Thursday, April 28, 2016

51,000 TVs

Last night I visited the City's 2016 Master Composter/Recycler class -- a room full of marvellous people who have volunteered to learn about composting and recycling and to share what they learn with their neighbours to reduce waste in Edmonton. Walking Shadow-pup around our neighbourhoods, I am often appalled by the litter and dumping that I find in ravines and back alleys, so for me it's good to balance that frustration by spending time with other like-minded folks who care enough to keep our world clean.

It's also wonderful to have the opportunity to have a little update of my own training as an MCR, and to learn about how our city adapts its waste collection as neighbourhoods and seasons change. Right now, we're in a heavy time for waste collectors, some of whom load ten tonnes of garbage on their trucks in a day (twice!) with stops averaging between 28-36 seconds per home, believe it or not! Last night's class was all about what they do -- and a good reminder of how hard they work and how important it is to set garbage out so that it's safe for them to do their jobs. Here's a little reminder that I've shared before that's especially important in a heavy waste time of the year...


And here are five things to consider for the sake of your trash collector:

1. Ensure easy access to your garbage area. If in an alleyway, keep the path between truck and cans clear. If on a street, put trash on the curb and try to keep vehicles parked away from collection points so the guys and gals don't have to walk extra steps. (They get enough exercise jumping on and off their trucks thousands of times a day!)

2. Make sure your cans have fixed handles and no wheels, both of which can cause injuries to collectors.

3. Keeping bags under 40 lbs (20 kg) also saves backs. And no cans larger than 77 litres...

4. Sharp things should be packaged in a way that they can't cut collectors. Put broken glass and other sharp items into labelled, puncture-proof boxes or containers.

5. Grasscycle and compost if you can. Our collectors really don't mind picking up FEWER grass clippings and leaves.

And what about the 51, 000 TVs that Edmontonians throw away every year (yes, you read that right -- 51,000!)? They need to be taken to an Ecostation -- as does any other other electronic item. Sean, our speaker last night, showed a few interesting pictures where people left large flat screen TVs sitting in the alley (along with various and sundry large furniture items) for their lone collector to pick up. Of course, that's an impossibility! It only brings a visit from City staff to let the owner know that a single garbage collector can't load a home's contents onto his truck, and that really, it's the owner's responsibility to take large items to the dump or Ecostation. The Ambleside and Kennedale Stations in Edmonton have Reuse Areas for furniture that's in good condition and shouldn't really go to the landfill. So I'm guessing that maybe some of those 51,000 TVs could be saved!

As I shared with the new Master Composter Recycler class last night, waste is actually a Social Justice Issue. With 7.4 billion of us on the planet, we all need to think more deeply about the impacts of our resource use. As consumers and human beings, every choice we make matters -- not only to the fullness of our landfills, but to our human and non-human brothers and sisters in this web of life that we share.

When we use resources poorly, the people who work to make the things we use are not being properly honoured. When we throw things away before their time, we are needlessly adding to the pile of trash that our planet has to try to reabsorb. And when we ignore the impact that our lives and our waste have on species around the globe, we are damaging our relationship with our earth and everyone in it. We are being unjust and unfair. It's that simple.

So when it comes to our trash, mindfulness is key. I suspect that if we all had to live with all our garbage around us on a daily basis, we would be pretty careful about what we buy in the first place! And we'd find more ways to employ the seven Rs (originally shared by MCR Gerda, translated from the Portuguese)...


For the sake of our planet, how many R's can we make a part of what we do today?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A beautiful sight

Well, it's not quite as nice as the faint green that is overtaking the river valley at the moment, but when I climbed up the ladder behind our garage to get this picture yesterday, I was struck by the reflection of the sky, the blossoms of the pear tree, and the clean lines of our solar array. It's not actually hooked up yet -- we're awaiting an inspector -- but one of these days I'll have a full report. It's exciting to think that we will be able to get our electricity directly from the sun with the 20 panels on our garage and four on the roof above our kitchen. I'll moodle more on this topic once our solar system is working.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Here we go again

This morning, Shadow and I walked along the bike path near the river where the little aspens are leafing out, and the fragrance of those new leaves was heavenly! When we got back to the residential streets, there were lots of budding and blooming things to see, not least in our own yard. Here's what's already happening...


These ones (Canadian Liberators, I think?)
appeared last week, immediately after I watered the front yard
for an hour. We've had a bit of rain since, so they're holding up...


The anemones are just beginning to bloom...


I set the camera on the sidewalk to snap this one. 
I like the skewed perspective -- giant purple flowers
 in front of our house...


The white daffs always appear before the golden ones...


I love how lupin leaves hold dewdrops...

