Cities and Commitment

September 11th, 2012

[This article was originally published here in ‘The Cardus Daily’ Blog on September 11, 2012.]

Toronto’s Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday,evoked political controversy this summer when he objected to the requirement that 10% of the units in a new condo development be 3-bedroom, family-friendly units. Mr. Holyday referred to the requirement as “social engineering.” He expressed reluctance to dictate that the developer build 3-bedroom units when there “may or may not be a market for it,” and alienated his urban colleagues and parents when he said the downtown core was “not an ideal place to raise children.”

Toronto currently has a record number of new condo developments, outpacing both Mexico City and New York City by more than 40 projects. Toronto’s downtown core is full of new condo developments, many of which are investment properties rather than owner-occupied homes for the city’s inhabitants. Many real estate agents share the Deputy Mayor’s concern that in an investor-driven market, there is little demand for larger condo units. According to one expert, larger condos are more difficult to rent and to flip, making them a greater risk and less profitable.

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The Culture of Death and the Beauty of Life

August 10th, 2012

[This article was originally published here in ‘The Cardus Daily’ Blog on August 10, 2012.]

ZacharyThe summer of 2012 has been unlike any other in recent history. News reports have been dominated by stories of violent crimes, many of which have led to the death of innocent and unsuspecting bystanders.

What stands out about these crimes is their very brazen nature. An online video of the death and dismemberment of a Chinese student who had come to Canada in search of a better life. Gunfire in a crowded shopping mall food court that claimed 2 lives and sent 6 others to hospital. An execution-style hit in broad daylight at an outdoor café. A gunfight reportedly resulting from a dispute over a parking spot, which killed 2 people and injured more than 20 others.

For some, life has ceased to have inherent value and meaning. It has taken a back seat to pride, money, the quest for infamy, the exercise of power or even something as trivial as a parking spot. When subordinated to such things, life is cheap and dispensable and the culture of death prevails. It is difficult not to despair.

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Best Advice to a New Mom

July 9th, 2012

Any expectant mother can tell you about the unsolicited advice she received from well-wishing veteran mothers before her baby was born.  Some of that advice is good and some of it is, well … not so good.

Zach Swaddled 1

Here is some of the best advice I received:

Don’t go crazy buying clothing, toys and other things for your baby – newborns don’t need much and you will just buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

When purchasing clothing for your newborn, buy 3 months or even 6 months size clothing and roll up the sleeves and pant legs.  If you have a big baby, the newborn clothing won’t fit for long – if at all – and you’ll just have to replace it within a matter of weeks.

Newborns love to be held so invest in a good, comfortable baby carrier.  If you can borrow baby carriers from family or friends, try out a few different styles to determine which kind suits you and your baby best.

Ontario’s Bill 13 is a Missed Opportunity

June 11th, 2012

[This article was originally published as  ‘Tipped Hands and Missed Opportunities’ in ‘The Cardus Daily’ Blog on June 11, 2012.]

The recent debate between the Ontario government and concerned Catholic parents and educators (over the McGuinty government’s anti-bullying bill, discussed here on the Cardus Daily Blog) highlights the need for a more robust understanding and public discourse about the interplay between freedom of conscience and religion, advancing public policy, and the role of government in a diverse society.

Bill 13 aims to promote positive, inclusive, and accepting school climates, and to prevent bullying. These are laudable goals. Children of all ages should be able to go school without fear of being bullied. And in our highly diverse society, learning with and from one another helps build understanding, compassion, and a sense of community.

Whatever the merits of Bill 13, it is lamentable that the reported public debate has been reduced to a putative clash between religion and “fundamental values” such as respect and tolerance, and to a dispute about the name of clubs designed to promote understanding between students of different sexual orientations. Freedom of conscience and religion is itself a fundamental value, one that legislators tend to ignore or curtail when there is an apparent clash with other fundamental values. A more robust understanding of the value of freedom of conscience and religion in a highly diverse society is long overdue.

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Whither civility in politics?

April 24th, 2012

[This article was originally published as ‘When sorry doesn't mean it…’ in ‘The Cardus Daily’ Blog on April 24, 2012.]

imageMy brother and I had an expression growing up that was usually invoked when my mother asked one of us to apologize to the other for saying or doing something hurtful: “Sorry doesn’t mean it.” It was a brilliant if grammatically incorrect expression that served both to call the offender’s bluff when the apology was insincere, and to repudiate even the most sincere apology when the offense was so egregious as to be inexcusable in our childish minds. It also betrayed, for just a little longer, the pettiness of the victim who profited from being hurt or insulted.

Needless to say, this exasperated my mother, who tried to teach us lessons about decency, civility, and compassion. Both insincere apologies and petty repudiations of heartfelt ones stood in the way of true reconciliation.

As I witness the hurtful words and half-hearted apologies spoken in the House of Commons, I understand my mother’s exasperation. Instead of decent and respectful civil discourse aimed at addressing the key issues that confront our nation, we get hurtful and petty banter that reflects my childhood quarrels with my brother.

