Saturday, January 29, 2011

Letter to America

Dear America

Grace and peace to you from beyond your northern border; may the peace of Christ and the blessings of our sovereign Lord rain down on you all of your days.

Let me begin by saying how much I respect and admire your strong culture and your personal freedoms, you are a light to us all in terms of how democracy “for the people, by the people” can and does work.

Your economy, though slightly battered and bruised of late, is built on fundamentally sound policy and ideals which will recover and once again thrive; I have no doubt of that. Your political system is built to withstand all kinds of threats both from external forces and most importantly from within. You are a strong, unified nation, and so you shall remain for many years to come.

But there is a problem. You can’t seem to agree on even the most basic measures to fix your economy, political system or social institutions. I started to notice it around about the turn of this century when your presidential election hung in the balance for several days over irregular balloting in one or two states. It’s only gotten worse in the past decade.

Those of you who recognize that something is wrong can’t really see the problem for what it is. You have become polarized so that no matter what anyone says, half the country will automatically brand you as one of those people and write you off before you even finish speaking.

Stop bickering! You’re acting like children! Your internal arguments appear to those of us on the outside as nothing more than petty school yard spats. Like Rome before her, Washington is burning but you are too preoccupied with the notion of liberty and personal freedom to do anything about it for fear of what it might cost you.

I promise you this; if you do nothing, it will cost you everything!

America is a young nation. Just 235 years old. On the scale of human civilizations that makes you a mere toddler, but look at what you have accomplished in such a short time.

Your declaration of independence and constitution are powerful documents. Some of the greatest legal and moral codes since Moses brought down the 10 Commandments or the British Lords gave us the Magna Carta. At the time of your founding you were surrounded on all sides by hostile nations and a lawless frontier. Traumatized by a tyrannical central government that you had little influence over and afraid of imminent invasion you did what you had to do. By empowering your citizens to go forth and make their own destiny you built the greatest nation on earth. You should be proud of that but for the love of God, keep it in perspective.

Many of you have elevated your founding documents to the level of Holy Scripture and turned America into some sort of latter day promised land. Indeed to hear some of you speak it’s as if Jesus himself, not George Washington was the one to cross the Delaware. Give me a break!

I wish I didn’t have to point this out because it seems so basic to a nation that claims to have been founded on Christian faith, but you have violated the first commandment! You’ve turned these documents and your interpretation of them into what Dr. Timothy Keller calls a Counterfeit God. What greater sin could America commit? [Exodus 20:2, 3]

The human heart takes good things... and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, [Dr. Timothy Keller; Counterfeit Gods]

The world has changed in the last 235 years. The rest of us caught up with you. Liberty and freedom have been adopted throughout the developed world. Technology has advanced, economies have become integrated. The threats you face, we face together. You need to work with the rest of us or you will fail. No country is strong enough to go it alone. Many people may disagree, especially here in Canada with our close proximity and higher than normal interdependence, but I strongly believe that you need the rest of the world more than we need you. By clinging to the past you will be consigned to the annals of history alongside Athens and Rome.

Moving forward you must first, recognize that a strong central government with the power to enact and enforce law is not your enemy. Representative democracy is messy and sometimes individuals will find themselves in the minority. Laws designed to protect and strengthen you may at first seem oppressive, but that is not a reason to doubt the effectiveness of the system or undermine measures that serve the greater good. After all, Aristotle and Koffka both taught us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Personal freedom be damned if it lead to anarchy.

Second, there are radical elements in all religions that must be controlled but religion itself must not be allowed to divide us. There is a lot of fear and misunderstanding between the religions of the world. While all claim to know the path to God you must not confuse Orthodoxy with Literalism. "Thou shall not kill," is key to nearly all faiths, especially the dominant Abrahamic faiths, regardless of what a literalist, lunatic fringe may think. Remembering that and refusing to be lured into violence, by acts of violence is paramount for peaceful coexistence. [Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:43, 44, Quran 5:32]

Lastly, do not fear “world government”. Many have bemoaned the UN, the G8, the G20 and the World Economic Forum as harbingers of some sort of apocalypse. The warnings in the book of Revelation against such things should not be interpreted literally. By working together democratically we can stand up to tyranny and promote liberty in ways individual states simply cannot. It is America’s refusal to sign international treaties such as those that ban landmines, set targets for carbon emissions or place controls on banking systems which doom them to failure and will eventually force the world to act without American support, indeed we’ve already started.

