Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MCC Dialogue - Part Two

Darren Kropf, from Kitchener, Ontario, wrote me with his burning questions on my experience in Durban, through the MCC Ontario blog Creation Care Crossroads. This is my response

Hi Darren;

Thanks for this dialogue. I appreciate your concern and commitment to this important cause.

It is true that Canada’s role in the negotiations in Durban was not very encouraging. The final analysis of Canada’s commitment will need to be assessed when they hold true to their promise of increasing the target for their emission reduction levels, following the development of a new legally binding agreement. Our task now is to encourage Canada to fulfill this promise and to continue to encourage an even stronger leadership role in emission reductions.

I think it is imperative for the church community to position this concern from a moral and ethical perspective. We must resist the temptation to give our appetites free reign. Our love for God and our global neighbours must determine consumption levels. Even a risk that our behaviour could negatively impact our global neighbours is reason enough to challenge our corporate appetites.

What have we got to lose? The impact of curbing consumption and reducing our pollution is always a positive thing. Even those who do not believe that climate change is real or that it is human induced, must agree that as the People of God we ought to work towards an equitable use of the earth’s resources. We cannot blindly consume more than our fair share. Whenever we allow greed and selfish consumption to go unchallenged we will find ourselves drifting away from the original intent of God.

We have all been created in the image of God – a God who is passionate to restore. The God whose sacrifice gave us life longs for us to be aligned with this restorative activity. It is contrary to God’s image in us to live in ways that harm others.

Our conversations in our congregations and with our political leaders must always appeal to the image of God within us. Our hearts and the hearts of our political leaders yearn for the original shalom of God’s creation: whether it is recognised or not. The yearning of God’s image is within everyone. Appeal to it and allow the Spirit of God to awaken the latent lament and rekindle the longing for just living.

The situation is too despairing to give up hope.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Response to MCC Ontario

Darren Kropf, from Kitchener, Ontario, wrote me with his burning questions on my experience in Durban, through the MCC Ontario blog Creation Care Crossroads. This is my response.

Dear Darren;

Thanks for your letter of encouragement and challenge. You have asked some very good questions and have expressed sentiments that I think are shared by many others.

As you have indicated the Church has the mandate to speak truth to power and to lead the change that is desired for the world.

I have been wrestling in my heart and mind how to respond to Minister Kent following the announcement that Canada will pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. It weighs heavy on me and I want to make sure that my response will be thoughtful rather than simply reactionary.

Some will call me naive, but I found it difficult to dismiss Minister Kent in our meeting in Durban. He clearly seemed to recognise the serious responsibility of needing to cut global emission levels. Because of this Minister Kent was calling for a more robust legally binding agreement that would include all countries of the globe. Something that would reflect all major emitters rather than the less than 30% currently contained in the Kyoto Protocol.

Both Ambassador St. Jacques, Canada's Climate Change Ambassador and Lead Negotiator, and Minister Kent stated that "with a new legally binding agreement it would be implicit that Canada would need to revisit our current target levels. They would most likely need to increase [from the Copenhagen agreement of 17%]."

I have chosen to believe Minister Kent and Ambassador St. Jacques and will want to hold them accountable to this statement. As all negotiators, Canada has been attempting to find a balance between wanting to protect our economy and providing real reduction impact in our emission levels. This has been the crux of the negotiations. It was displayed particularly by the US, China, Japan, India, and Canada in Durban.

I can understand their rationale even if I do not fully agree with it. I think it would be very appropriate for us as the People of God to express our deep disappointment with Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. I think it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Least Developed Countries and call for our government to push for a quicker creation of a new legally binding agreement. I think it is imperative that we ask our government to be willing to risk our economic growth so that we do not place our global neighbours at more risk. I think it is crucial that we increase awareness among our network of family and friends asking everyone to re-evaluate consumption behaviours. Finally it is essential that all individuals express themselves to their Member of Parliament, the Minister of Environment, and the Prime Minister. As politicians they need a platform of unmistakable public opinion in order to provide the leadership we are requesting.

Thanks for your letter Darren and for the partnership of MCC Ontario Creation Care Crossroads.  I look forward to more dialogue.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Let's not wait

It seemed like everyone was holding their breath waiting to see what Canada would do. While at the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa, word circulated quickly that Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister had indicated that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. This prompted sharp reaction. Protests developed. Attempts were made to dissuade the Canadian negotiators.

But now with the Durban talks finished the waiting is over. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. The disappointment is exhausting. I can only imagine the emotional fatigue experienced by the negotiators who worked late into the early mornings to reach an agreement. But we didn’t have to wait long, Minister Kent made the announcement hours after his return from Durban.

So now we must take matters into our own hands. Let’s not wait any longer. I received an email quoting Ghandi as saying; “When the people lead, governments will follow.” It is time for us to lead.

A statement made by Minister Kent in our meeting together in Durban has been lingering in my mind. “The media is covering the things that the Canadian public is interested in. And Canadians are more interested in the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor then they are about climate change,” he said.

Regrettably, I think Minister Kent is correct. Through the cold winters, rising temperatures are welcomed by many. For most Canadians severe drought and flooding are distant threats. Rich with natural resources Canadians are shaded from the extreme impacts of climate change. The suffering of others is not top of mind.

But as followers of Christ, we are not like most Canadians. We have been saved from the control of selfishness that lurks within. We are no longer ruled by the sin of greed and untamed appetite. The image of God in us has been given new birth. The Spirit of Christ in us hears the suffering of others and compels us to respond. Our yearning to worship God more fully prevents us from ignoring the decimation of God’s creation. Because we long to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves, we do not wait for others to lead. We are already led by the Spirit of God within us.

So as the People of God, let’s lead on. Let’s create the atmosphere for our government to follow. Let’s begin the movement of climate justice and hearts that are hungry for something more meaningful than greed.

Let me issue an appeal for help. Climate Change seems daunting for most people. I am asking for examples of concrete, attainable steps ordinary Canadians can take in reducing their carbon footprints. I want something that can be easily embraced so that lifestyles will begin to be influenced. Do not give me that which will be viewed as eccentric or impossible. Let’s create a list of responses that are easy to embrace. This is not to downplay the seriousness of the situation we are in. It is instead to view the situation so seriously that we must make the response as applicable as possible so that as many as possible will embrace the changes required.

Who will begin? Send me suggestions and let’s pull together a compelling list that will propel Canadians into action. Let’s not wait for public opinion to change. Let’s change public opinion and experience so that governments will have the unavoidable platform to lead.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Words with Minister Kent

The temptation for cynicism is lurking everywhere. I feel its desire to embrace me. I hear its sneer. It taunts my faith. It seems particularly attracted to politics.

But as the People of God, we are aligned to a different force. We are empowered by faith in the Spirit of God able to speak into the deep recesses of the human heart. This faith is able to hold back cynicism.

I claimed its power as Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada and I met with Hon Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister. I was glad for its resource. It provides a framework to view conversations differently.

The Minister continued to articulate Canada’s view that the Kyoto Protocol needed to be replaced by a new legally binding agreement for all major emitters. He explained Canada’s commitment to regulating the oil sand industry and the shared prosperity the industry provides: funding international aid, clean energy projects, social safety networks and advancing health care.

