rapidly throughout Europe and is attributed by historians as the key technological advancement of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment period. Suddenly it became practical to reproduce and widely distribute written material.

With access to increasing amounts of printed material came the need for education and literacy. Before Gutenberg literacy was reserved for the upper classes of society, nobility, aristocracy and clergy. It was very easy for these upper classes to have their way with the illiterate underclass by pointing to a higher power that had written down instructions. Whether it be the king who had instructed an official to collect taxes or God who spoke through the local priest, all the educated had to say was “it is written” and the illiterate individual had no recourse.

Slowly the peasants learned to read and what they found didn’t always match up with what the educated were saying. Corrupt tax collectors were exposed, simple minded priests were questioned and within a few decades Martin Luther arrived on the scene and challenged one of the greatest abuses of power by the educated in history; the selling of indulgences.

In the early 1500s The Pope dispatched officials from the Vatican throughout the world to take payment from parishioners as restitution for sin. The money was ostensibly used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome but much of it also found its’ way into the pockets of the Vatican envoys and local priest. The official teaching of the church at the time was that faith alone could not justify man and that in order to receive absolution from sin you must also purchase it. Luther, a theological professor at the University of Wittenberg, knew that there was no justification for this in scripture and believed that the practise exploited the poor. His 95 Point Thesis was a scholarly dissertation on this abuse of power that eventually got him excommunicated.

The thesis was quickly translated into German, French, Dutch and English copied and distributed throughout Europe. Luther continued to write challenges to the church and is credited with the first German translation of the bible. All thanks to Gutenberg and the burgeoning literacy that he helped to start.

Where am I going with this? It’s simple, when people can read they begin to think. When literate masses are able to read rather than just be told what is written they can challenge all manner of corruption and oppressive authority. What began with Luther soon spread throughout Europe and absolute authority has never been the same. Two hundred years later in both France and the Americas peasants demanded equal rights and representation based on many of the same principles Luther first laid out in the 95 point thesis.

Like the excommunication of Luther many regimes have tried to control literacy by arresting authors and banning their writings. It took 200 years for peasants in France and America to gain enough knowledge and strength to stand up to their kings but as technology advances information moves faster and it is becoming harder and harder for authorities to prevent it’s spread. Literacy has toppled Monarchies, Colonialism and the Berlin Wall. It has freed Nelson Mandela and caused thousands of students to stage a sit-in at Tiananmen Square. I believe that in the future literacy will overthrow Chinese communism, the Ayatollah and African warlords.

We learned nearly 600 years ago that literacy is the first building block in developing societies. The lessons continue today in regions of the world were education is restricted by religious and political leaders (as in most of the Muslim world) and the free flow of information through internet service providers is blocked (China). Just last week Afghan President, Hamid Karzai upheld a law restricting access to education for girls and in my own country (Canada) the Indian Affairs Ministry has been struggling to find ways to ensure that impoverished native communities have standards of education that are equal to the rest of the country.

Further Info

Afghanistan: Law Curbing Women’s Rights Takes Effect; Human Rights Watch, Aug 13 2009

Fixing The Native Economy - Macleans Aug 11 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Battle for Recognition - Part 1

Standing up for Human Rights and Spreading Justice


In my previous writing, peace statement I started off with the thesis; Peace without Justice is Oppression. That study and research has led me down and continually widening and branching rabbit hole of Politics, Economics and Philosophy. Recently my research has once again galvanized around a recurrent theme, that of personal recognition, as the basis of Justice.

Human society began a rapid transformation from authoritarian, totalitarian, top down regimes toward liberal democracy during what is commonly known as the enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th century. Over the past 400 years liberal democracy has emerged as the most stable and fair form of government the world over but this transformation has not been smooth. In most cases the old guard has not given up power easily.

The search for justice starts as a battle for recognition, an often bloody battle at that, where one person or group stands up to another saying; “I am Human too, show me some respect, recognize my humanity, I deserve the same rights as you!” How the powerful or favoured respond to that statement is all too obvious from even a cursory walk through history. It has led to, prolonged oppression, war and injustice.