I love this time of year for its potential... things are growing again, and there are lots of growing things to observe, even in the cracks in the sidewalk. Why not take a stroll around your own neighbourhood and delight your senses? Fresh air and greenery do the soul good.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #36... "Truly, much can be done!"

It's too early for pear blossoms!
I've noticed, in my reading of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, that the Pope isn't one for using exclamation marks. His encyclical quotes people who use them often enough, and he has included many exclamatory scriptural quotations, but for the most part, his letter is fairly solemn. The title of this reflection is his third of only three exclamations... and it is our reason for hope in spite of the many difficulties facing our planet.

This Sunday we're looking at paragraphs 178 to 181 of Laudato Si, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. I think these paragraphs are particularly relevant given that 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement this week. Did you know that Canada is among the top ten CO2 emitters, creating 2% of the world's greenhouse gases, though our country is 38th in population?

Paragraph 178 addresses a concern that arises when it comes to any Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement has been adopted in order to keep our planet's temperature increase below 2 degrees (over pre-industrial levels) due to global climate change. Pope Francis notes that the world's politics are too focused on immediate results, market dynamics and short-term growth, and that politicians are afraid to adopt measures that might upset the public for fear of losing their government positions. But as the encyclical says, "True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good." These days, our politicians need to be prophets who are willing to go against market forces, think outside the box and come up with better ideas than the old ways that are destabilizing our climate.

Such prophets are already among us, did you know? Paragraph 179 talks about them:
,,, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy... local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples.
And they should be rooted in every person on the planet, enabling us all to work together to pressure our governments for "decisive political action." We can all be prophets!

But things have broken down somewhere -- and I think I know where. If we ask the average Andrew or Alicia about the last time they contacted their government officials about environmental concerns, we'll likely get a blank look. Having been brainwashed into believing that independence is better than interdependence, too many of us have forgotten that our leaders will only respond if enough voices are raised. We forget our own prophetic role in calling them to bring about the radical changes needed, never raising our voices to demand decisive political action, so our leaders assume we're happy with the status quo.

But clearly, the status quo isn't working. My pear tree doesn't usually bloom until May 12, but it's blooming almost three weeks early this year. A wildfire ran through the Wolf Willow/Rio Terrace ravines here in our Edmonton river valley Friday night because everything is so dry when really, there should still be snow on the ground. Climate change is happening here in Edmonton -- and everywhere else -- and it's time we take it seriously and demand that our leaders do the same -- to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement by exceeding its targets and setting an example for all of the top ten emitters to follow.

Of course, it isn't easy to be a prophet -- especially when many people in Alberta's energy-based economy have already lost jobs. Of course, the unemployment we are seeing is a sign that we need to come up with a different employment model since the world is realizing that fossil fuels are a literal dead end for our earth. Paragraph 180 of Laudato Si is packed with ideas that might drive a different model for employment. How many local industries could arise from the points below?

  • increased energy conservation
  • better industrial production to maximize energy efficiency and minimize raw materials
  • reduction of energy inefficient, polluting products (and, I would hope, an end to planned obsolescence)
  • improvement of transport systems
  • construction and repair of buildings for high energy efficiency and low pollution
  • reduced consumption (through consumer education)
  • improved waste disposal and recycling
  • protection of species
  • diversification of agriculture through crop rotation
  • improvement of rural infrastructure
  • better organization of local and national markets
  • improved irrigation 
  • the development of sustainable agricultural techniques
  • cooperation and community organization to defend small producers
  • preservation of local ecosystems
"Truly, much can be done!" say Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team at the end of paragraph 180. If humanity turns its focus away from fossil fuel industries and develops capabilities in the areas noted above, how long would unemployment be a problem? Perhaps it would continue in the short-term, but we need to start thinking longer-term for the sake of future generations. What is the saying? Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Which leads us right into paragraph 181. It says that we need continuity when it comes to handling climate change: "...environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government's term." 

Our leaders don't want to be prophets. Often, standing up for what is right and just means bucking political trends and asking for change from the public, the people they're trying to keep happy. What I've noticed lately, though, is that the public seems to be way ahead of our political leaders in looking for change when it comes to climate policy. Politicians in Canada are still talking about pipelines, but many of their constituents are dreaming about alternate energy sources instead -- have you noticed?

Unfortunately, dreaming isn't enough. We need to demand change. With a phone call, a letter, an email, or a text message, since our leaders can't read our minds. And we also have to be willing to sacrifice convenience to bring change about. Can we live on less if it means more people can share jobs until the energy sector evolves? Can we drive less and walk or take public transportation more to cut down on greenhouse gases? How about buying locally instead of creating demand for items that travel long distances and use many fossil fuels to get to us? Having local vacations instead of tropical ones? Conserving every last bit of energy that we don't need to use by turning things off instead of leaving them running if we leave the room (I'm working on this one -- too often I walk away in the middle of writing these Laudato Si reflections and get sidetracked by other things, only to come back later and realize that energy was a-wasting...)