We asked if he were to speak to our youth and young adults how he might explain Canada’s position from a moral, biblical or social justice point of view. We asserted that if Canada were to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol our integrity would be jeopardized.

It was clear in our discussion that Minister Kent is trying to balance the two values of guarding Canada’s economy and the undeniable necessity to provide real impact in reducing Canada’s emission levels. This is not an easy task. I felt sorry for him. It was clear that the Minister understood the seriousness of climate change.

I kept hearing the pleading voices of the small island states. Their sense of doom has been impossible to ignore.

But it is in these pleas that I found myself understanding Minister Kent’s dilemma. I recognised how important tourism has been for these small islands. Part of their development has been the result of our affluent consumption. Our flights and cruises have directly contributed to their economy and their ruin. Kent’s dilemma is our dilemma too.

I am grateful that Minister Kent welcomed more dialogue. Maybe the call for dialogue is a cry of a heart wanting to find a stronger way forward. Perhaps it is a profound recognition that as we face this common dilemma together we will both find deliverance.

Cynicism promises relief for those fatigued by apparently unproductive dialogue. But it is a false relief. It leaves the yearning for change unfulfilled. Faith pulls us out from despair and offers a hope that is based on the activity of God – an action not limited by the dialogue. Faith invites us to pray for the deliverance of both the powerful and the powerless. This is our calling. This is our mandate. May we be faithful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nobody is listening to you

One of the most difficult responsibilities as an official observer is to quietly listen. I am to be a silent witness to the pain and frustration being expressed.

Two voices have been the most painful to witness.

The voices of the small island states have been gripping. Island after island has expressed the grim reality of rising sea levels. Their slow demise has become the empirical proof of the theory of climate change. Communities have been moved and coast lines have been lost.

As the days of negotiations progressed their plea to be heard has intensified. They are appealing for their lives. From the delegates of the Pacific and Caribbean we are hearing the plea of people drowning and have simply continued the dialogue. It is almost unbearable to hear.

The voice of the youth delegation has also been getting louder. They arrived with voices of energy and commitment. But a slow change is being witnessed.

It started with a letter of apology on behalf of Canada. They determined to say for Canada what they thought our country should have said. Their apology was printed in the Durban daily newspaper.

Their frustration seemed to increase. During the address of the Hon. Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment, a group of youth stood in protest and turned their back on Canada. It was mildly disruptive to the Ministers statement but the peaceful protest was clear. The following morning a trio of youth walked out on Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador’s morning briefing clearly making a statement of dissatisfaction.

And now today, before Todd Stern, US Department of State could begin his address a lonely youth stood and began to loudly proclaim her outcry against the perceived ineffectiveness of her country in these negotiations. Her voice prevented Mr Stern from speaking.

The chair of the proceedings tried to quiet the voice of protest but was unsuccessful. The plea for justice and compassion continued.

“Please, please, sit down,” begged the chair, as media ran to pick up her voice.

“Please sit down,” the chair repeated, “no one is listening to you.”

The irony of the statement felt hung like a weight on my heart.

As the young woman was escorted from the room the frustrated chair could not quiet the sustained applause. It was as if the growing frustration of many was saying back to the negotiators, “please sit down, no one is listening to you.”  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Unsupported leadership: Day Ten at UN Climate Change Forum

As a child I was taught to respect and honour leaders. I think most children are taught to respect authority. But as a faith leader in an increasingly secularizing context, I am well aware that institutions no longer illicit respect.

Hon. Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment, made his statement at the high level segment of the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa. As Mr. Kent began his address attention was drawn to the front row of the observer’s gallery. A row of youth stood and removed their garments uncovering white t-shirts that portrayed their disgust at Canada’s hesitancy to support the Kyoto Protocol. Media scuffled to get the image as the youth stood unmoving in silent protest.

Eventually security ushered the peaceful protest out of the building. Kent continued his statement but his words were unheard through the loud supportive applause by the crowd. With the clap of their hands the crowd stood in solidarity with the disillusioned youth.

I was drawn by the expression of one of the young men standing in protest: a look of determined defiance. It wasn’t a glare of angry rebellion. It was the face of one driven by regret: opposition propped by sadness.

What would cause these youth to express such displeasure? Some would dismiss them as misinformed idealistic youth. But having witnessed the articulate and researched presentations that have consistently characterised their statements, such a dismissal is indefensible.

For some reason the youth have lost faith in their leaders. So they are taking back their future. There is a feeling that such an irreplaceable commodity as the future cannot be entrusted to those willing to gamble with it.

And so they did what they thought they needed to do. They disrespected their leaders in order to preserve their integrity. It was a sullen display of disenchantment.

“Kyoto is in the past,” stated Kent. But the delegation of the future clearly seemed to disagree.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Activating all the gifts: Day Nine UN Climate Change Forum

As a Church Leader I have been excited to see the expertise and gifts of business leaders being used for the work of the Church. The wisdom and insights gained by business experience is a valuable contribution to the overall health of the church.

At the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa, multinational business corporations are often vilified by those calling for rapid global emission reduction. Politicians are portrayed as puppets of business interests.

But according to negotiators from Canada, US, EU, and Australia, initiatives like the Green Climate Fund require the input of both public (government) and private (business) funding. They feel that in order for a robust fund to remain viable private funding will be essential.

Business entrepreneurs are also taking the lead in the development of green alternatives. From the creation of electric vehicles to new construction materials and new recycling technology, business ventures are providing new approaches. “We are about 25 years from battery operated airplanes,” reported one business leader.

As in the life of the church, I applaud the gift of business entrepreneurs. Like the church, the global family is incomplete without their gift set. In order to have the impact we need in creation care, we need all gifts employed.

As a faith leader however, I still have a persistent discomfort. My guess is that if we could, the world would unquestionably rush towards solutions of new technology: refining transportation needs with new fuel options and finding new energy sources for production needs. In other words, rather than reducing consumption levels, we could make our consumption levels cleaner. While this would make it possible to continue to feed our global appetites, it would leave our souls hungry.

Appetites are misleading. They grow when they are fed. Soon it takes more to satisfy, so consumption increases.

Sacrifice is a spiritual discipline designed to manage the urges of consumption. Left unmanaged appetites become greedy leaving us full but unfulfilled. The yearnings of the soul – right relationship with God and our neighbours – are drowned out by our hunger for more.

It is to our benefit to strengthen the capacity for sacrifice. Sustainability in God’s economy includes the function of sacrifice. It provides a vehicle to nurture collective care, so important for a healthy global community.

Creation care requires all the gifts and strategies we possess as a global family. We need new technologies. We need gifted entrepreneurs. We need committed governments. We need active sacrifice. With this portfolio of gifts, we have all we need to maintain a healthy global community.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Waiting Begins: Day Seven & Eight at UN Climate Change Forum

The waiting times have increased. The arrival of new delegates is seen in the crowed shuttles and the longer lines through security. Waiting will become a new norm.