The thesis which I intend to expand upon over the next little while is that; Justice lives when people recognize one another’s humanity.

Cain and Abel – The first Battle for Recognition

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." [d] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4: 2b-8.

Bloody battles for recognition have been a part of human history from the very beginning. As we see in this early story from the Bible Cain is searching for recognition both from God and his brother when he doesn’t get it he kills the one person who he perceives is standing in his way. The problem is that Cain still does not the recognition he so craves. Instead God threw him off the land and condemned him to life of hard labour. With God still not recognizing Cain and Abel gone there was no one left.

This is the dual paradox of the victorious; God is not interested in our petty jockeying for position and if I am victorious in a battle my fellow man is either dead or somehow less human in my site and therefore his recognition is meaningless.

In times of war, you often hear leaders – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – saying, ‘God is on our side’. But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of the refugees, widows and orphans. Greg Mortenson “Three Cups of Tea”.

Anthropologists and Sociologist agree that and Man is the only creature on earth that will risk his life for the recognition of other men. At some point during this battle he either loses his life or his need for self-preservation takes over and he becomes the subordinate of the other. Some will argue that some animals such as mountain goats and wolves also display this tendency. But the existence of the alpha male in the animal kingdom has nothing to do with prestige and everything to do with the strongest gaining access to the best food and mates. No mountain goat will continue to challenge the alpha to the point of death.

In human culture; this has been the origin of the master and slave relationship, monarchy, imperialism, and authoritarian/totalitarian regimes. Victory is hollow when receiving recognition from a vanquished foe. The human desire is to continue to find a more worthy adversary. Thus giving rise to ever expanding territorial wars that are the norm of history from ancient Rome to the Hapsburgs of Austria the Ottoman Empire, British and French Colonial Imperialism and the USSR in more modern times, to name a few.

It was not until oppressed people that were the foundations of these powers gained enough strength, through the enlightenment that these regimes began to crumble from the inside. Beginning in France and the USA, in the 18th century peasants started to demand equality and representation from their oppressors.

What was the enlightenment, how did it effect the development of liberal democracy and how is it continuing today in the developing world? Those are the questions that I will address in upcoming posts.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Peace Statement

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 (TNIV)

Here we go. My first real blog entry...

Through the reading of Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine”; one of the things that kept coming back to me is a phrase that I coined about 10 years ago while sitting in church and listening to a sermon on peacemaking just after Remembrance Day.

Peace without Justice is Oppression

I grew up Mennonite and was baptised into the community of Nairn Mennonite Church, just north of London ON at the age of 17. Since the very beginning the Mennonite Church has officially declared itself to be a Peace Church. But when you make a declaration like that what you are really saying is that I want to protect Justice, otherwise you’re just ignoring and oppressing people with dissenting views. Peace is not simply the absence of war; it is the presence of justice and the absence of oppression.

Oppression does not have to be overt. I can be very subtle. If we aren’t careful majority rule or democracy in general can become distorted and look more like - biggest guns rule, elite rule, wealthy rule, or educated rule.

We in the wealthy West, or more accurately the North West are often times inadvertently waging a war of oppression on the developing regions of the world, mostly to the South and East of us. Over the past 30 years, and most rapidly since the fall of the Berlin Wall, governments, corporations and wealthy individuals have exploited the poor and uneducated in the developing world for their own gain. They have extracted natural resources and caused unprecedented damage to the environment, corrupted and interfered in local government affairs and generally ignored human rights all in the name of profit.

What are the oppressed people of the world to do? They do not have the resources to stand up to us economically, nor do they have the education or skills that are useful to the world wide economy, so they strike back in the only way they can. The world wide drive to globalization and homogenization of cultures through the economic domination of the North West has given rise to terrorism.

One of the things I have learned while exploring this Rabbit Hole is that we cannot continue to fight terrorism with guns. Greg Mortensen – founder of the Central Asia Institute and the chief driving force behind the building of over 50 schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which equally educate both boys and girls – has said as much to the US congress and the Pentagon in recent years. The war on terror should be fought with books, not bombs.