As prophetic participants in a world that needs to change, what will we do in the weeks and months ahead?

As Pope Francis says, "Truly, much can be done!" 


*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: Ten important questions

Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day!

We need to care about our wonderful planet, and do everything in our power to protect it from destruction of all kinds. No act of conservation is too small.

This video reminds us of the beauty and diversity of the only home we have. I know I've shared it before, but I think of all the videos out there, it covers creation the best, including gorgeous scenery, pretty music, and plenty of God's creatures. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guest Moodler: Reflection on Physician-Assisted Dying

My dear friend, Cathy, has done it again -- on Sunday she presented an amazing sermon at her United Church. And when she read it to me over the phone last Friday, all I could say was, "wow, that's just excellent, and it needs to be heard!" Her understanding -- that allowing death and dying to unfold naturally helps human beings learn about true dignity and grace -- needs to be shared with as many people as possible, simply because we don't hear this idea very often in media stories about the issue.

Cathy agreed to let me post this here, and I would encourage my readers to share it freely. Our culture is so afraid of death and dying, but in Cathy's experience, they are Holy Ground. Perhaps her sermon can help more people to see it that way...

Reflection on Physician Assisted Dying
April 17, 2016
Cathy Coulter, RN, BScN, Parish Nurse

          Bill C-14 was tabled in the federal parliament on Thursday for medical assistance in dying. Physician Assisted Dying, Physician Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia… However we name it, the concept is that someone can end their life at the time of their choosing with a lethal dose of medication ordered, and in some cases administered, by someone legally licenced to do so.
          So today I’m going to give my thoughts on Physician Assisted Dying. This is an issue fraught with strong emotions and I have a lot to say on it. But first I’d like to tell you a bit about my background and the paths I’ve travelled which inform my opinions.
          I’ll tell you right off the bat that I am not in favour of physician assisted dying. I have seen it marching toward becoming law these last many years, and that has saddened me, at times sickened me, and challenged me. But in fact, I have moved from my more extreme “no” position, to a “well, okay, maybe” position.
          As a teenager I started working with mentally disabled adults and children at Camp Easter Seal in Saskatchewan. This followed a strong desire I had as a child that I can’t explain but just had. It’s what led me into nursing but, not liking hospitals, I continued to work with the disabled, including with L’Arche, a global organization founded by Jean Vanier. I learned from experience what I later read of Jean Vanier’s spirituality – that the vulnerable and the disabled lead us to God and our own humanity and to think we are helping them is actually backwards, as we, the helpers, have the most to learn. I consider Jean Vanier a living saint and I look back on that pull I felt as a 12 year old as a spiritual one.
          In nursing, I worked in Long Term Care – nursing homes – with the aged, people with chronic illness such as Multiple Sclerosis, and people with dementia. I eventually moved into Palliative Care and have worked in Palliative Care for over ten years. I love my palliative care work. It’s an astonishing body of knowledge that relieves so much suffering and it is a rich mine of spiritual wealth which informs another passion of mine, spiritual care. My role as Parish Nurse is an attempt to integrate spiritual care into health care and that is an area where there is so much to learn, as much from ancient sources as from modern ones.
          There are several things that bother me in reading arguments for Physician Assisted Dying. One is that people often mention excruciating pain and other distressing symptoms. These things can be treated and there is nothing more satisfying than to see the relief provided with the right tools and knowledge. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. But this is where I think Palliative Care has failed. It needs to be accessible, health care professionals need to use it, and the public needs to be aware of the help that is available.
          For me, there is no excuse for anyone to endure distressing pain or other physical symptoms. But pain and suffering are not simply physical. Emotional, psychological and spiritual pain are all wrapped up in physical pain and suffering. And one of the greatest areas of pain and suffering is over our loss of independence and identity.
We, in our culture, are so invested in our independence that many people think they would rather be dead than to lose it. Dignity has come to mean the ability to be independent and in control of your body, but I see dignity differently. Perhaps this is a surprise to you that I should even question this. But spend some time where I have in the company of a severely disabled person, whose body is contorted, who cannot walk or talk, in whose presence you are taught what it truly means to be human, and I’ll show you dignity. Or try caring for people who have their faces or bodies changed by cancer in the most shocking ways who demonstrate the most mind-blowing courage and peace. That is dignity.
When a sorrowing family witnesses, in the last hours and days before death, their mother, who has slipped into that mysterious place of unresponsiveness or coma, the family cry, “This is not dignified!” What I see is a woman whose face seems peaceful, surrounded by love and care, and experiencing who knows what internal processes in her spirit, perhaps something beautiful and healing and amazing at the threshold of death. I think I could fall on my knees in the presence of such dignity and grace, but because Mother isn’t able to be in control and is completely vulnerable, those who love her are undone and call it undignified. Whose suffering is it?
          I get so mad when people say things like they would rather be dead than incontinent, or like one man I cared for, unable to bear the thought that his illness might cause him to drool.  What does that say about those who do drool, like my friend Ron, with cerebral palsy, who drools constantly and can’t speak but communicates more jokes and prayer and taught me so much about slowing down and noticing what is important?
Our sense of normal and value is getting so limited that soon only movie-star-looks and bodies, between the ages of twenty and thirty-five (unless you’re a man in which case it’s older), will be considered worthwhile, and we might as well be dead otherwise. I’m being facetious – but maybe not. I have fallen in love with so many people whose bodies don’t look or work in ways that we think is normal. How do they feel in this conversation of what is dignified and acceptable?
          There is a reason organizations for the disabled are speaking out against Physician Assisted Dying laws. They have fought so long and so hard to have our culture recognize the value in every life. A vibrant young man in a wheelchair who needed some surgery faced a medical profession who wondered why he would bother, in an attitude that all but said, “Why would you want to live if you couldn’t walk?”
          Of course, experiencing the loss of bodily control and independence is tough. It’s horrible. But the process of going through such losses is absolutely part of our human condition and necessary, I argue, to become fully human. Michael J. Fox, who lives with Parkinson’s, knows this, which is why he titled his memoir Lucky Man. It was the disease and its losses that gave him a life and a depth of personhood that he would never trade.
          More and more we are bowing down and worshiping the concept of “being independent”. This is a modern phenomenon, being independent. We think it’s heroic and dignified and necessary to control our own lives. But the universe, nature and Jesus teach us the opposite. That we are interdependent, or to go further, absolutely dependent on the forces and mysteries that give us life and the abundance of life.