As we wait, feelings of cynicism, hope, and frustration churn around us. Like dust devils the swirl of emotion can appear out of nowhere. They can be spawned by a single statement made by a negotiator. Some from developed countries express hope in finding a way forward. Others, already impacted by climate change express deep frustration.

Formal meetings rested on Sunday and the International Conference Centre was quiet. In this pause, Faith leaders from around the globe representing seven world religions gathered for an interfaith prayer service. While the participants held different beliefs they were drawn together by a shared knowledge: there is only one earth. And so, we all prayed that the negotiations of humanity would be led to find a common way forward.

Negotiations continued on Monday. The arrival of Ministers and Heads of States through the weekend heightened the push for progress. It’s hard to read the posturing. Positions are taken to establish a bargaining chip, not necessarily to secure agreement. However others, who do not have the luxury of leveraging power, are simply raw statements of pleading.

There seems to be a common willingness to agree to some form of legally binding agreement that has common responsibilities for all countries. But what such an agreement would include is not clear. There is also a growing sense that the time required for such an agreement to be developed is already determining defeat.

“We have no more time,” expressed a delegate from Nigeria. “If we cannot agree on a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, let us lay it aside and prepare ourselves to die.”

Many of the meetings are now closed to observers. And so we wait. We wait to hear that our prayers are being answered and countries reflect commitments that move beyond national interests. We wait for dust devils of emotion to be replaced by gentle breezes of compassionate solidarities. Humanity can cause dramatic and damaging change to the environment. But God can dramatically change the atmosphere of self interest and political posturing.

For this we pray. For this we wait.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Forgetting who we are: Day Six at UN Climate Change Forum

It is difficult to forget who you are at the UN Climate Change Forum in South Africa. I know I am white. I know I am rich. I know I am from a developed country. And, even if I try to forget, I know I am Canadian.

Canada has been taking a lot of heat at the Climate Change Forum. The threat of abandoning the Kyoto Protocol has made Canada very unpopular. This is unfamiliar territory for us. It is disconcerting.

So at the briefing this morning with Canada’s Ambassador to Climate Change, I resolved to forget my “quiet in the land” trait and secured some private moments with the Ambassador before he rushed out of the room.

“Mr Ambassador,” I said as I quickly rushed to his side. “As Canadians we have always felt proud of our peace keeping role and our place of favour in international dialogue. I think many people are afraid that we are losing that attribute. I know we are concerned as a Mennonite community. How would you like me to explain our apparent change of character to my constituency?”

 “My mandate is clear – to develop a new agreement,” explained the Ambassador. “A new agreement implies that we will need to revise our commitments and increase them. But it will be from a level playing field. We are still committed to reducing our impact on climate change.”

I have admired and appreciated Ambassador Guy St. Jacque’s willingness to meet with us every morning. I respect him for participating in this daily context of difficult questions.  I want to be a supportive presence as a Canadian faith leader encouraging our government to be the best we can.

At times I forget who I am and feel tempted to join in critical dialogue. Sometimes the outside critic is the easiest position to adopt. But I see a leader who is trying to do his best balancing competing values and concerns. I think he knows who he is – a Canadian Ambassador and Lead Negotiator.... concerned about finding a sustainable corrective to climate change.

 I want to remain clear on who I am too – a faith leader who possesses a hope in the power of God to transform ..... living in a country whose claim to affluence needs to be transformed. The earth belongs to none, but is given to all. Every person, family, tribe, community and nation is responsible for the health of such a lavish treasure. None are excluded for the care and all must be included in its gifts.

I finished the day with the routine shuttle to my bed and breakfast. “Where are you from,” my seatmate asked as we started moving?

I smiled and took a deep breath.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Overlooking the Obvious: Day Five at the UN Climate Change Forum

Sometimes it is the most obvious that is the easiest to overlook; maybe because the obvious is uncomfortable, inconvenient or ill-informed. My time at the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa has helped me recognise this in a fresh way. The obvious doesn’t realize that it is supposed to wait until after the negotiations to make itself known.

Each morning I start my day at a briefing with our Canadian Ambassador for Climate Change and Lead Negotiator, Guy St-Jacques. He informs us of the latest developments and offers his assessment of the negotiations. After his assessment there is time for questions.

This morning he informed us that the negotiators had been working hard. They continued in dialogue until 10:30 p.m. last night trying to move the debate forward. I felt grateful for their commitment and prayed for their strength. Then he said; “There is a growing sense of urgency.”

I experienced that urgency today. While the daily programme indicated a number of meetings, most of them were closed to observers. “The conversations are getting tougher,” I reasoned.

This gave me time to reflect. I recalled the conversations I had with the guest house owners upon my arrival on Monday. “The rains have been terrible,” they informed me. “Stone walls have collapsed and fallen on vehicles. Last spring it was so dry, now this spring we have had more rain than usual.”  This assessment was confirmed by the shuttle driver that evening.

I anticipated some reference to this obvious irony – unusual rains falling in Durban on the eve of the UN Climate Change Forum – where the talks have been identified for over a year as urgent. But the irony was never recognised, or at least never mentioned.

I was reminded of my friend who had reflected on the story of Noah and suggested that it was an indication that God would protect the earth from the unbridled evil of humanity. He further concluded that if we failed to properly care for the earth - God would. I had never thought of this biblical account that way.

After a fruitless day of trying to gain access to closed meetings I surrendered and took the shuttle to the guest house. As I climbed the hill to my lodging I remembered the morning briefing with Ambassador St-Jacques.  Following his summary, one of the Canadian observers asked a critical question: “With Minister Kent’s statement earlier this week, can you help us understand Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol?”

The kind Ambassador responded. “My mandate is to seek a suitable agreement,” he explained.  “Obviously final decisions are made at a higher level. Will Canada withdraw [from the Kyoto Protocol]?  .... We’ll have to wait and see.”

As the Ambassadors words echoed in my ears a blast of cold wind swirled around me. I looked up and saw the dark clouds filling the sky. “It looks like it is going to rain again,” I said to myself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Official Observer: Day Four at the UN Climate Change Forum

Being an official observer at something like the UN Climate Change Forum is not an easy task. I was invited into this capacity by the World Council of Churches as one of their credentialed delegates. Even though Mennonite Church Canada is not an official member of WCC, given Canada’s apparent weakening commitment to addressing climate change, they were eager to have another Canadian Church leader present.

As an official observer I have been attempting to witness as many proceedings as possible. Sometimes I pray for the negotiators. Sometimes I stifle a gasp. Sometimes I breathe deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes.

Today seemed tougher than others. The negotiations are feeling fragile. Commitments are replaced with debate. Yet country after country pleads for concrete and immediate action. The big economies hesitate. The suffering countries are growing impatient. “We need something that will guarantee our future,” pleaded Bahamas, “with the rising sea levels we have already needed to remove a community.”

Being an observer eats away at hope. Your role is to watch; to be a witness. To report what you are seeing and hearing.  But silently carrying the weight of apparent apathy in the context of imminent disaster is exhausting. “God have mercy,” I say and take a deep breath.

