I’m a Christian who believes that members of the LGBTQ+ community should have the same rights, freedoms and security as the rest of us. Because Jesus said so.

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I have to start this post by admitting that the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community have never been a high priority of mine. I don’t have many gay friends, and the ones I’ve got seem to be living happy lives. Here in Ottawa, openly gay people go around being openly gay – and, as far as I can tell, no one gives them a second glance. People in Canada can marry anyone they want, as long as the person is neither related to them nor married already – and they can start a family, too. My home town in rural Newfoundland was pretty redneck, and I know a handful of people who hid their sexual orientation until leaving there for fear of being rejected by their family and bullied by their peers. But I’ve reached the point where I’ve been away from Robert’s Arm for as long as I lived there – the social mores of that town don’t cast as long a shadow over my thoughts as they used to.

Then came the terrible incident at Pulse in Orlando. 49 people dead, over fifty injured, after a gunman sprayed the crowd with two guns. He claimed allegiance to ISIL, the troublesome terrorists responsible for a number of awful deeds around the world. He did it because the club is known to be a queer favourite, and he hated gay people. For millions of people, myself included, this was unfathomable. He disagreed so strongly with LGBTQ+ lifestyles that he hated anyone involved. He hated them so much that he took their lives. Unimaginable. Optimistically, I thought this guy had to be rare – maybe even a one-off. Then I watched this video of people reading aloud some of the hate mail received by Pride Toronto. It’s filled with disturbing statements and nasty language. Apparently, Omar Mateen wasn’t alone in thinking that gay people are dirty animals who should make the world a better place by dying. Some people are blaming the massacre at Pulse on the people who were targeted, saying that they brought the violence on themselves by associating with the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, many of these people who claim to despise gay people also try to lay claim to something else: that they are Christians.

I am a Christian – that is to say, a Christ-follower. The knowledge that fellow Christians are so hateful toward a group of people simply based on who they love is painful. In the Christian community, we are living by faith in the grace of God. The whole premise of Christianity is the notion that we are members of a fallen race who needed the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our salvation and example and daily strength. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)  We celebrate this at Christmas and Easter – and every time we pray. Unless, apparently, we’re talking about gay people. Then, we take the Old Testament law that we are supposedly no longer subject to, and use it to beat down those who identify as something other than straight. The New Testament (the new code of living that the advent of Jesus Christ introduced) says very little about homosexuality. Depending on your translation or interpretation, it says nothing at all. The real umbrage against homosexuality in the Bible is actually in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is also home to a number of other rules and prejudices we no longer bother with. Perhaps we should bring them all back, for consistency’s sake. Know anyone who’s cheated on their spouse? Get out the rocks and start lobbing! Get rid of your blended clothing (which, these days, is – oh, everything we wear). When your slave gets all clingy and refuses to leave you, you have a choice – you can pierce his ear with a modern tool like the guns they use at Claire’s, or you can stick with tradition and use an awl. The menstrual tent on the outskirts of town needs better signage – none of us ladies want to pollute the community with our blood! The smoke from the sacrificial fire is breaking air pollution by-laws, and I’m running out of goats to burn.

Someone once asked Jesus the following question: out of all the laws in the Torah, which is the most important? (Matthew 22:36). Jesus quoted two laws from the Old Testament: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God. Love each other. Just love.

A few facts from around the world ….

Being gay will lead to the death penalty in Sudan, Mauritania and much of the Middle East. Gay people can spend anywhere from 14 years to life in prison in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, India and Guyana. In wide swaths of Africa, as well as pockets of the Middle East, Asia and South America, it’s a slightly kinder penalty. Just 14 years! In the rest of Africa (with a nod to South Africa which seems to grant full rights), Asia and Russia, Eastern Europe and parts of South America, they’ll put up with you being gay as long as you keep it on the down-low.

And in Orlando, one year ago today, being gay – or even just being friends with gay people – meant being executed in cold blood by a madman who hated people because they didn’t live exactly as he did. Many are remembering the horrifying events, and mourning the beautiful souls taken too soon. As Christians, we should be standing side-by-side with the grieving and the defenders of human rights. We should be welcoming and celebrating love wherever we find it. We should not downgrade the tragedy of human lives destroyed because of some Old Testament drivel from which we have been freed by our saviour.

