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;