But as people of God, we see things that others may not notice. We know that the Spirit of God is active even in what may appear as hopeless situations. I needed to be reminded of that today. So as a gift from God, I noticed an event at the end of the day hosted by the global youth delegation. I decided to go, and I saw the Spirit of God at work.

I observed a young teen South African girl stand before negotiators from Brazil and Norway and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  She chastised them for risking her future and her dream of raising a family in a healthy environment. “We must focus on the future,” she said, “because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.”

She acknowledged the economic dynamics influencing the debates. She recognised financial costs needed to address the situation. Then she paused and with the resolve of a seasoned negotiator said; “We need you to make the biggest decision of our lives. Forget about the money you have to save, you are in a big debt already .... You owe this to us!!”

The room erupted in a standing ovation.  I breathed deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes. This time I was overcome with worship. I had observed the Spirit of God at work – and my hope was revived.

“Thank-you Lord,” I prayed. Being an official observer can be such a gift. I can hardly wait to see what I will observe tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transforming Our Appetites: Day Three at UN Climate Change Forum

Maybe it is the humid heat of the approaching South African summer, but I don’t seem to have much of an appetite through the first couple days of the UN Climate Change Forum. I try to stay hydrated and make sure that I grab something for lunch.

The debates between the global delegations have been polite and courteous.  But the friendly atmosphere cannot mask the urgency felt by many countries – especially those who suffer daily because of climate change, as the delegation leader from Philippines lamented.

In fact as the debate centred on the proposal for a Green Climate Fund, many voices became increasingly insistent. When it became evident that reaching an agreement was not yet possible – some delegation leaders stressed the vital importance of reaching a consensus. “We must not leave Durban without some form of agreement. We cannot wait another year for action,” reminded the Belize delegate.

It is clear that there are competing values in the negotiating meetings. Governments have mandates to protect their national economies while also being committed to the reduction of negative climate influences. Wealthy nations want to be assured that they will not be expected to contribute more than their fair share, and developing nations want to make sure that wealthy nations provide their fair share. It is a delicate dance. But if the music of a healthy environment stops there will be no need to continue the dance. Maybe that’s why I have lost my appetite.

Or maybe appetite has felt unwelcomed in the debate. Indeed it is global appetite that has been the main contributor to a level of consumption that is unsustainable.  We cannot trust appetite to guide us towards a solution. When an appetite is under active it can lead to illness, preventing the body from securing necessary nutrients. When an appetite is over active it causes the body to consume more than is needed. God has created an earth able to provide all that is necessary to sustain us but not necessarily what our appetites crave.

As the People of God, it is with joy that we submit our appetites to God. In God’s justice, the hungry are fed, the thirsty are quenched – the earth has all that is needed to achieve this. In God’s justice, appetites are evaluated so that equity is fed – the image of God in us is all that is needed to achieve this.  May the appetite of God’s image consume us, until we all hunger for a display of God’s justice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Voices Needing to be Heard: Day Two at UN Climate Change Forum

“We the youth will be affected by climate change more than the negotiators in this room,” stated the representative of the youth delegation at the UN Forum on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.  The youth challenged the government negotiators to stop talking and start implementing past promises.  Our youth do not take lightly gambling with their future.

Prior to that the Fiji government delegation, also representing the smaller island states, implored the UN Forum for quicker action. “We are already experiencing the impact of climate change in rising sea levels,” the Fiji representative explained.

These reports were echoed by others. Somalia reported that 20,000 children have died and 730,000 children are malnourished. Thailand reported that they have lost 2/3 of their rice crop this year. Then with a steady resolve stated; “These talks are about drought today not just the warming of the earth in the future.”

These are sobering and disturbing reports. They make you want to retreat. But ignorance is no longer possible and apathy is no longer permissible. Islanders watching their homes disappear and youth seeing their leaders vanish are pleading for help. Like the traveller beaten and left at the side of the road, they are looking for their Good Samaritan.

I do not believe that the Church wants to pass them by. I do not think that the Church wants to wish them well while allowing their plight to remain unaltered.  We are the Church. Responding comes naturally, extending compassion is characteristic.

In these discussions the voices most affected are those necessitating the most solidarity. This is our forte as the Church. The God who notices every fallen sparrow compels us to notice every dying plead for action.

"We extend our sympathies," responded the Chair of the UN Forum as the reports were presented. But sympathies unless accompained by actions of solidarity are insufficient for the Church. Ours is the call to impact the environment of danger, bathe the wounds, and assure the return to good health.

As the Church, our calling is simple. We hear, because we have been heard.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting Started in Durban, South Africa

I’m in Durban, South Africa because the UN Forum on Climate Change got started today. The city is expecting 20,000 people for this important global conversation. I came in response to a request to strengthen the presence of the Canadian Church leaders. Because I think climate and environment concerns are an important topic for Canadian Church leaders – I responded positively to the invitation.

I’m in Durban, South Africa to be a witness to the global political leaders as they determine what they consider to be appropriate measures in maintaining a healthy earth. I want to stand in solidarity with the Church across Africa as the governments of the world deliberate. For many these talks are not hypothetical –for them climate disasters are being experienced.

 I’m in Durban, South Africa because I want to worship God. The earth and all its fullness is a result of God’s love. Like a loving parent gleefully preparing a special gift for a child, like a mother busily fashioning the perfect environment for a child’s wedding – God’s passionate love poured through the creative act. And then with satisfied joy, God paused and said; “It is good.”  Such a gift must not be disregarded. Such a loving God must not be disrespected. As an act of worship, we honour God by cherishing and protecting the passionate gift of creation.

I’m in Durban, South Africa because I want to uphold the greatest commandment given by Jesus: love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind - and love your neighbour as yourself. To uphold this commandment is to take seriously the impact, real and potential, of our consumption patterns. Excusing, supporting, or ignoring inequity does not express love to our neighbours. If the earth cannot sustain my neighbour consuming what I consume – then obedience to Christ must compel me to strive for a consumption practice that can also be shared with my neighbour.

I’m not sure what to expect these next two weeks. But I am praying that my worship to God – through obedience and confession – will be strengthened.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Climate Justice: Recognizing our responsibility as global neighbours

Foreword: On October 25, 2011, Willard was invited to address a breakfast meeting of Members of Parliament and Senators in Ottawa, Canada, on the topic of climate justice. Many responded positively to Willard's address, including Senator Grant Mitchell, who wrote, "Thanks for this. It is exceptionally good. And thanks for your leadership and inspiration on this important issue." Many others have asked for Willard's address to be made available. Here it is.  It has also been translated into French and circulated to all Members of Parliament and all Senators. - posted by Dan Dyck, on behalf of Willard Metzger.

Climate change debates are quickly becoming unnecessary and aristocratic exercises. As debates continue, International aid organizations are necessarily busy responding to increasing climate disasters. Simply put, whether individuals believe that climate change is human induced or not, the facts remain that sea levels are rising, deserts are expanding, violent storms are becoming stronger and more frequent, and that the poor, especially children, are paying the highest price. Faith based relief organizations like World Vision and Mennonite Central Committee see the devastating reality of climate change every day.