We have enough clanging symbols and noisy gongs in this world. Anyone can be that. If we want to be salt and light, we have to rise above that – to be more than that. Real love, now, for everyone – with no strings or judgements attached. Because Jesus said so.

My words seem to have dried up.

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I have a notebook that I carry with me everywhere I go. I pull it out of my purse often, to scribble – or build on – ideas for blog posts. When I use an idea, I scratch it out. There are many ideas in my notebook that have not been scatched out. Yet I have not written a post in a month …. Each time I try, something awful comes screaming to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, and I can’t think of anything to say.

France.

Belgium.

Afghanistan.

Pakistan.

Iraq.

Bangladesh.

The Philippines.

France again.

Africa, all over the bloody continent.

Syria.

Russia.

America, America, America – and its cursed love affair with guns.

Trump.

Dallas cops dead. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Plane crashes under mysterious circumstances.

Hostages taken, used as collateral – and murdered while cameras roll.

Children abused, children missing, children murdered.

Each time some new, awful headline leaps out at me from the newspaper or the internet, I try to make sense of it. I think about how I might frame it – what I could say about it. Then, I think about how many ways I’ve said the same damn thing over the same damn things – and I wonder what’s next. Heavy-hearted and just plain tired, I shrug and move on, because there isn’t anything else I can do. I have no comfort to offer because I’m fairly certain the next spectacularly rotten failing of humanity is just waiting to extinguish whatever tiny flicker I can coax to glow. And I’m not about to join the ranks of slacktivists hashtagging memes and feeling like they’ve made a difference when all they’ve done is add to the noise …. I can’t see that being satisfying or even meaningful.

So I guess I’m taking a break from writing …. ? I’m about to hit the road with my three favourite faces – our road trip is just minutes away. When I’m on the road, I tend to stay away from the internet. I get the odd bit of news from the free newspaper that some hotels hand out with their morning offering of coffee and muffins (or stale donuts or decisively firm pastries or, if we’re far enough south, biscuits and sausage gravy), or the radio. Ryan or Fiona or Bridget might announce something to me. But I won’t be drowning in it like I am here at home, wave after wave of sorrow and cruelty crashing over me while I start to understand why so many people tune out and watch videos of kittens.

I’ll be back. Life is still beautiful – and filled with things for me to get ornery about, too. And I will, of course, have to report on all the crazy, weird and wondrous things I come across as we wander across the map of North America. In the meantime, I pray peace and compassion and good will for us all.

 

When words fail ….

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So, this week, for the first time ever, I wanted to burn my computer. I wanted to set it on fire, throw it through a window and pour myself a glass of champagne to celebrate its demise. I don’t feel this way during DST, when people whine about how they can no longer function because their clock changed by one lousy hour. I don’t feel this way on May 4, when an army of nerds wishes me the company of the Force. I don’t feel this way every November 12, when people start carping about keeping Christ in Christmas. I didn’t even feel this way when the Minion craze was in full swing – even though I severely dislike (and, worse, don’t really get) Minions and they were all over my Facebook newsfeed. No, what brought me to an all-time low in my experience of the digital world is the overwhelming wave of anti-Muslim memes and rants that I’ve seen over the past week. Horrible things have been posted. Things I wouldn’t say in a sound-proofed closet in an empty house, yet they were proclaimed for all to read. I won’t repeat them, because I can’t bring myself to give them voice. I will say, however, that it is not an exaggeration to observe that my Facebook newsfeed was oozing, dripping, spewing, hemorrhaging hate. So I did what I always do when I don’t like something – I said something. I said alot of somethings. At times, I was buoyed by the positive responses of like-minded people. Most of the time, though, I felt like I was standing alone against a swarm of ignoramuses, bullies, xenophobes, racists. Haters.

I have wanted to blog about this for days now, because this is BethBlog and I’m Beth and I blog. But I’ve been having trouble finding words. Usually, I use my own words. I love to write, and words come easy to me most of the time. Today, though, I can find no better words than those of Jesus Christ in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Today, I’m extrapolating on perfection when I add “For I was a refugee, without home, comfort, possessions, food, clothing or health …. and you opened your arms to me.” 

Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

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In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.

People were murdered for disrespectful doodles – and we’re moralizing the doodlers?

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Yesterday, masked gunmen burst into the office of a French satirical weekly and murdered twelve people. The city of Paris, and, indeed, the entire free world, is stricken by the news of this audacious attack. Canadians are feeling afresh the shock and sadness of what happened to us less than three months ago. Many are wondering what the next target will be, because we know there will be one. It’s only a matter of time.