This has been a recurrent theme in all of my research to date. When we give the poor access to knowledge we can bring them into fuller participation in the global economy and help to greatly reduce terrorism and increase security. How we do that is the subject of further research and will no doubt pop up again in future entries.

Stay Tuned!

Recommended Reading “Three Cups of Tea; One Mans Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time” – Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin

My Resume

Mr. Lauren Christopher Sheil

Phone: 289-232-0270
Cellular: 416-768-0270
64-333 Meadows Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L4Z 1G9

General Qualifications and Skills

Entrepreneurial- I started my first business at the age of 10, and have viewed every position since with a business owner’s eye.

Sales and profit driven- As a salesman and entrepreneur at various points in my career I have developed a keen understanding of the importance of both the top and bottom lines on the balance sheet.

Customer Service Minded- Building long term customer relationships is the key to maintaining and expanding any business.

Hard Working- From a very young age I learned to work until the job is done and done right. When required; come in early, stay late and don’t complain.

Adaptable- I strongly believe that the salesman or customer representative in any business should be flexible and knowledgeable enough to step in and complete any basic operational task on behalf of the customer.

Professional Experience

April 1999 to Sales Manager / Artist Relations
Present Indie Pool (Canada) Inc.
Toronto, Ontario CANADA

May 1997 to Customer Service Representative
October 2000 Oracle, The Assistance Group
London, Ontario CANADA

January 1995 to Owner / Partner
March 1999 Art-Tec Productions Inc.
St. Thomas, Ontario CANADA

May 1995 to Studio Operations / Recording Engineer
November 1994 Trans World Radio Inc.

August 1992 to Staging Technician
May 1993 Motivational Media Assemblies Inc.
Calgary, Alberta CANADA

In addition to the formal work experience listed here I also worked my way through much of my childhood and High School by starting and managing a 25 head rabbit farm. Starting at the age of 10, with the help of my father, I cared for the animals’ health and hygiene and ran a breeding program for meat production. Within 2 years my father’s involvement was no longer necessary.

During this time my animals were consistently recognized with the highest possible health and food safety rating by the provincial meat inspector.

Volunteer Experience

September 2000 to Board of Directors
June 2002 Southdale Chaplaincy
London, Ontario CANADA

September 2008 to Home Church Elder
Present Ginger Downs Home Church (The Meeting House)
Mississauga, Ontario CANADA

September 1991 to Audio Recording Engineer
June 1992 Vocational Certification
Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology
London, Ontario CANADA

September 1986 to Ontario Academic Certificate (OAC)
June 1991 High School Diploma
North Middlesex District High School
Parkhill, Ontario CANADA

Friday, August 7, 2009

Introduction - Down the Rabbit Hole!

Welcome to my Blog!

About 8 months ago my wife gave me a book that has forever changed my life.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, chronicles the rise of Capitalism and Corporate influence throughout the world since the 1970s. Largely based on the theories of Milton Freidman and the Chicago School of Economics, Klien argues that economic expansion in developing countries has served multi-national corporations at the expense of human rights and built the entire economic structure of the 21st century on a very shaky foundation. The current world-wide economic structures have given rise to terrorism, spread diseases like AIDS and concentrated power not in the world's capitals but in the world's capitol.

Reading this book shook something in the very core of my being. At first I couldn't begin to describe it; was it anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, or all of the above?

What I did know was that I had to learn more and the more I researched and studied the more I learned how much I didn't know.

Studying how the world really works, from the point of view of economics, politics, business, technology, development, aid and eduction is like falling into a Rabbit Hole. It's full of twists, turns and side tracks.

I have no idea how deep the Rabbit Hole is nor do I have any idea where it's taking me. I might get lost in here for a very long time. So the purpose of this blog is to journal my thoughts, get feed back from anyone who is listening and find my way out again.

What I find on the other side will likely be a whole new way of looking at the world.

Join me - It'll be fun!