A report by World Vision Australia in May 2009 concluded, reluctantly, that in its own right and in its capacity to exacerbate all other challenges, climate change constitutes one of the greatest threats ever faced by the poor. Climate change is occurring at a speed and on a scale that will affect not tens of millions of people, but billions, many of them the poorest people in the world.

Developing nations are at greatest risk from climate change. Climate change and global poverty reinforce each other: climate change makes it harder for poor communities to grow crops, access water, food and shelter, and avoid conflict.

According to Sir John Holmes, UN’s emergency relief chief, the number of disasters has doubled from around 200 to over 400 per year over the past two decades, with nine out of every ten being climate related. Such events are no longer considered abnormal but reflect “the new normal”. In 1950 there were 50 natural disasters in South East Asia alone. In 2006 there were 250. By 2009, hydro-meteorological events represented 46% of all operations supported by the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Emergency Fund. In 2010 that has risen to 57%.

These statistics are pointing to a grim reality. World Vision has concluded that climate change has the potential to undo the last 50 years of work that international humanitarian organisations have helped to achieve.

Forests are disappearing at unprecedented rates globally, displacing indigenous peoples from their native homes and uprooting their livelihoods. The collapse of fisheries around the world threatens to exacerbate hunger and poverty among poor coastal communities throughout the developing world. Currently, more than 1 billion people lack access to safe water and 2.6 billion people lack access to proper sanitation. Lack of safe water, sanitation, and adequate hygiene contribute to the leading killers of children under 5, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, neonatal disorders, and under nutrition (see here).

According to a report by Mennonite Central Committee, about 50 years ago a farmer in Kenya could expect to produce 25 bags of maize from one hectare—each bag weighing 90 kilograms. With the current climate change effects of rising temperatures, unreliable rainfall, soil erosion and droughts, today a farmer is lucky to get even five bags per hectare.

It is those who are already experiencing poverty, live in vulnerable settings and have limited access to resources to help them cope with increased disasters, that are most at risk of increased drought and other extreme events such as floods, hurricanes and cyclones.

Bruce Guenther, who works with Mennonite Central Committee’s food and disaster program concluded by identifying these dynamics as an equity issue, "Those who are the least responsible for the [climate] crisis are most affected."

Although climate change will disproportionately impact the poor, the impact will affect us all. Just as we are becoming aware of the interconnectedness of our global economies, so too are we realizing the “globalized” nature of our environment. Therefore any nation’s failure to significantly reduce greenhouse gases will have severe implications for us all.

This is especially evident as we look at Asia with its massive coastal capitals, including Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Dhaka in Bangladesh. A one-metre rise in sea level would inundate 800,000 sq km of land in Asia displacing more than 100 million people. In Vietnam alone 11% of the population would be displaced.

If climate change is not taken seriously enough the world will be forced to cope with mass migrations of millions and most likely the political and social upheaval associated with poverty and displacement.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the Creator has arranged the world in such a way that we must recognize our responsibility as global neighbours. The call of living out love through action is central to the identities of faith based organizations. They have helped remind us that as privileged people who witness the great suffering that our lifestyles of consumption have caused we have a particular responsibility to express God’s love to those impacted by climate change. Faith based organizations have recognized that serving God by caring for creation and each other is a moral obligation.

Whether the developed world takes responsibility for the effect of climate change or not, we have no other option but to take responsibility for our consumption patterns. With the increasing strain on natural resources, everyone must accept responsibility for individual and corporate consumption practices. The globe is able to provide enough food, water and clean air for all its’ inhabitants. For any people group, faith community, religious structure, political power, or geographical entity to sanction the use of more than its fair share becomes a moral and ethical failure. To ignore such a reality of disparity is a moral and ethical violation. In an interconnected global community, injustice for one becomes injustice for all. It is the health of the globe itself that will assess our compliance to this shared moral obligation.

It is easy to fall into despondency, despair and cynicism when responding to climate change. This is understandable, but it is also, in a sense, the easy option. Many people go straight from denial to despair, and interestingly, both positions lead to apathy, where little is demanded of us. Denial says nothing needs to be done. Despair says nothing can be done. But between denial and despair there is hope.

As people of faith, and faith based organizations, we must choose to hope. Denial is no longer intellectually defensible, and things are too dire for despair. We must choose to hope, because when we hope we look for solutions. When we hope, we don’t give up. When we hope, we choose to believe that a different path is possible and we start to explore that path.

Cooperation between religious and political entities can contribute to the some necessary correction. Together we can help develop an environment of hope by fostering a posture of gratitude. As global inhabitants we have taken the earth for granted. We have assumed that it will always be there and that it will always be able to produce that which is needed to sustain us. However, reckless abandonment of our responsibility to care for the earth has put the health of the earth in great risk. A renewed posture of gratitude for the earth will generate a sense of responsibility for its health. If it is true that “we exploit what we value but we defend what we love," then what better way to generate a renewed love for the earth than by strengthening a sense of gratitude for the earth.

Governments and faith organizations can cooperate in increasing public awareness. We can cooperate in educating the public to our global responsibilities. We can celebrate and reward the many greening and environmental sustainable initiatives of groups and individuals. Together, as a moral imperative to care for the poor and disadvantaged, we can work to mainstream concern for our environment and responsibility for individual consumption practices.

Can we increase the marketing and encouragement of green solutions? Can we remove economic barriers from the development of sustainable options for transportation and agricultural practices and foster commitment to their success?

People are quicker to turn away from negative messaging. So can we better fast track an embrace of responsibility by making environmental concern a positive and celebrative response? This is not to deny the dire need we are in. Rather it is to consider the need for response so great, that we must make it as palatable as possible.

We know we can solve this problem. Our pollution, excessive consumerism and lethargy all play a role in this crisis and we will have to take courageous looks at our behaviour if we are to seriously change anything. But through concerted effort, we can provide an active role in making this earth a more hospitable place where current and coming generations of children can thrive and experience life in all its fullness. I pray we will all embrace the will to make it so.


The opportunity to address Canadian government leaders was enabled by the Interfaith Council on Climate Change and the Canadian Council of Churches. You can view documents related to the interfaith climate justice event here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Owned By the Cause

Every now and then you receive an unexpected gift from an unanticipated source or encounter. I recently received such a gift.

I have been randomly joining congregations for worship in order to get a better sense of who we are as Mennonite Church Canada. I have found this very inspiring. There is a lot of strength and vitality in our congregations. I have been impressed with the creativity. Our people love to worship. They value community. They long to be faithful followers of Jesus.

During one of these congregational visits, someone approached me with a gentle smile, extended a welcoming hand and asked; “Excuse me, are you our Willard?”

The inquiry humbled me. The question reflected endearment. It communicated belonging. It was a statement of possession revealing a shared identity.

This incident has caused me to reflect on the relational nature of leadership. The bond between a community and its leader is one of trust and affiliation. There is a common cause. There is a shared longing. It reminded me that the task of a leader is not as much to create a compelling vision, as it is to reflect a corporate yearning. Effective leadership is when a community feels led to where they want to go.

God does not empower leaders to be strong individuals. Instead, the Spirit of God wants to permeate a leader to empower the deep internal yearning already within each individual. Effective leadership finds a way to be aligned with that yearning, and elicit responsive movement to that yearning.