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Religious Inheritances: The Good, the Bad and the Apocryphal

June 8th, 2011

[This book review was originally published here on ‘The Cardus Daily’ Blog on June 8, 2011.]

imageIn his latest book, Beyond the Gods & Back: Religion’s Demise and Rise and Why it Matters, Reginald Bibby sets out to answer these questions: “What is the situation with religion today?” and “What does it mean for Canadian life and lives?”

Building upon his earlier work, Bibby notes the steady decline in religious identification, attendance, and belief between the 1960s and mid-1990s, followed by leveling off—and in some cases, an upswing in religiosity—that suggested signs of new religious life and led some to conclude that we were seeing a renaissance of religion. It prompted a re-evaluation and even abandonment of the secularization thesis postulated by prominent social scientists. Upon closer examination of the data and trends since the mid-1990s, Bibby suggests we are seeing neither the death nor the rebirth of religion in Canada, but rather an increasing polarization between the religious and non-religious, between theists and atheists.

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Reflections on Power for Salvationist.ca

May 10th, 2011

[This article was originally published as ‘Power Hungryfor the Salvation Army on May 10, 2011.]

The dramatic fall of dictators around the world can cause us to question our own relationship with authority.

Recent events in Northern Africa and the Middle East remind me of the adage originally penned by Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Where power remains unchecked, terrible abuses of human, political and civil rights can occur.

Remarkably, several of these nations are experiencing a rebalance of power as citizens demand political reform and the international community considers coming to their aid.

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Reflections on Capital Punishment for Salvationist.ca

January 24th, 2011

[This article was originally published as ‘An Eye for An Eyefor the Salvation Army on January 24, 2011.]

Capital punishment strikes me as fundamentally flawed. Killing a person to send the message that killing is wrong seems contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst. The fact that executions are pre-meditated, and corrections officials or private citizens are paid to carry them out, makes them seem all the more heinous. What goes through the mind of an executioner as he or she administers a lethal injection or activates the electric chair? Does he believe the condemned prisoner is a threat to society who deserves to die? Or does she see the humanity of someone who made a terrible mistake, often decades earlier, and who may no longer pose any threat to society?

Capital punishment has been abolished in most of the Western world. According to Wikipedia, only the United States and Belarus continue to practise capital punishment, and Latvia has reserved the death penalty for war time. By contrast, the death penalty is practised in 14 out of 54 African nations as well as 24 of the 55 Middle Eastern and Asian-Pacific states. And although the United Nations has called for a moratorium on the death penalty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not mandate its complete abolition. Rather, it requires states that have not abolished the death penalty to restrict it to the “most serious crimes.”

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Christian Social Action: Is it worth the Effort?

May 10th, 2010

[Originally published as here as part of the Salvation Army’s 2010 ‘Speak Out’ online conference on social justice advocacy.]

Community in mission: A salvationist ecclesiologyimageHE SALVATION ARMY HAS GREAT POTENTIAL TO SPEAK PROPHET-ICALLY WITHIN OUR SOCIETY. Its history of showing practical concern for the needs of suffering humanity and its solid reputation in the countries in which it operates make it particularly well suited to speak publicly on issues of concern. In addition, its continuing focus on mission makes social action a necessary outworking of the faith that undergirds The Salvation Army’s ministry.

Jesus’ public ministry began with a proclamation of good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and the release of the oppressed. The gospel of Jesus is not just a gospel of spiritual salvation. It is also a gospel of hope and healing, and a gospel that challenges the social, cultural, political and religious practices and power structures that leave people poor, imprisoned, physically suffering and oppressed. As the inheritors of Christ’s mission, it is incumbent on the Church to continue to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom of God.

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Body Bag Blunder

September 20th, 2009

image The recent shipment of body bags to a remote First Nations community in Northern Manitoba provoked high-stakes media drama and a public relations disaster for Health Canada.

Aboriginal leaders were outraged when 3o or more body bags arrived on their doorstep, seemingly in preparation for a resurgence of the H1N1 outbreak this Autumn.  Condemned by politicians of all stripes as unacceptable and insensitive, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq ordered an immediate investigation of the matter.  Twenty-four hours later, a Health Canada official fell on his sword, taking responsibility for an overzealous approach to a routine restocking of supplies.

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How can The Salvation Army combat human sex trafficking?

July 1st, 2005

[This article was originally published as Innocence Lost for the Salvation Army in July 2005.]

    image   I dreamed a dream in time gone by 
    When hope was high and life was worth living.
    I dreamed that love would never die,
    I dreamed that God would be forgiving …
    I had a dream my life would be
    So different from this hell I’m living.
    So different now from what it seemed,
    Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
    I Dreamed a Dream (Fantine’s Song) – Les Misérables

“So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home” (Judges 19:25-28).

One of the most haunting stories in the Bible is the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 and the ensuing battle against the Benjamite tribe, which left a hole in Israelite society. It is a shocking story about the human condition, a story that strikes at the very heart of evil―the desire on the part of some to dominate, abuse and destroy their fellow human beings, and the intentional or unintentional participation of other ostensibly “good” people in such schemes. It is a story about the relative powerlessness of women in certain societies and situations. It is also a story of wanton lawlessness, poignantly captured by the words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

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