To use Christian language, it is God that sustains us. Losing bodily function so that we can no longer be busy ‘doing’ is a crisis to our identity, for sure, but it teaches us that we are more than this superficial identity of what we do. We are the very breath and body of God in the world, and the grace that flows through us is not something we accomplish but what we are.
When we learn this, we don’t need anything else. There is the peace and joy that we long for which gives to everyone around us. This is the place we stand on in faith. This is the place we fall into, when we feel like we have lost everything. This is where we are held, and like Jesus says in this morning’s reading, nothing can snatch us from that place (John 10:28b).
          Independence is not freedom, it is limitation. It is a contracted, isolated place that cuts us off from accessing all of the love and power and grace of the universe. I have seen people fighting, fighting, fighting what is happening beyond their control until that moment – and it can happen in the blink of an eye – when there is a surrender, where the dying person stops struggling and goes with the flow, when the person is given the grace to allow themselves to be carried by forces that we, the undying, can only glimpse and guess at. In that moment, the room, which had been filled with tension and pain, is flooded with peace and love. To be a witness to that moment is to stand on holy ground. I don’t know how else to explain it. But perhaps, if you have been attentive to someone’s dying, you have experienced what I’m talking about.
          We want so desperately to control everything. What an illusion. And now we want to control our dying. What a mistake. The people and groups so passionate about having very broad assisted dying laws use terms like dignity and grace a lot. I don’t want their agenda to define dignity and grace for me. I gave my grandmother and my mother bed baths in their dying days three months apart. There was no indignity in their vulnerability. Only tender intimacy and as much love and gratitude as I could possibly feel. Giving either one of them an injection and suspending a process that our bodies and spirits know how to do naturally, in our own wisdom and rhythm and timing – that would feel undignified to me. Where indignity lies is in the lack of care and the pain of social isolation, not in what a body can no longer do.
          An area of contention is that people with dementia will not be able to access assisted dying, even if in their previously competent state they say they want it when their condition reaches a certain stage, for example when they no longer recognize their family. The reason that this will not be allowed is because the person with dementia will not have the capability to consent at that time in the future and will be in a vulnerable position. Although I feel like I’m swimming against the tide of public opinion, I agree with that. I do not want to belittle the emotional pain of dementia for the one experiencing the mental losses or their loved ones, but if we step back from the emotional pain, we see a loss of mental function comparable to the loss of physical function that is more painful because we associate our mental faculties with our very identity above all else.
But my argument that we are more than our ability to ‘do’ applies here too, that we are more than our ability to use our minds. A person with dementia has just as much value and life and spirit of God as that person had before they got dementia. We are challenged to see that and often it is easier for a professional care staff than a family member who only sees what is no longer there. There is a grace and, yes, dignity, and much to learn from being in the presence of someone with dementia. There are surprises and laughs and amazing stories. And there is grief and anger and doubt and challenge. But I believe the spiritual life is just as active in a person with dementia right through until death. Who am I to cut that life short?
          Saying I’m against assisted dying does not mean I’m for prolonging life as long as possible. We swing so far one way, treating everyone with a view for them to live forever often to the point where life becomes unbearable at which point we swing all the way around and want instant death. But I’ve also reached a point of acceptance that unless we really learn how to provide the care that people enduring debilitating conditions need, including spiritual care, the weariness of enduring such conditions may become unbearable. At that point, who am I to judge? Providing release in the form of assisted dying may be the right thing to do. I have faith that God will be carrying that person body and soul, just the same.
          In preparing for this talk I watched a documentary filmed in Belgium where they have very expansive assisted dying laws, including for those experiencing mental anguish. The documentary was about a 24-year-old woman who had just been granted the right to assisted dying after a two year process.
This young woman, intelligent, educated, well connected, loved, physically top notch… did I mention she was only 24?... experienced a lot of mental anguish in simply being alive. She described remembering being 3 years old and thinking she didn’t want to be here. She described how it felt like there was something inside her that made living unbearable, like a monster living inside her. She’d cut herself so many times because the exterior pain of the cuts distracted her from the interior pain. She was given every treatment modern medicine could think of with no relief. Her doctors agreed to assisted death. Her mother agreed, sadly. Her best friends agreed, sadly. They all wanted to support this woman they loved. The documentary covered the two weeks before her death when she was preparing to say good-bye to the world.
Watching the program, I understood in a new way that assisted dying was the only option for someone suffering as she was. I understood how an open death with a chance to be surrounded by loving good-byes was a better option than a lonely suicide attempt which is why this young woman fought so long and hard for an assisted death. I felt for this girl’s pain. I admired her loved ones for standing by her even in the midst of their own sadness of saying good-bye. The doctors who journeyed with her said they too would be sad. They reminded her that at any point in the process, she could change her mind and no one would think less of her.
          The documentary did not show the actual death but rather talked about how things happened. The designated doctor arrived at the appointed time and place with the lethal injection. The young woman said at that moment, “I’ve changed my mind.”
          I was so surprised. She did not die. The documentary continued with her saying that in the previous two weeks, she’d felt okay. Not like everything was better, but okay enough that that day it was possible to say no to dying.
          Perhaps in preparing for death, the love she experienced healed something inside. Perhaps finally having an option of a way out was enough. And perhaps that will be the benefit of an assisted dying law: to help people relax, knowing that there can be a way out of their worst fears, to relax enough to allow the process to unfold, to allow life and spirit to unfold.
          The best any of us can do is journey through life as faithfully as possible. 
At the centre of all Jesus’ teaching was the assurance that God loves us and can be trusted to bring about healing and wholeness within the worst circumstances. This assurance enabled Jesus to remain faithful to the path he had chosen even when it meant death on a cross. Such a deep trust in God’s care is what underlies the healing power of resurrection faith. [from The Whole People of God, United Church commentary]
Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not fear, for you, God, are with us. 
Amen. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #35... Looking after our 'global commons'