Every leader possesses an element of belonging. Leadership is a function of the community. It is an exercise of the corporate reality. Leaders belong to the cause.

I took this realization with me in a meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs. As General Secretary I was invited to a discussion on the establishment of an Office of Religious Freedom. As I sat around the table I had a renewed sense of responsibility to reflect the community who claims me. I belong to a community who longs for increasing freedom to faithfully reflect the elegance of God’s encompassing grace.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letting Go of God's Hand

Trusting God is never an easy assignment. Because the context of life is always changing, the exercise of trust is a constant learning experience. It reminds me of the image of a parent holding onto a child’s hand. As children we can be afraid to let go. But with encouragement and prodding we learn to let go and begin to walk on our own.

This summer I had a wonderful conversation with Christian educators in Quebec. We talked about the challenge of expressing a Christian witness within a post Christendom, highly secularized society. There is little tolerance for any religious system claiming exclusive truth. This has been especially difficult for evangelical expression of Christianity.

Although Quebec society is suspicious of organized religious activity it nonetheless encompasses a secularized spirituality. There is still an individualized desire to be linked to a higher purpose. The challenge for the church in such a context is to become aligned to that yearning without offending the ideal of tolerance.

In the period of Christendom, the church could assert faith in Jesus Christ as the singular path to God, receiving little resistance or challenge from other faith systems. Canada today, however, is context to many other faith perspective and activity. With the rejection of Christian societal control or influence, Quebec is also ahead of the national curve in secularization. This prompted an engaging conversation with the Christian educators in Quebec.

We determined that perhaps a better way for the church to position Christianity in a highly secularized post Christendom society is as a viable option rather than the only way. This is a little frightening for a faith system that has been positioning itself for generations as the singular path to God.

We began to remind ourselves that it is the Spirit of God that communicates to human hearts and draws individuals to faith. Although we are often the vessels used by God, the invitation is ultimately an exercise of God. Yet we often dictate how God must express that invitation and to whom that invitation should be expressed.

I wonder if it is time for the church to let go of God’s hand. But this time the image is from the perspective of the parent rather than the child. Sometimes it is the parent who is reluctant to allow the child to run and experience new things. It is the parent who must learn to trust the child.

Maybe the best thing the church can do in a secularized post Christendom society is to let go of God’s hand and let God run free. This is not to suggest that the church abandon all conviction and dogma. But it is to embrace a renewed level of trust in the irresistible passion of God to redeem and restore.

Christianity can compete. It is a viable option for all those looking for higher purpose and meaning. Through Christ people come face to face with the overwhelming invitation to experience healing and hope.

If we can trust God enough to release our grip of fearful constraint and let God run, we just might find out again how irresistible our faith really is.

(Oct. 07/11) Further clarity:
This is not meant to question the exclusive claim of Jesus (Jn 14:6), but that in our post modern, secularized context (as especially seen in Quebec), we would get a better hearing if we posture ourselves more respectfully in regards to other religions. That is, Christianity has been so discarded by many that we need to get back to positioning Christianity as even a viable option. I am suggesting that Jesus is big enough to take the competition – that we need not fear comparative analysis. In fact it is as we offer Christianity as a viable option without discrediting other religious systems that a secular society will begin to take Christianity seriously again.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When Leaders Die

Maybe it is the shock of an unexpected end, but learning of Jack Layton’s death today has somewhat staggered me. As the day unfolded, it is apparent that his death has shocked many others too. It is not an easy thing when a leader dies.

When leaders die there is a momentary stunning. People feel the void. Even the most ardent critics pause and experience an inner gasp. “What will happen now,” people wonder? “Who will lead us,” they inquire? New leaders will eventually emerge. But for now, there is a void.

When a leader dies, other leaders momentarily droop. Every leader makes a sacrifice. Every leader serves a cause. Every leader has faced opposition and mustered the hope to carry on. When a leader dies, frailty is undeniable. No leader can guarantee much less fully predict the future. The death of a leader parades the truth of common human vulnerability. It causes everyone to pause.

When leaders die they are replaced. They must be. Voids must be filled. Life requires leaders. Sustained progress or initiated change need leadership, whether that is the vigorous burst of a student movement or the unwavering commitment of a seasoned visionary.

Leaders are everywhere. They are volunteers. They are paid staff. They are grandparents, parents, friends, or siblings. Every influence, every affirmation, every encouragement is an act of leadership. Some people have a larger sphere of influence, but everyone contains some measure of leadership. It is an inseparable aspect of human interaction.

Maybe that is what makes a leader's death so unnerving. Everyone can relate. Society mourns the unfinished business that is inherent in any leader’s death.

The church has many leaders. Our structures require many positions of leadership. Sunday school teachers, board chairs, pastors, and youth leaders are but a few examples requiring leadership. There are also business leaders, politicians, Area Church and National Church leaders. As the level of responsibility increases so does the degree of vulnerability. The greater the scope, the greater number of supporters and critics there will be. Leadership is not for the fainthearted. But neither is it for the callous autocrat.

Perhaps it is in death that the true nature of a leader is revealed. When authoritarian regimes topple, people celebrate. When dictators cease there is relief. But when a beloved leader dies, the people bow their heads. An honourable pause is not demanded, but intuitively offered. Followers and critics alike acknowledge the loss when a respected leader dies.

Leaders point to a future where people want to go but are afraid to venture. They articulate what lies unspoken in the hearts of the people. It's not about forcing a vision onto people, but giving wings to a vision already in their hearts. When respected leaders die, their visions and aspirations will,l in time, receive a breath of new life for the future they spoke of is also contained in the hearts of the people. Someone else will pick up the mantle. The communal yearning will see that it happens.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unmistakable Irony

The irony was unmistakable. The distant past seemed too near.
I was invited to bring greetings to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) Convention is Saskatoon, SK by Susan Johnson, National Bishop of ELCIC – an invitation resulting from the global reconciliation between Lutherans and Anabaptists initiated by the World Lutheran Federation in Stuttgart, Germany in July, 2010. As two Canadian church leaders we wanted to exemplify this reconciliation by attending each other’s national delegate gatherings.
There was something about being present at the national Lutheran church gathering that confronted my understanding of our history. The Convention included agenda that prompted tense and emotional discussion. Despite a determination to be respectful and gracious, comments still dripped with anxiety, fear and passion. There was clear disagreement.
I couldn’t help imagining the discussions that must have occurred almost 500 years earlier. Reformation necessitated passion. Such a massive shift in theology drew emotion. Although the agenda was different, Anabaptists in the middle of passionate revolt left the discussion and accelerated the reform in additional ways. This additional reform was not embraced. And almost 500 years later formal reconciliation occurred.
As our new Lutheran friends continued through a tense agenda I became increasingly uncomfortable. Here I was, an Anabaptist in the new millennium, watching Lutherans in disagreement. It was probably a setting like this hundreds of years earlier where we left the discussion, unable to continue the conversation. In a few minutes, I was about to bear testimony to a global public apology: reconciliation of the past being pronounced in the midst of current divisive discernment. The irony was palpable.
The nagging questions of our Anabaptist history refused to be ignored. They stood in front of me like a confrontational associate. Why could our love and yearning for faithfulness to God not be expressed in a more inviting fashion? How is it that we became enemies of those with whom we once communed, but now disagreed? Though we are now reconciled with our Lutheran brothers and sisters, some 500 years later we are still trying to learn how to disagree in a way that rises above the temptation to retreat and divide. The irony was unmistakable.
The conversations ceased. The discussions were not yet complete. More passion needed an outlet. More yearning needed to be given voice. But the time for talking had come to an end. There would be more dialogue tomorrow.
In the silence of worship, everyone filed to the one common place for all those seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus – breaking bread and sharing the cup.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making the Obvious Connections

It is no wonder that denominational leaders write books – the wealth of wisdom gleaned from conversation with people across Canada provides a treasure of insight. There are two distinct conversations that have come together in my mind and generated some new thinking for me.