In closing I wish to reiterate how much America has gotten right. It is not my intent to insult or offend you. I merely wish you to look beyond yourself and see the world for how it really is. We want you to become a full partner, not some kind of international Big Brother, who stands on the sidelines tisc-tiscing away but never offering constructive help until the only thing to do is swoop in on your proverbial white horse (aircraft carrier) and save us from a disaster you helped to create.

To quote former president George W. Bush; “You’re either with us or against us”; the days when you could act unilaterally and expect to get your way are over. Please don’t be a fool and try to hang on to some antiquated idea of America at the top of the world order. Recent events in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world are proving once again that democracy, the same democracy you’ve been trying to export since the end of WWII, is winning but now your decentralized approach is in the minority.

Make no mistake, American influence is declining and how you handle that decline will determine if the new world order will be peaceful or lead to the bloodiest battle in recorded history. No one wants that.

I’m begging you, set aside your personal obsessions and join the collective effort to make the world better. It’s not too late.


Your friend, neighbour, biggest trading partner, and Christian Brother – Canada

(Or at least one Canadian – I shouldn’t say I speak for all 32 million of us should I?)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Yes Man

I once heard an old story about George Washington, it has all the hallmarks of a legend and may never have happened but this is how I remember it.

There was once a traveller who needed to cross a river in the early part of spring. The water was high and running very quickly and he was on foot. While he stood on the shore contemplating the best way to get across he was met by a group of men travelling on horse-back. Since the river was so high even crossing on horse-back would be treacherous.

It was obvious by the attire of this group and the way they carried themselves that they where powerful men of means. After looking them over, the traveller approached one of the men and asked if he could ride with him across the river. The man did not hesitate and said yes. After they were safely across one of the other men asked the traveller what made him ask the president of the United States for a ride. Surprised the traveller responded that he did not recognize the president but that as he looked over the group all the other men had “no” faces, he pick the man who had a “yes” face.

Too often in the past my default answer to any question has been no. It has become so ingrained in my response that sometimes I feel like it’s been tattooed to my forehead. I’m so caught up in my own world, my own pre-occupations, needs, worries, wants and desires that I brush by everyone. I may as well be screaming “NO! – Leave me Alone! – Don’t Bother Me!”

Last week I decided on my New Year’s resolution. I know, most people figure this out and make a bold pronouncement on Dec 31, next year I’m going to... But most have sadly failed by the middle of January! So I figure by not even making a resolution until now I’m ahead of the game.

Are you ready? Here it is.

2011 will be the year of Yes!

This year I will do my best to say yes to every request. That doesn’t mean I will be able to do everything people ask me to do, there will inevitably be conflicts of time, lack of funds or insurmountable physical barriers. Don’t ask me to jump over the moon or give you a million dollars and don’t ask me to help you move on my wedding anniversary. But if my default setting is yes then I will be more open to giving you the change in my pocket or helping you move on the day after my anniversary.

Will I get taken advantage of? Probably, but the goal here isn’t to judge the motives of others. The goal is to be available, to offer a helping hand and to deepen relationships. If someone tries to take advantage I can be discerning and call them on it but that response need not be an outright “no” but rather a sincere questioning of real need and exploration of alternative solutions.

Ultimately it’s not about me. It’s about the relationship I can have with my fellow man. Fear of being taken advantage of weakens relationship and destroys the opportunity to show love and compassion to those who need it most.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. [1 John 4:18]

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It’s Hard to be Humble

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. – John Keats

I’ve recently been reading through a few books on the rise of Terrorism in the west and the declining influence of the UN and I had this thought;

Whatever Happened to Humility?

Everyone assumes they have the answers. Nobody stops long enough to think that maybe, just maybe they might be wrong.

What these recent books have been alluding to but never really admitting is that the rise of fundamentalist thought has paralyzed growth across a broad spectrum of disciplines and has coincided with the decline in broad based “liberal” education, not just here in North America but all over the world. In short; the Renaissance man is dead, killed jointly by the nuclear physicist and the fire and brimstone preacher.

In the west the result has been the rise of atheism while in other parts of the world it has led to militant forms of tribalism. We see it here in Canada very clearly. The most recent census data shows 23% of Canadians claiming “no religion.” That’s an increase from less than 1% as recently as the 1930s. In that same time span fundamentalist views of Islam in the Middle-East and around the world have similarly increased.