The publication, Charlie Hebdo, prints cartoons skewering everything from politics to religion to life in general. They’ve attracted negative attention many times from many people, including a fire bombing in 2011. Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor, was unrepentant. If anything, the threats galvanized him to continue in his irreverent ways. He is quoted as having said that he’d rather die on his feet (freely saying and doing whatever he wants) than live on his knees (surrendering to terrorists by apologizing and censoring himself). He died on his feet.

I don’t need to state just how despicable this latest act of Islamist terrorism is. We all know. I do, however, feel the need to address some people’s reactions. Not even twenty-four hours after the news broke, I saw more than one person condemn the attack – and then water down their condemnation with an effete line about the wrongness of disrespecting others’ religious beliefs. This is irrelevant at best; at worst, it is victim-blaming. It is no different than pointing out that a homeowner did not have an alarm system when his home was invaded, mulling over what an abused child was doing to anger his parents, or questioning what a raped woman was wearing at the time of her assault. It doesn’t matter what Charlie Hebdo was distributing – there is not even the barest shred of justification for what happened in that office yesterday.

Papers, magazines, radio, music, TV and movies all poke fun at lots of people and things. Stupid people, fat people, ugly people, old people, celebrities, civil servants, lawyers, bums, politics and politicians – and, yes, religion and religious people. Is it nice? No. But we, as a country, have agreed that it is allowed – we embrace and support freedom of expression, even if the expression is unpopular, unkind or downright rude. If we allow any individual or group to decide what is an acceptable subject and form of expression, that freedom will be diminished. If we allow that because of fear, all of our freedoms will disappear.

When something offends you in our open and free society, there are a few things you can do. You can contact those who produce and distribute the offensive content and express your opinion of it to them. You can whine about it on social media. You can blog about it. You can take out a full-page ad in the newspaper declaring your aversion to the offence in question. You can sue. Or you can simply turn away – stop reading, listening or watching – and encourage like-minded people to do the same. These terrorists – these vicious, ignorant, ridiculous wastes of oxygen and space – decided to address it with AK-47s.

Our country has also agreed that capital punishment is not an acceptable judgement even for the most heinous criminals – even if merely thinking about their crime is nauseating and horrifying. We keep them alive on the taxpayer’s dime rather than kill them. We do not condone eye-for-eye – and certainly not life-for-insult – justice. So, please stop implying that a few cartoonists may have invited their own execution by creating and publishing impertinent drawings. It’s senseless, disgusting and unworthy of a just, free, enlightened society – much like the terrorists who killed them.

Breakdown of a breakdown ….

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The tomb of the unknown soldier, at the foot of the cenotaph, was a peaceful resting place for the remains of a man of whom we know nothing, save that he served his country and, in the end, gave his life for it. I’ve walked or driven past it many times. I’ve stopped there a few times, too. The last time I stopped there was during the summer of 2013, when my brother, André, and his wife, Janelle, were visiting. I walked their legs off all over downtown Ottawa, and the tomb was one of the things I chose to show them. People were chatting, snapping pictures, eating lunch, enjoying a fresh-air escape from the office. Two guards played a game with my daughters, handing them cards with clues describing certain parts of the beautiful monument. They, along with a few other children, scurried around the memorial, eagerly finding each piece of the puzzle. I can’t ever think of it as peaceful again.

Just two days ago, Wednesday, October 22, the peace of the tomb was shattered by a young man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. A lifelong loser trailing a long history of petty crime and addiction, an angry, unstable wanna-be mujahid whose goal was to travel to Syria and fight alongside ISIS. Somehow, he got his hands on a gun he wasn’t allowed to possess and murdered the soldier guarding the tomb. Nathan Cirillo, father, animal-lover, soldier, was shot at point-blank range, from behind – the favourite angle of the cowardly. Brave bystanders tried frantically to save his life, but he died in their arms. Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where he was confronted – and later shot – by the sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers. Even though Zehaf-Bibeau was dead, it was unknown whether he was operating alone. Were there other gunmen? Had bombs been planted? Was the killing a standalone act, or was it the harbinger of mayhem? Nobody knew, so the surrounding area was swiftly shut down and closed off. All government offices were put in lockdown, as were several schools. Civil servants were told to stay in their building, including (of course) Ryan and I. Phone lines were tied up, and the internet was creeping at a snail’s pace (or, at times, completely stalled) as people all over the city frantically tried to find out what was going on and reach loved ones to reassure each other.