Cows on Selsley Common -- an image from Wikipedia
I've been thinking a lot this week about commons. In Canada, we have the House of Commons. There's a lot of talk about 'creative commons' these days, where people create, share their creations, and learn from one another. Then there are the common grazing lands that used to be shared in feudal times, or the common plazas where open air markets appeared in various cities in Europe, though I suspect people pay to set up booths in the present era. These kinds of things used by "commoners" were called commons because they were held in common.

And what do human beings hold in common now? The air? The sky? The oceans? The thing about a lot of the commons left to us now is that, because they don't belong to particular individuals, no one really pays attention to their care until something goes wrong. But we should all be paying attention! Really, the earth and everything in it belongs to every living creature -- it's just human beings and our skewed sense of ownership that say otherwise.

This week's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home focuses on the things we need to do to protect our 'global commons.' We're looking at paragraphs 173 to 177, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

I'd like to begin by highlighting the entirety of paragraph 173, where Pope Francis and the encyclical team, in talking about protecting our earth, say
Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. Relations between states must be respectful of each other's sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually agreed means of averting regional disasters which would eventually affect everyone. Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies or countries dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.
Companies from my own country need to be regulated, particularly in their mining practices, but we can all probably name several other examples where offshore industries are taking advantage of less developed countries' more lax regulations. Who is in charge of regulations in those situations? Who protects those countries that suffer from wealthy nations' contamination of their land or water, and who cares for those who don't receive a living wage for their work? Our governments often look the other way, all in the name of our economy, which is why global oversight is necessary.