When you look at the numbers in terms of educated professionals they tell an interesting story. A western trained scientist is more likely to claim atheism while a Middle-Eastern scientist is more likely to adopt a fundamentalist view of Islam. By comparison the more educated you are in the arts and humanities, regardless of where you come from, the more tolerant you are of opposing viewpoints. The reason seems clear to me; when we train people to think in terms of black and white, they tend to view the whole world that way and can’t tolerate ambiguity. Tolerance lives in shades of grey.

Most of the more militant atheists tend to claim a monopoly on reason with a zeal that rivals that of any religious leader. But that reason goes out the window when a theist enters the conversation, the contempt goes beyond all reason. By the same token religion has a bad track record of denying proven facts when the truth of the matter is staring it in the face.

I blame the education system. Simply put, a system that is married to facts above all else kills tolerance and mortally wounds creativity. What we need isn’t more reason or even better proof, what we need is more humility on all sides.

The definition of humility is to know, what you don’t know. Humility loves questions, searches for answers and is always open to new ideas. You would think that professions that seek answers like scientists and preachers would both be among the most humble and open minded people on earth but they have been taught to be closed minded and arrogant. If our society is to evolved beyond sectarian violence and intolerance it will be the humble that lead the way.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The $1 Difference

According to the World Bank approximately 1.4 billion people around the world live on less than $1.00 per day. The total population of the world is expected to reach 7 billion by the end of this year. That means that nearly 20% of the world population is now living on less than what I spend for a coffee on my way to work every morning.

I made just over CDN$57,000 in 2010. Out of curiosity I typed that into the calculator on globalrichlist, where to you think I landed?

I thought maybe top 25% but boy was I wrong! It was interesting to see that I am approximately the 58 millionth richest person in the world. Not so impressive until you put in on the scale of just under 7 billion people. With that in mind I’m in the top 0.97% of global income!

That’s not a typo!

I made more money in 2010 that 99.03% of the rest of the people on the entire planet!

That got me thinking. If 1.4 billion people are surviving on less than $1 per day ($365 per year) what would it look like for them and for me if I intentionally lowered my income to help raise theirs? A person living on CDN$365 per year falls in the bottom 8% of global wealth. What if they had $730? They would leap-frog over an addition 1.5 billon people and rise 26% from the bottom 8% to the bottom 34%. That’s what.

What about me? By lowering my income by the same margin my position on the global scale dropped by less than 0.01%. It didn’t even register on the two decimal place display on the Global Rich List! That got me thinking again, how much of a personal sacrifice would it take to lower my position by even 0.01% and how much of an impact could that have on someone living on less than $1 per day?

I had to lower my income by $1100 to drop my position on the scale about one tenth of one percent. And what does adding that same amount to the poorest of the poor do? CDN$1465 per year ($365 + $1100) puts you in the TOP 31% of the world’s wealth!
That is astonishing to me. Let me put in another way so you can understand.

By lower my position on the global wealth meter by just 0.01% I can raise the position of one of the world’s poorest people by a whopping 61% and move them into the top half – no the top 3rd, of the world’s wealth!

A few months ago I wrote a few posts where I tried to get you thinking in terms of living a more charitable life. As anticipated I got some push back. A lot of you claimed that small amounts of philanthropy don’t have an impact. Clearly these statistics expose the lie of that argument.

According to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) one dollar a day will; provide 11 families with clean drinking water, plant 6 life giving and income generating fruit trees, put a roof on 3 homes or send a child to school for a year. We – the top few percent of the world’s wealth – can do this without noticeably changing our own position.

Not only can we do it. We must.

It is the single most repeated command in all of scripture, both Old and New Testament. Over 3000 times in fact the bible tells us in one way or another to help the poor. God’s strongest condemnations and most violent destruction are reserved not for those who reject Him but for those who refuse to share their wealth.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy [Ezekiel 16:49]

This is going to be hard for some of my Christian friends to swallow but God is more concerned with how we treat the poor and needy around us than how we treat Him! The clear fact is that He will punish greedy Christians more severely than generous Atheists!

Think about that for a minute.

We all know what happened to Sodom. But the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, it was greed! As one of the top 1% of the wealthiest people on earth, that’s me! And I dare say it’s you.

How you spend just $1, is a life and death decision. Not only for the poorest of the poor but for you too. Small amounts of philanthropy save lives – maybe even your own.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. [Isaiah 1:17]

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8]