It is two days before Christmas Eve and I have just finished planning the special services for that night in Leduc. My to-do list is getting shorter. The things left to are mostly physical (moving chairs, setting up the projector and lap top, etc.). I am starting to think beyond Dec 24th. Is that a good thing? Patti is going away Christmas day: I have the task of making the perogies for Christmas. Fear not, she has taught me well. I plan to ski a mountain when she gets back.
For many years, I have offered a simple reflective service before Christmas that honours the pain that some people experience at this time of year. It could be the pain from financial pressures, loneliness, family strains and more. But most often it is the recently bereaved who are dealing with the emotions of facing the first Christmas without a loved one. The service has been called "Blue Christmas" or "Longest Night" (close to the solstice), but the intent is to offer care and support to those who find Christmas a sad time.
I come by the understanding honestly. It was in the early morning hours of December 19th, 1982, when he and my mom were attending a friend's Christmas party, that my dad's heart stopped. Five days before Christmas: the funeral was on the 22nd. I have always found it hard to leap full-long into the Christmas joy.
Likely because I was away for a three-and-a-half month sabbatical, I have only conducted thirteen memorial services (so far) in 2009 (on average, it's usually closer to 20). The last three have all been sudden deaths and all for active church families. Since early November, an aneurysm, a lightning fast cancer and a stroke brought sudden and unexpected grief into three families. At 67, 33 and even 94 these people were all expected to share this Christmas with their loved ones. And yet, there is an empty place at the table and in the heart.
We trust Jim, Robyn and Jo to God's keeping and our faith assures us of their comfort and rest and peace. This same faith holds us and enlivens us, but it does not eliminate the grief.
It is okay to be sad at Christmas. I am every year!
My spouse and I felt the need to escape the pressures of normal daily living and so we went to a movie last night and chose "The Road". A disturbing post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son trying to find a place where other survivors may be. They are trying to remain "good guys" who have not turned their back on basic human dignity (i.e. turned to cannibalism). As I said: an odd choice.
The story comes from Cormac McCarthy, the same novelist who wrote "No Country for Old Men", which was turned into an amazing Oscar-winning movie.
The Road doesn't tell us what the disaster was. I assumed that the lack of radiation sickness, pointed to a meteor impact or something like that. Regardless, vitually all plant and animal life seems to be gone. It is a world that is dying. It is a world without hope. It reminded me of "Children of Men", another movie where there is no hope for a lasting future. How will people behave when survival is a short-term goal, at best.
On reflection, the "road" refers to having a purpose in life. Life can continue because there is hope that "down the road" something better awaits. Hope is alive as long as we keep moving down the road. For the father it was hard to trust. He had seen so much violence and expereicned so much selfishness, that he had trouble seeing that there were other "good guys" on the road. In a way, his destination was already near, just a bit ahead and behind him, as others (who were similarly uncertain) kept their distance. But the son could see this (always wanting to share food and clothing).
An odd choice, but in there somewhere is Advent, isn't it? The hopeful path and the need to share good company on the journey.
Below is information about the Canadian International Developement Agency funding cuts to the church justice group "Kairos". Below that is an email I sent to the government of Canada. I would encourage you all to send similar notes of concern. Blessings, Blaine
URGENT ACTION:RESTORE CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (CIDA) FUNDING TO KAIROS On November 30, KAIROS received notice from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that our project proposal for 2009-2013 had been declined. We were not given an explanation for this decision, other than that our program did not fit CIDA priorities. Our 2009-2013 proposal was developed within two priority sectors of CIDA: promoting good governance (human rights) and advancing ecological sustainability (reducing the impact of climate change and addressing land degradation). It was approved at every level of CIDA before being declined on November 30. This decision terminates a 35-year history of cooperation between CIDA and KAIROS and its predecessor organizations, and compromises the work of human rights and ecological integrity in the developing world. (For possible impacts on specific partners, please see the background materials below.) This decision also negatively affects the ability of Canadians to develop skills and knowledge in the exercise of their global citizenship.Please contact your MP to discuss this urgent matter. Please, respectfully and politely, - Speak about your own positive involvement with KAIROS;- Express grave concern about this decision;- Ask that CIDA restore its long-standing relationship with KAIROS;- Emphasize the impacts of this decision on global partners and our work in Canada;- Ask them to call on CIDA to reverse this decision. Please also write to: The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, email@example.com, The Hon. Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Margaret Biggs, President of CIDA, Margaret.Biggs@acdi-cida.gc.ca requesting a reversal of the decision. Please copy your letters to KAIROS at email@example.com.
Further Background Material Situation - KAIROS submitted a 4-year program proposal to CIDA on human rights and ecological sustainability. The total program cost of the proposal is $9,211,483 over four years (CIDA contributes just over $7 million of that amount). This is consistent with previous levels of CIDA funding to KAIROS.- On November 30, we received a call from CIDA informing us that our 2009-2013 program proposal had been rejected and that KAIROS would no longer be receiving funding from CIDA. We asked for an explanation and were informed that our program did not fit CIDA’s priorities. This was the last day of an extension to our current proposal. No written explanation has been provided. - This decision, if not reversed, would cut funds to 21 ecumenical and citizen’s organizations in Latin America, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and cut educational work that helps Canadians across the country to develop skills and knowledge in the exercise of their global citizenship.