The first was a conversation with a small group of young adults in Alberta. After affirming their presence in the church, we started discussing what it would take to get their peers interested in church.

After some thoughtful consideration, one of the group members described a recent Peace March developed by a local Mennonite congregation. The march was considered a local Mennonite witness to the community.

While not disagreeing with the importance of the witness, it made it difficult for the young adult to invite peers to participate in the March. The intent of making a congregational statement was not conducive to involving individuals who were not part of the congregation.

The young adult concluded with the comment: “It’s too bad, because I really think my friends would have liked being part of the event.” This reflective comment clung to me.

The second conversation was an email dialogue with a Mennonite pastor in Saskatchewan. The pastor reminded me of the aging demographic of the Canadian church population and the urgent issue of the future of the church in a post-Christendom world. Maintaining the current status of church vitality has been largely assumed, causing the pastor to suggest a renewed focus on developing our skills of making new disciples.

The pastor offered some great insight by writing: “We are sometimes most vulnerable at our strong point. When something can be seen as a peace and justice issue or put into that frame, we rush to it. It's where we feel at home. We need to affirm that and keep our commitment but we need now to move in a new direction at the forefront. I don't think we know how because we've softened evangelism and outreach and even push it away.”

The clinging comment from the young adult made itself known again and these two conversations started to converge for me. Perhaps sharing faith in a post Christendom context can best be done from within the environment of shared values. Issues of social justice become a natural atmosphere where people of faith can engage with broader society. In fact, I think the Christian Church must be engaged in these common causes to be taken seriously by broader society.

But this also becomes an environment for natural conversations of faith. In missional terms, it becomes the platform to be aligned with what God is already doing. The yearning to express love and solidarity for those in need is an impulse of God’s Spirit. It is the product of the image of God within everyone. When this connection is made, it can lead to additional recognition of the yearning of God’s image, such as the yearning to be in relationship with our Creator. Questions such as “What is the concern that brings you here?” followed by the question of “Where do you think this concern comes from?” becomes the beginning of a natural introduction to matters of faith.

An issue of social justice is not contrary to the call to share faith. It is the new context of shared values from where the sharing of faith most naturally can take place.

If the church can connect with concerns that God is awakening within the hearts of broader society already, then a new platform of connectivity emerges.

I would love to hear responses to some of my most recent thinking on this. Feel free to add your comments.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Anxious God?

I was traveling with a pastor and preparing to board a Saturday afternoon flight. Due to unexpected weather, the flight was delayed considerably putting into jeopardy a connecting flight later in the evening. In negotiating potential alternate routes, the pastor became increasingly agitated, finally blurting out; “I am the pastor. I have to be back to preach on Sunday morning!”

I remember thinking at the time how exaggerated the statement felt. I chuckled to myself thinking, “Surely the congregation will not disintegrate if you fail to make it back in time for the sermon.” But it was an uncomfortable humour. I could well imagine myself in this frantic activity feeling equally indispensable for some planned engagement.

There are a lot of things that can create anxiety. As I dialogue with people across Canada, I become aware of many events/concerns/frustrations that make people nervous. Anxiety is a common experience. Life rarely unfolds as anticipated and often is experienced as unimagined.

For many people such uncertainty can be unnerving and unsettling. People of faith, however, have a different approach to anxiety.

To be sure, Jesus assured his followers that there would be many things that could produce anxiety for all who follow him (Matt. 10). The Apostle Paul produced a list of anxiety producing experiences, everything from shipwreck to spiritual concern for the church (2 Cor. 11:23-29). Yet both Jesus and Paul point to the character of God in dis-empowering anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34; 2 Cor. 1:8-11).

The church will often be in an environment of anxiety. But being in the context of anxiety does not necessitate being controlled by anxiety. The character of God creates the possibility for the People of God to maintain a posture of confidence while remaining in the context of uncertainty. As People of faith we have confidence in God’s wisdom and strength not ours.

Whenever I am tempted towards anxiety I try and imagine God’s response to the situation. Because I find it difficult to imagine God in a frantic and nervous rush of panic, I feel it inappropriate to accept such a posture for myself as well.

In the midst of turmoil and tension, there is nothing better than to be reminded that if we do not serve an anxious God, we should not portray an anxious God.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

When Leadership Trembles

My hands quivered. My heart raced. My legs felt wobbly. The sound of mourning and panic billowed through the dust filled air. I made my way through the rubble and began looking for those I was responsible for.

This was Port-au-Prince, Haiti during the earthquake in January 2010. I was there with a small church team from New Brunswick. Thankfully the entire team was safe despite being surrounded by rubble and debris. The endless night that followed of treating crowds of injured people left me trembling – and feeling useless and helpless.

The experience has left a lasting impression on me and has utterly shaken my approach to leadership. I shudder when I think of what may have been. Thankfully my leadership task involved evacuating a team that was shaken - but alive.

I am still sorting through the various emotions and perspectives that have been dislodged by the earthquake. I know that the experience has changed me, but I am not fully sure how.

Experiencing utter uselessness in the face of disaster is humbling. Realizing, that in a torrent of desperate need your best effort is pointless is demoralizing. No feelings of heroism. No evidences of positive impact. The dead wrapped in bed sheets mocked any feelings of effectiveness.

I carry Haiti with me in my new role. The injured and dying keep things in perspective. I often wonder; does the approach to leadership change if you are not trying to avoid being hurt or determining to avoid failure?

Maybe it is only when leadership trembles – that it is no longer afraid.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who is the real General Secretary?

On a recent flight to Ottawa, I noticed Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada boarding the plane. I had always admired her work. So, after pulling together every last shred of confidence I could find in me, I made my way to her seat mid flight.

After seeking permission from her Aide to speak with her I said; “Madame, I wanted to thank-you for your services as Governor General.” Then quickly handing the two my business card before I get escorted away I continued; “Your tenderness and sensitivity made us proud as Canadians.”

Ms. Jean looked at my card and began thanking me for the good work the Mennonites are doing in Haiti. “Some of your people have even learned how to speak Creole,” she said with deep appreciation. She extended her hand and I respectfully bowed my head in acknowledgement of her comments.

I returned to my seat and realized that this positive encounter was probably a product of the good work done by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Haiti. I was the recipient of their good testimony.