Image result for purple sea starWe saw last week how different global concerns were handled by different conventions where many concerned countries were represented. These kinds of conventions still occur, and in paragraph 174 Pope Francis makes note of the fact that international and regional conventions on ocean governance come up short due to "fragmentation and the lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control and penalization..."

The ocean is a big place, touching all but landlocked countries, and its health affects the entire planet's weather patterns and therefore, our food systems. even if we don't eat seafood. But too often it is used as a garbage dump or exploited for resources to the point that the viability of its many life forms is endangered. I recently read about the sea star wasting disease in BC that is "a really big deal" as one scientist put it. I've always loved looking at those amazing creatures in tide pools whenever we've visited the ocean, and it breaks my heart to think that so many have already died.

Pope Francis can't be more right when he says at the end of paragraph 174 that "What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called "global commons."" We may not know how to solve the sea star's illness, but if we could ever come up with a way to involve the entire planet in looking after our common home, now would be a good time!

In paragraph 175, the Pope mentions that we need to make more radical decisions about reducing pollution and eliminating poverty. It seems we human beings are stuck in a rut when it comes to handling our problems, he says, because "the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political."

So maybe it's time to think outside our previous boxes, "to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions" (paragraph 175).

But how the heck can we do that?

I'm imagining a convention comprised of one politician, one scientist and one educated young adult from every country in the world, divided into small groups where each continent is represented, brainstorming ways to deal with poverty and pollution that will work for their country of origin, and sharing those possibilities with the larger group. Then these ideas would be distilled, given a monetary value, and handed off to the 1% of the world's wealthiest people who are then mandated to spend their fortunes fixing the world's problems. They don't really need all that money, do they? I can't imagine what they actually do with such excess.

I'm a dreamer, I know I am. But sometimes solutions to problems come through dreaming, brainstorming and throwing out ridiculous possibilities. If you had to come up with "a true world political authority" as Pope Benedict (yes, the previous pope) calls it at the end of paragraph 175, how would you do it? The UN tries to be that authority, but gets all tied up in politics. Wouldn't it be great to have another wise world governing body that can look after humanity as a whole in times of crisis, work for disarmament and peace, ensure an end to poverty, disease and hunger, and protect the web of life that we call creation?

It would be fantastic! But how do we go about creating it? I have no idea... do you? Fortunately, there are many organizations that are working towards some or all of these things mentioned above in whatever small ways they can. They have experience and knowledge in their particular areas, and they might even come up with ideas to govern our planetary commons. So when I come across information that they share and I like what I see, I offer financial support when I can because I think that they are more likely to provide the kind of leadership we need than our governments or corporations ever will. I have a feeling that many of these organizations will find ways to come together for the common good and be that body of world leadership.

So here's a challenge for the week ahead. Find an organization (or two, maybe three?) that you can support which cares for the environment, the disenfranchised, the hungry, those on the margins, or whatever planet-saving cause you support and get on their mailing/email list if you aren't already. See if there are ways you can help them in training leaders to work for the environment, for justice and peace, and for our marginalized sisters and brothers around the world. Or, if you already support such an organization, send them your encouragement in whatever way you are able. Have you ever thought of simply writing them a message of appreciation for the work they do?

I don't know how to create a world governing body that will make a difference, but I can support organizations that dream and brainstorm and train leaders that may gather together one day save our 'global commons.' How about you?

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: "Truly, much can be done!"

Friday, April 15, 2016

It doesn't take much to make me happy

A friend of mine is pretty wonderful about finding opportunities to recycle things (actually, I have a whole group of friends in that category, and they are known as Master Composter/Recyclers). Said friend saw an opportunity in the straw bales the City uses at tobogganing hills to prevent tobogganers from crashing into trees and crossing into each others' paths. So he had the City gather and leave a bin of bales in a City park for anyone who might want them -- namely, gardeners like me.

I told Lee about the bales being available, and he was raring to go find them -- threw a sheet of plastic in the back of our Hyundai, and off we went. Unfortunately, we ended up at the wrong park, but the City employees we talked to there told us that if we could find any leftover bales on any tobogganing hills, we could take them.

So that's exactly what we did -- we live close to the Edmonton Ski Club which is right next to Gallagher hill, a famous tobogganing area in our neck of the woods (Rick Mercer rode a concrete toboggan down it once, video below). We drove over to a power pole surrounded by bales, threw three into the back of our vehicle, and went home happy. I was triply happy because 1) I have always wanted to get my hands on some straw for under my strawberry plants 2) I'm glad to make use of something that was only going to the City composter, and 3) it was fun to "steal" bales and look like crazies to the people on the hill at the time. As we drove away, we joked about them taking our license plate numbers and calling the police.