I was in a meeting when the news broke. I can’t tell you anything that was said in the meeting after hearing about the attack. My mind shut down. I was able to hold back the tears that sprang immediately to my eyes until it was over, then I took refuge in the washroom – of course, it is a fact that, if you are trying to cry quietly in the washroom, people will bang in and out and force you to converse with them. But I couldn’t stop. I cried in a washroom stall, then – when I thought I was ok – I made it back to my desk in time to start sniffling again. I texted my mother and her husband, then André and Janelle, to let them know that we were safe. Mom called, and I talked to her for a few minutes around the lump in my throat, trying not to let her hear my fear. I’ve been leaking tears at odd moments ever since. It is, I suppose, some sort of breakdown – a response to the tension that you can almost touch, floating in the air, thick enough to choke on. An overwhelming sorrow at the thought of two young men wasted, a peaceful place stained with blood, a city transformed by terror. The dissolution of the thin mental membrane between my usual state of calm and the sickening, screaming state of panic.

My emotions were even more difficult to control when I realised that we were nearing school dismissal time. Fiona’s and Bridget’s school, which had been secured at first, was now operating as usual, even though it is only a few blocks from where I was locked down. Somewhere between my office tower and their school, somebody had drawn an invisible line – apparently, was not safe and they were. Who decided that? How did they decide that? I wasn’t supposed to stand near a window or on a rooftop for fear of potential snipers, but my children were about to leave their school and walk down the street to the Y Kids Club. I must have called their group leader’s number twenty times or more. Ryan took over the task of calling their school – maybe the school staff could tell us if things were ok. I couldn’t do anything about school dismissal or them walking to their after-school program, I couldn’t even leave my damn building – so I needed to know that they had reached the church basement where the Y Kids Club is held. I couldn’t stay still, couldn’t put down my phone – could barely breathe – until I learned that they were safely inside. After that, it was easier to wait out the lockdown. Sometimes, in fact, I managed to forget for a few seconds – then I’d look out the window at the empty grass and paths and picnic tables, and remember that a nightmare was happening even though we were all awake.

The lockdown was lifted just before four (for us, anyway – the downtown would remain shuttered and surrounded by police until well into the night). As we left the building, I drew in a grateful breath of fresh air, my first since walking in that morning. My shoulders were tight and my eyes were roaming – every sound was magnified in my mind, and I couldn’t help but look behind me every few paces. Cars were backed up all the way to the parking lot, because every car going across the bridges to Quebec was being monitered – and, because this is a border city, there were alot of cars heading across those bridges. After picking Fiona and Bridget up from daycare, tears were threatening again – this time, tears of gratitude at the simple blessing of the four of us reunited in our filthy car. I was exhausted, and my head pounded, and my eyes felt raw – but we were together, and unhurt, and going home.

There’s been a great deal of poetic waxing – journalists are reaching the dizzy heights of sports writers as they scramble for words that are deep and wide enough to encompass this event and the fallout. “Loss of innocence” is used often. It’s not really that, though – most of us have known for years that this was coming. We’ve watched the United States and Europe suffer through much worse, and really we’ve just been lucky until now. We all know that things will change, but these things are mainly of a procedural nature, and won’t stop everything we want them to. What has happened to us lives in some dark, airless corner of our mind with the other spiders – it’s always been there. The only difference now is that this corner has been disturbed, some of its denizens have come howling into the light. The word I keep coming back to is breakdown. The shooting of Nathan Cirillo was a breakdown of security, of trust, of humanity. It is a breakdown of the line between our bad dreams and reality. It is a breakdown of our illusions of peace and easy living. It is a breakdown of my feeling that all’s right with my world. My calm façade – that’s all it was, I know that now – cracked in the face of our collective tragedy and grief. This is just a description of my experience – I can only imagine what it was like for the people downtown, in the eye of the storm, for the families of Nathan Cirillo and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, for Kevin Vickers, for our soldiers who know they have become moving targets merely because of their uniform. I’m praying for them all, because that’s all I can do. In the meantime, we’re all back to work and school and life, because that’s what we must do. We won’t let this breakdown break us.

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