It also made me realize how inseparable we are as an Anabaptist community. Mennonite Church Canada is viewed positively because of the work of MCC. And MCC is dependent on the work of Mennonite Church Canada, our Area Churches and congregations. MCC depends on us to continue to develop disciples of faith who are compelled to live out their witness in such dedicated service to the disadvantaged.

As General Secretary I am fully aware of the corporate identity associated with my role. The General Secretary represents the collective community of Mennonite Church Canada. Because of this, I often receive affirmation that rightly belongs to the collective community. The affirmation is not a result of anything I have done, but is result of a positive experience produced by others.

Each one of us shares in this dynamic. In the communities in which we live each person represents the collective community. Every one of us represents what it means to be a Mennonite Christian. Every interaction reinforces or detracts from a positive impression of Mennonites and broader Christianity. Individual behaviour is almost always associated with the collective community. People experience Mennonites one interaction at a time.

The General Secretary is tasked to represent the collective community at national levels, but in a very practical sense, every individual in Mennonite Church Canada is the General Secretary for their community.

May all of our activity and witness, result in people extending a hand of deep gratitude and bring glory to God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Apologetic Canadians

I have always enjoyed the positive characterization of Canadians as being polite and apologetic. It made me feel good; wholesome. I felt humbled with pride.

However, a recent Ecumenical Conference on Mining that I attended in early May greatly frustrated that image. I heard of the devastating environmental impact and the negative physical health consequence of mining. I learned that Canada is home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies, and Canadian stock exchanges raise 40 per cent of all mineral exploration capital worldwide. I was startled to see images of local communities referring to Canada with disgust and disdain. I felt humbled with an unfamiliar shame.

The US government has often been characterized as global leaders in military activity. On behalf of the global Anabaptist family, I have often viewed Mennonite Church USA as having a particular global responsibility to be a witness and voice of peace to their government. Their geographical presence contained global responsibilities.

As I reflect on the percentage of global mining conducted by Canadian firms, I am left with an unsettling and growing question. On behalf of the global Anabaptist family, do we as Mennonite Church Canada bear a particular global responsibility to be a witness and voice of challenge to the political and economic powers that drive the resource extraction industry? Of course this cannot be done without also addressing our individual and collective lifestyles that support the industry. I am feeling humbled by a growing sense of accountability.

As I met with our global guests at the Ecumenical Mining Conference, I felt an overwhelming urge to apologize. But I didn’t. I knew that in light of such incriminating evidence a mere apology would be insulting. Instead I looked down in disgrace. The usual posture of an apologetic Canadian would be inadequate and unsatisfactory.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reaching Caucasian Canadians

One of the exciting gifts in my role is the opportunity to dialogue with other Canadian denominational leaders. While the Anabaptist perspective I bring is an important contribution to the dialogue I also benefit from the perspective of others.

One such meeting recently with denominational leaders within the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) produced an interesting conversation. We were discerning together what new initiatives will be required for missional effectiveness in Canada. The discussion turned to church planting and the need to develop congregations that appeal to Caucasian Canadians.

This prompted one denominational leader to exclaim: “For denominations to be effective in the future they will need to focus on new Canadian church plants. It will be the new Canadians who will reach out to the white, young adult Canadians. You see that happening already in the second generation English services of these congregations.”

It was an interesting comment that caused us all to pause in silence. I had often heard denominations lament that the only new congregations being formed were among new Canadian groups. But here was a perspective that not only applauded this reality but declared it to be of strategic importance for impacting mainstream Canadian society.

I have always appreciated the ethnic diversity within Mennonite Church Canada and feel we are much richer as a Church family because of it. We worship in over 15 different languages. This is a reality to be celebrated.

Perhaps it is true: that as we embrace the enthusiastic witness of new Canadians, our impact in mainstream Canadian society will be strengthened.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Costly Vision

A recent news release prompted a very interesting response. I have been mulling it over ever since I received it.

The news release indicated that Mennonite Church Canada was discerning the need for a smaller structure in keeping with the seven year trend of declining donation revenue. This is no small task. The article identified the current economic strain as part of the reason for the declining donation trend.

The response I received from one of our pastors provided another perspective to the analysis. This pastor attributed the downward trend in donations to the gathering steam of the missional church vision the denomination embraced several years ago. Data analysis indicates that over the same seven year period, donations to congregations have remained relatively steady. I don’t have hard evidence to back up my next claim, but it makes anecdotal sense that the greater embrace of the missional church vision by a congregation, the greater the increase of donations to that vision. In other words, where people are getting excited about what their congregation is doing, the financial support follows.

This is reason to celebrate. Indeed, it is exciting to see congregations all across Canada discerning the activity of God and becoming aligned with that activity in their arena of ministry. However, this exciting development has created a challenge. Congregations are getting so excited about what they are doing that they are forgetting the missional ministries of the national church and area churches. With this as a reality the pastor responded to the news release by saying: “living out the missional vision is costly to the denomination!” So, now the national church must reposition itself to engage differently with the success from the pews that we have worked and prayed for.

Of course, there is still important work that must be continued by the national church. International ministries, pastoral leadership development, resourcing congregations, providing a national voice - these are still core responsibilities of the national church entity. They represent activity that remains true to our values and ethos of a community of faith engaging in ministry together.

These are disconcerting times for the national church. Over time, I believe we will also see a more exciting future for the national and area churches. The missional church vision is taking root and changing what it means to be Church in Canada. But for the ministries and activities of Mennonite Church Canada, it has become a costly vision.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maybe It Really Is That Simple

I have had the wonderful pleasure of attending the Annual Sessions of our Area Churches this winter. It was encouraging to experience the energy and excitement of those who have shared a long commitment to the work of the broader church. I also hear a common desire to see this commitment passed along to others.

I usually worship with a congregation in the Area Church following these meetings. This too has been an important way for me to better understand our Canadian Church family.

During one of those congregational visits I was able to meet with a small group of young adults. We talked about what it means to be church in a changing context. They described how their peers are busy, and seem to portray little interest in traditional church. There was however, a keen interest in being engaged with issues of poverty and social justice. It was suggested that a natural place for people to become engaged with the church is when the church engages with these issues. We also noted that having responsibilities at Worship Services increases the probability of young adults attending those Worship Services.

I found the conversation intriguing and insightful. These young adults were swimming against the current of contemporary society and making congregational involvement an important part of their lives. I felt honoured to be in the presence of such pioneers.

We continued the conversation, discussing how we might be able to increase the involvement of young adults in our congregations across Canada. As the dialogue came to a close, I noticed a young man sitting quietly among the circle. He had been engaged in the discussion but had not said a lot. So I asked him for his thoughts.

He paused for a moment and said; “Most of my friends are not interested in Church. It’s too bad, because I think they would really enjoy it.”

The group disbanded, but this final statement impressed me. It was such a simple assessment, but such a profound clarity. After debating effective ways to engage young adults, perhaps the solution is simpler than we realized. If we offer more involvement with Worship Services and congregational ministry, young adults might just find that they really do enjoy it.

Maybe it really is that simple.