Canada, Compassion and Concerns

I’ve never been to Canada but know plenty of people from our own Community and other friends who live or have visited the country. It’s vast landscapes, unique and tolerant blend of cultures and multifaceted history make it a really interesting place. One of the world’s wealthiest nations and second only in size to Russia, it is a big country! Though similar economically to its neighbour to the south, the United States, there are significant differences between the two countries

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Shaped and influenced by immigrants primarily from Britain and France, Canadian citizens are reasonably happy with their European heritages.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the children have just returned from Canada and Prince William said that he and his family were, incredibly grateful to the people of Canada for the warmth and hospitality that they’d experienced as a family. He went on to say, We have loved our time in British Columbia and Yukon and will never forget the beautiful places we have seen and the many people who have been kind enough to come to welcome us in person…..We feel very lucky to have been able to introduce George and Charlotte to Canada. This country will play a big part in the lives of our children and we have created such happy memories for our family during this visit. Canada is a country of optimism, generosity and unrivalled natural beauty. I hope we have helped all Canadians celebrate what makes this country great. We will see you again soon. So well done Canada!

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A country, not without its problems but in this regard and in relation to your welcoming of refugees, a country with a big heart, showing compassion, reaching out to support, responding to the cries of the desperate.

A news story broke last week about how a Syrian refugee come to the rescue of the Canadian bride. Just a couple of hours before her wedding the zip on her wedding dress broke and despite the efforts of her bridesmaids, the problem remained. In desperation they went over the road to a neighbour’s house for help. They went to borrow some pliers from the neighbour and in the process discovered something much better. Their neighbour was hosting a family of Syrian refugees and the father was a master tailor and was only too happy to help. Within minutes, the taylor and his son arrived to help, sewing kit in tow and rescued the situation. The whole episode was recorded by the wedding photographer, Lindsay Coulter. She learnt that the Syrian refugee family had moved to Canada just over a week ago. They didn’t speak a word of English and had been communicating with their Canadian host family using Google translate. She went on to say, Every weekend I take photos of people on the happiest days of their lives, and today one man who has seen some of the worst things our world has to offer came to the rescue. I am so proud to live in Canada, a country who has opened our doors to refugees countless times. I’m in awe of the families who have welcomed these strangers into their homes and lives, and I’m inspired by the resilience of the Syrian people. We are truly blessed. In a later interview on Canadian television news, the Syrian father and master tailor said, (through a translator) that he was happy to help; I was so excited and so happy to help Canadian people like other people have helped us.

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It’s a heartwarming story of compassion and the blessings of both giving and receiving.

We have much to learn in Britain from such a story.

Yvette Cooper, wife of the former Chancellor Ed Balls, (renowned now for his cowboy themed Charleston in last night’s Strictly Come Dancing show on TV and who has survived and dances on for another week!) is calling upon the British Government to intervene in the refugee crisis. In a fresh plea to the government Cooper points out that 500 of the estimated 1000 orphaned refugee children will be left stranded and prey to traffickers as the French authorities bulldoze and demolish the Calais Jungle. Nearly 100 of these 500 desperately vulnerable refugee children have relatives living legally in Britain and yet our British authorities are not allowing them to enter the country. God have mercy upon us! Cooper has visited the ‘camp’ on several occasions and was dismayed and angered by our failure, together with the French to resolve the problem. She says, The talent of our two nations drove the industrial revolution, the best medical advances in history, and the creation of the world wide web. It is not beyond the wit of our two great countries to solve the problem of Calais. In the last few months, I’ve travelled to Beirut, Lesbos and Calais talking both to those who have fled their homes and to local authorities who are struggling to cope. This work isn’t intended to be party political – we want to build a consensus on tackling the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. How are we letting this happen? 

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Complex as the whole issue of immigration is, compassion has to govern and inform our attitudes and actions in response to the needs of others. Theresa May’s refusal to lift a finger to help the world’s most vulnerable at the recent UN refugee summit contrasts with that of Angela Merkel’s principled Christian stand to alleviate the trauma of multitudes of refugees, despite the political cost to herself.  Charities, religious leaders, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP have all criticised the government for agreeing to take only 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next four years, even though places for them have already been found with local councils. The prophet Micah clearly declared, He has shown you what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.

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I was thinking this morning on a bike ride round where I live of how blessed I am in so many ways. The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological tool that gives a 5 tier pyramid model of human needs. Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people and he came to the conclusion that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some of those needs take precedence over others. He said that our most basic need is for physical survival and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that is met, we move on of the pyramid to the next level, safety, and so on, (see the diagram below).

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I am in that privileged place of realising all of those needs but in contrast, the plight of millions of refugees is such that they are being denied very basic human needs; food, water, warmth and rest. They have no safety or security. A failure to respond to them is to damage them further as human beings. So in Christ’s name and for humanity’s sake, let’s respond to the cry of refugees.