Background - KAIROS and its precursor organizations have been funded by CIDA since 1973.- The KAIROS-CIDA 2006-2009 program received a positive audit report and an excellent evaluation.- KAIROS staff worked closely with global partners to develop the 2009-2013 program proposal which focused on human rights and ecological justice. - It was submitted to CIDA in March 2009 and went fairly quickly through all levels of approval. KAIROS made all adjustments to the program requested by our program officer.- The proposal arrived on the desk of Bev Oda, the Minister of International Cooperation, in July 2009. It remained on the Minister’s desk for five months.- In September 2009, when our agreement had still not been signed, we were granted a two-month extension on our previous contribution agreement. During this time we received no communication from the Minister’s office. On November 30, the last day of this extension, we received the phone call from CIDA informing us that KAIROS would not be funded. CIDA priorities and human rights - With the support of CIDA staff, and in collaboration with our partners, our proposal was developed within two priority sectors of CIDA: promoting good governance (human rights) and advancing ecological sustainability (reducing the impact of climate change and addressing land degradation). Our proposal was deemed by CIDA staff to be within CIDA criteria and priorities throughout the approval process. - Our proposal places a strong priority on advancing human rights. States are obliged to protect, respect and ensure fulfillment of human rights. Canada is expected to collaborate to fulfill these rights, including providing international assistance for these efforts. Our proposal is one way in which the government can demonstrate that it is providing support to the fulfillment of rights around the globe.- Our focus on human rights is completely consistent with the ODA Accountability Act which came into effect in June of 2008. The act requires all Official Development Assistance "to be consistent with international human rights standards." Impact of the decision - This decision, if it is not reversed, will have a devastating impact on the work and well-being of our partners overseas, the hundreds of marginalized communities and the thousands of people who have benefited from their programs. Furthermore, it will decimate our education program in Canada, which enhances Canadian’s commitment to international cooperation.- KAIROS supports partners in countries such as Sudan, the Congo, the Philippines, and Colombia who face extreme human rights and humanitarian crises as well as political repression. Many of our overseas partners risk their lives for the work that they do. KAIROS’ accompaniment, advocacy and education work with partners has saved lives. - In the Congo, KAIROS funding means a women’s legal clinic to address rampant gender-based violence will be established. Loss of this funding to our critical human rights partner, Héritiers de la Justice, compromises this critical work to fight rape as a weapon of war.- In Sudan, KAIROS is working with Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and its members to mobilize greater action for democratic peace. The full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan is essential to ensuring that basic humanitarian, food security, livelihood needs of women and children and their communities will be met. Without KAIROS funding, the SCC will not be able to adequately pressure parties to implement this peace agreement. In a country with very weak civil society networks, SCC has been an essential voice in negotiating and implementing peace.- In Indonesia, KAIROS, through CIDA, supports KONTRAS: The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence. KONTRAS is highly recognized as a credible human rights organization in Indonesia and internationally, working specifically on human rights monitoring, documentation and advocacy. KONTRAS plays a lead role in ensuring the Indonesian government investigates past military abuses and compensates victims (and the families of victims) of human rights violations and military atrocities. Without KAIROS funding, KONTRAS will lose ground on the achievements made over the years in widening democratic space in Indonesia and will be unable to hold the Indonesian government accountable for national and international human rights covenants.- In Colombia, KAIROS supports a grassroots women’s human rights organization, Organizacion Femenina Popular (OFP), in Magdela Medio, a region that has experienced some of the worst human rights abuses in Colombia. The OFP now has a membership of 5,000 women in the region of Magdalena Medio and runs 22 women’s centers, offering programs which include integrated community development, human rights of women, health and legal services, and education. In a recent letter the OFP appealed to Minister Oda to continue funding to KAIROS, "so that our sons and daughters grow up without being recruited by armed groups, kidnapped or assassinated - so that they have the right to a dignified life."
My email > From: Rev. Blaine Gregg [firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 11:50 AM To: email@example.com; Oda.B@parl.gc.ca; Margaret.Biggs@acdi-cida.gc.ca; Rajotte.J@parl.gc.ca Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.comSubject: CIDA Cuts To Kairos
Greetings Prime Minister Harper, Minister Oda, Ms. Biggs and (my own MP) Mr. Rajotte;
First of all - James, it was nice to see you again at the grand opening of the expanded Leduc Recreation Centre. That was a wonderful time and will benefit the health and well-being of the community in which I live and you represent. But I write this email in concern for the well-being of other communities in Canada and around the world.
Now to all of you - It was with great sadness that I learned that the CIDA project funding for KAIROS Canada was cut. As you know, Kairos is a cooperative organization involving several faith and justice groups, who seek to make a positive difference in the world. Because of Kairos, I and many others are regularly informed about the areas of our world and society where human rights are being denied, where oppression and violence are far too dominant and what we can do to help. As well, Kairos’ focus of ecological justice is very much needed. World leader’s gathering in Copenhagen testify to the need to focus on that issue, for all of our sakes. The work that Kairos is able to do in Canada and around the world changes lives for the better! Cutting that is a tragedy.
Kairos (and its preceding organizations) have been connected to CIDA for some 35 years. That is far too long of a relationship of working together to be severed without warning or explanation. Please reconsider this decision and re-establish the valuable working relationship between CIDA and Kairos. I would very much appreciate your attention to this matter.
I would welcome any response from you all.
May this holiday season be joyful for you and your families; Rev. Blaine Gregg Minister St. David's United Church 4614-48 street LEDUC AB T9E 5X7 780-986-2085 (p) 780-980-2624 (f) http://stdavidsleduc.com/
Hi all, It's me. I'm back. I was glad to have this blog as a way of reporting on my sabbatical back in April to July. But I've never been very good about blogging outside that time. I post my sermon notes each week on the church website (http://stdavidsleduc.com) and I have been know to keep a fairly active status update on Facebook. But blogging?
I am going to try and put something fresh here on Tuesdays of each week. It might be an extension of my Sunday sermon or a comment on some world issue or some other theological relection.