Today's task? Spreading those three happy-making bales around my garden. And if I don't have enough straw, there might still be a few bales left at Gallagher Hill for me to collect.

For those of you who have never seen a concrete toboggan, here's the Rick Mercer video from 5 years ago... fun and games!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

From the ridiculous to the sublime

I just watched two videos online -- the first being a report about Edmonton's highest priced condo at the top of Edmonton's highest condo tower, which is available for a cool $3.5 million. And the second, which is my definition of sublime -- seeing value in terms other than monetary. It's too easy to get caught up in society's idea that money is what's important. That's why I'm sharing the second video below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Miles' ministry

I'd seen Miles many times in the past, usually at the Inner City Way of the Cross and other down town events, but I'd never met him. I think he was part of the parish I grew up in. He's not very tall and wears neat but shaggy not-quite-mullet hair down to his shoulders, which looks right on him. Something about him reminds me of a picture I grew up with at Universal Church Supplies -- Willis Wheatley's Jesus Christ, Liberator -- his genuine smile, I think.

Lee and I ended up attending mass at St. Joseph's Basilica instead of our own parish on Sunday due to last minute chauffeuring duties. The pre-Vatican music left me cold, and I felt a little lost in the cavernous nave full of strangers. So I noticed Miles right away when it came time for communion, not because of his familiar face, but because of his smile. He was off to the side, a minister of the cup, next to an older man performing the same ministry. The difference was that Miles was grinning ear to ear as he offered the sacred wine to communicants. When I stood before Miles after receiving the host from the solemn priest, Miles grinned, looked me in the eye, and offered me the cup, saying, "The Blood of Christ, Sis."

That "Sis" took me aback. The combination of his smile as he handed me the cup, and his term of endearment/familiarity/informality went straight to my heart. I grinned back and said my most heartfelt "Amen!" Then I drank, gave the cup back to Miles, and smiled all the way back to my pew, tears inexplicably filling my eyes. I may have actually laughed out loud when I sat down beside Lee! I closed my eyes and said, "Thank you!" and had a moment of stillness before watching Miles' ministry out of the corner of my eye for the rest of the communion procession, which is a long stretch in such a big church. Miles gave the cup  to everyone with equal joy. At a lull when he was waiting for the next communicant, our eyes met, he smiled a bigger smile, and I laughed again.

What was going on? The thing is, I've taken a course on the Eucharist at a theological college. I've learned about the mystical understanding of communion, its history, and the beauty in God offering God's self to us through the consecration of earthy, daily things like bread and wine so that they become nourishment for our souls. But for some reason, my encounter with this one minister of the cup helped me to really understand that communion isn't just happening because we're all drinking holy wine from the same cup. It's not just about partaking in a meal that represents the banquet in heaven. It's not just about everyone in our own little holy bubbles receiving Jesus. It's also about connecting with God by connecting with each other. Miles knows that we're all brothers and sisters, and he evoked that communion by calling me Sis. His joy in sharing the cup was contagious, and I revel in the happiness that came from that encounter, grateful for what I received from this stranger, my brother, Miles.

I feel like I'm not explaining myself very well. It could be one of those experiences where "you had to be there." But really, communion happens every time I go to church, though it has never touched me quite that way before. I have a sense that if we could all feel that kind of happiness -- that kind of communion -- more often, we wouldn't need churches. The world would be a totally different place. Eucharist means thanksgiving, and after years of "receiving communion" I found myself giving thanks not only for bread and wine, body and blood, but for all my brothers and sisters who were receiving it with me, "in communion" with me -- and everyone and everything else, too.

When Mass ended, I made a beeline to Miles to thank him for his joyful ministry, and he was as humble as you might expect, almost embarrassed by my appreciation. I don't think I was able to express to him how his actions touched me and deepened my experience of communion, but mystical moments are difficult to explain even after a few days of reflection, as you can probably tell. All I can say is that it was a God moment unlike any other, and the gratitude and joy are with me still.

Thanks, Miles, for waking me up!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #34... Shouldering our greater responsibility

Remember the hole in the ozone layer? It's still there... but the good news is that humanity has stopped producing the chlorofluorocarbons that caused the hole. The Montreal Protocol was adopted by our world in 1987, and as a result, we still have most of the ozone layer that protects us and our earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation, and it could potentially recover over the next 50 years, especially if we can adopt another working protocol when it comes to climate change. Here's an interesting video about what could have happened... which leads into what we still need to do, and today's reflection on Laudato Si.