Sadly, I fear that too many hearts are closed, ears deafened and attitudes hardened. I hope and pray that Theresa May, promoted by several newspapers yesterday on the eve of the Conservative party conference as the vicar’s daughter will deliver on some of the values that were shared in the vicarage as a child and during her teenage years. Talking soft left and sounding compassionate but delivering hard right policies is contradictory and damaging. She has an unenviable task, in a party that is like Labour, riven with divisions but I pray that she will be true to some of the words she spoke on the doorstep of number 10 when she assumed the leadership of the party and became our Prime Minister. It haunts me to think of a previous woman prime minister quoting the words of St Francis of Assisi on her taking up office; Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’ …   The scars of Thatcherism bear testimony to a huge disconnect between those words of St Francis and the reality of government policies under her reign as Prime Minister.

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It’s obvious now that there is going to be no U-turn on an opportunity for the public to have any say on the issues and implications following Brexit. As Theresa May has stated today, There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Britain will be out of the EU by 2019.

A decision I believe that we will, in the course of time, come to regret. We’re told, the British people have decided “unanimously”. In truth, the referendum result was won with a narrow majority and has been previously stated in my blog, the British public were lied to and those lies formed the propaganda that produced the result.

I am dismayed by the result and the way in which it was deceiving and manipulative, a point not lost on the BBC’s John Simpson, the corporation’s world affairs editor who speaking yesterday said, The BBC failed its viewers in its coverage of the EU referendum. He said the Brexit result could have been different, had broadcasters and newspapers held politicians and campaigners to account. That is exposed their lies.

However my greater concern is what the result has unleashed within the consciousness, the hearts and minds of too many people. It’s the law of unintended consequences, when something that is designed to do one thing, actually contributes to something quite contrary or gets out of hand. A happening or experience that triggers something that is potentially very damaging and dangerous.

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Let me illustrate what I mean. The other evening I watched BBCs Question Time, which came from Boston in Lincolnshire, an area that had voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. An area where the issue of immigration and migrant workers is heightened. It still puzzles me when driving through Lincolnshire a few years ago, seeing the site of migrant workers on their hands and knees, working in the fields of a farmer who had large posters encouraging people to vote for UKIP. Surely a contradiction in terms?! Anyway, on Question Time, the issue of immigration inevitably was raised and took up half the programme in debate and discussion. I was shocked and saddened by what appeared to be the majority of the audience and most of the panel, by the attitudes towards refugees in particular. One member of the audience drew huge sympathy and much support when he expressed his horror at the idea of a refugee being invited and being welcomed into the home of “we British people”. He went on to say that he didn’t know where they were coming from, what they would like, that they may be the potential terrorists, murderers, thieves etc. Now I am not saying that there are not some very complex issues and some real concerns but this is just the kind of language and narratives that were prevalent in 1930’s Germany.

I recently attended a symposium on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Durham and was asked to give a short paper and sit on a panel as we discussed his book Life Together. In preparing for such an occasion I reminded myself of the context in which Bonhoeffer wrote. It was quite frightening to read about some of the things that were being said, written and broadcast in Germany and to see that some of the narrative and attitudes prevalent in 1930s Germany were being echoed in some of the comments that I heard the other evening on Question Time. Bonnie Greer, jeered at times by the audience for her contribution as a panelist, pointed out that it was from England in the 17th cebtury, that people, wanting to be free of poverty, injustice and serfdom, left our shores and sailed to America and founded places like Boston, Massachusetts. Most people didn’t get the point she was making. Comments in contrast from other panelists and most members of the audience appeared reasonable and understandable but from a theological, biblical, Christian point of view are simply unjustifiable and incompatible with the values of God’s kingdom.

My fears were confirmed by the vast majority of people at the symposium that I was able to speak to, far more able and intelligent, thinking academics, each one coming to similar conclusions, that the attitudes and prevailing thinking that Bonhoeffer was contending in speaking out against are to be found again, not only in Europe but across the Western world. To name just one ‘evil’; the rise of nationalism. Allied to the emergence and renewal of tribalism, we find ourselves in an increasingly fragmented, divided and partisan culture, where difference is regarded as a threat and diversity, far from being celebrated is something that is seen as damaging.

The law of unintended consequences is I believe contributing to a move from patriotism to divisive nationalism. A move that segregates and separates people. A shift in consciousness that leads to sectarianism, racism, a blaming of the stranger, social unrest, violence and ultimately to war.

I’m writing this blog with an eye on the Ryder Cup. The vast majority of the crowd, behaving patriotically and supporting their USA team but to the listening ear as well as reading the reports of what happened yesterday, there are clearly some sections of the crowd that are venomous in their behaviour towards the opposition.

These are worrying trends, disturbing traits and turbulent times. They call for us to be contemplatives in a world in action, able to think and pray, to observe and discern the signs of the times and like Bonhoeffer protest, alert, warn and take appropriate action in response to the challenges ahead.

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Lord have mercy.

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