This week's section of Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home reminds us that humanity is capable of working together to change the course of history when it comes to caring for our planet. We're looking at paragraphs 168 to 172, which you can access by clicking here and scrolling down. Paragraph 168 carries an important message about positive experiences where different conventions made good decisions for the sake of life on earth: the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes, the Convention on international trade in endangered species, and the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer, which led to the Montreal Protocol which eliminated CFCs which were creating the ozone hole.

When the ozone hole was discovered, it was a serious problem for the entire planet. Every living thing on earth is touched by the sun. Everyone was affected by the news. And global climate change is the same sort of problem -- there is nothing on earth that can't be affected by weather which causes droughts and fires, floods and disasters. Here in Edmonton we had a tornado in 1987. Calgary had the flood of 2013. And for most of us in Alberta, these were fairly minor events. But for people living in developing countries, a typhoon like Haiyan causes more deaths and destruction than we can imagine, and the people there don't possess the resources we have to deal with such disasters.

"With regard to climate change, advances have been regrettably few," says the Pope in Laudato Si, his letter to the entire world. "Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the parts of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most" (paragraph 169). That would be most of the countries in the western world, including us.

Unfortunately, instead of just tackling greenhouse gas reduction by adopting more stringent measures when it comes to reducing the use of fossil fuels, our past leaders have pointed fingers at other countries, poorer than ours, who aren't doing their share to protect the environment. So we in Canada have wasted valuable time, and haven't done much to stop climate change as of yet. But the Pope reminds us:
there is a need for common and differentiated responsibilities. As the bishops of Bolivia have stated, "the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused." (Quote from the Bolivian Bishops' Conference Pastoral Letter on the Environment and Human Development in Bolivia, El universo, don de Dios para la vida from March 2012 (86).)
Those Bolivian Bishops have a lot to say when it comes to the environment, and Bolivia has been a leading country in fighting for the rights of Mother Earth. I wish I could read the entire letter, but it's not available in English, so I'll stick with Laudato Si.

I was happy to see that the Pope and his encyclical writing team addressed the issue of "carbon credits" in paragraph 171. It has never made sense to me that countries could pay a certain amount of money to "remove" so many tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- after the fact. If I fly to Tahiti and buy a carbon offset so that I can feel better about "dealing with" the greenhouse gas emissions caused by my tropical vacation, someone might plant a tree somewhere with that offset money, but it will take years for that tree to actually remove my emissions. It would be better not to fly at all... and maybe I need to be more serious about how I'm creating greenhouse gases from the beginning.

Unfortunately, so far no one really believes that climate change is so serious that we shouldn't be taking tropical vacations. Of course, I applaud people who do what they can to offset their air travel, and I'm not saying that carbon offsets are bad -- heaven knows our world needs all the help it can get with trees being planted and whatever else offsetters do. But we also need to reconsider frivolous things like tropical vacations! And our big, polluting corporations need to stop polluting instead of buying carbon credits from developing countries that don't produce their share of greenhouse gases. The idea is to reduce our greenhouse gases and improve the health of our atmosphere, not just to maintain things at the present level of pollution!

Paragraph 172 references the difficulties faced by poor countries and the help they will need from wealthier nations to develop less polluting forms of energy production. It also contains the encyclical's first mention of solar energy as a solution, noting that
Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Energy, Justice and Peace, IV, 1, Vatican City (2014), 53.)
I am underlining and bolding the statement that follows the above comment: "The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change."

It seems to me that, here in North America, we are too afraid to change, to take on our greater responsibility as people who live in some of the countries that contribute the most to climate change. We think it will be too expensive, or too difficult, but in reality, climate change will be more expensive, and more difficult. We're especially concerned about our livelihoods here in Alberta, where fossil fuel extraction and related industries have been our main employer for fifty years. But if we really think about it, fossil fuels are a dead end because our great-great-grandchildren can't live on a planet choked with greenhouse gases and terrorized by catastrophic events caused by an unstable climate. So we need to change now.

Out on my garage roof, a fellow named Paul has been working away for the past week. He used to work in the Oil Sands near Fort McMurray, but he saw that the future for highly polluting chemical processes to extract bitumen from the sand, water and clay up north was going downhill, fast. So he pulled the plug on that career and retrained to install solar panels. Clearly it's hard work, but he says it feels right. Rather than adding to climate change, he's participating in less polluting work in the energy field and improving the earth's health, long term.

And more of us need to think this way. How can we change and find better ways to deal with the pollution created by our lives? How can we reduce waste? How can we save energy? How can we in North America, who have created greater greenhouse gas emissions with our larger homes, multiple vehicles, and excessive possessions, shoulder our greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems our lifestyles have caused the planet?

What is one right thing we can do in the week ahead? Or one change we can make?

We found a way to help the ozone layer. Now we need to help the rest of our beautiful planet.

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: Looking after our 'global commons'