Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question Period: Calm & Collected NDP Leader Shows True Leadership

If you are a Canadian such as myself, no doubt that you have heard of the current Senate scandal here. For those not in the know, a quick background. Canada has an unelected, unaccountable Senate which many would like to see abolished, including the main Opposition party, the New Democratic Party (the party I support). Recently it was discovered that Conservative Senator Mike Duffy wrongly claimed that his primary residence was in Prince Edward Island, when in fact he spends most of his time in Ontario. Also, he was found to be out campaigning for Conservative candidates in the last election while claiming the time as Senate expenses. Duffy was ordered to pay $90, 000 back. Apparently he didn't have this money at his disposal, so Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright wrote him a cheque to cover it.

Today was the first time that Prime Minister Harper had to face questions in the Canadian House of Commons. When the New Democrats picked Thomas Mulcair to be their leader, many were watching out to see if "Angry Tom" would show up, as he was known for his fieriness. However, these people have been disappointed, as Mulcair has provided solid, steady leadership while almost always keeping his cool. 

Here are the questions that Mr. Mulcair posed to the Prime Minister today. He was calm, collected, and to the point, something that you don't often see in the House of Commons. I have never been prouder to be a New Democrat and to support my leader.

Friday, May 17, 2013

LGBTQ Rights Are Human Rights

Each year on May 17th across the globe, thousands gather for or take time to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia & Transphobia. The occasion was created  in 2003 in Quebec to commemorate removal of 'homosexuality' as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization in 1990. Transphobia was included in 2009 “to give a specific dimension, and fight against the invisibility of the trans issue”.

Today I recognize this occasion as an ally of the gay community, having also served as LGBTQ Representative for Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party last year. 

I still have to pinch myself sometimes for being both.

You see, it wasn't always this way. I grew up as a conservative evangelical Christian, and homosexuality was  pretty much THE worst sin imaginable. To throngs of people it still is.  I remember as a teenager, writing to my small-town newspaper against same-sex marriage, and they printed it with the title "It's Just Plain Sin." And then something happened. Near the end of my high-school years I started to hang around classmates who weren't Christians - something new to me - and in spending time with them and having discussions with them I began to realize something: These weren't bad people. Just because they didn't believe the same things that I did did not mean they were in danger of Hell. I say I began to realize it because it would take several more years for me to fully embrace it. Something else that was very significant happened as well. Near the end of high school my best friend sat me down and told me that he was in fact gay. A few years earlier I might have jumped out of my chair, bewildered and disgusted. Instead, I sat calmly, and I felt that this was something that could bring us closer together, not farther apart. He is still my best friend to this day; I don't know what I would do without him. ♥  It wasn't until my third year of Bible college, however, that I gave up several key Christian beliefs for me, including the sinfulness of homosexuality. From then on out, I have increasingly become more outspoken on behalf of LGBTQ rights. To me, this fight is exactly the same as the one Martin Luther King Jr. fought on behalf of African-Americans. LGBTQ rights are human rights.

One question that I would do well in asking someone who is arguing the sinfulness of homosexuality to me is this: Do you actually know someone - a family member, a friend, a co-worker - who is gay? I don't just mean knowing them in passing, but interacting with them on a close level.  Many people have this belief about gay people that has been handed down to them by their families or churches, but have not taken the time to get to know any of them. When I finally "came out" of my shell and got to know more and more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, I realized something: These are some of the most loving and accepting people I have ever met. Maybe it's because they know what it's like to be marginalized or treated like crap, and they wouldn't want to treat anyone else that way.

For many others, like it was for me until my early 20's, it is religion that made me judge gay people. Because of 4 or 5 verses in the entire Bible, many (not all) Christians marginalize those in the LGBTQ community. However, these people do not live out many other things in the Bible, like slavery or killing women and children in battle. I could argue about this for awhile; all I'll say now is that I came to realize that the Bible is not God's word about us (and therefore infallible); rather it is our words about God. What gives a person the right to take something that an opinionated man wrote hundreds of years ago and decide that a whole group of people are incapable and unworthy of loving and being loved, just because of who they are attracted to?

Today I recognize International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia, & Transphobia.

For all the gay youth who are being bullied or afraid of coming out.

For all those who want their love recognized just as any other couple is recognized.

For those who are killed each year just for being who they are.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Saturday, May 11, 2013

We Are The Beloved

"The soul of the soul of the universe is Love." ~ Rumi

When you or I meet someone new, what is the first question that we are asked and often ask in return? "So, what do you do?" As in , what is your job?  For a few years now I have thought that this first question isn't an appropriate one. A more fulfilling and personal answer would come from the question, "What is it that you are passionate about?" Why do I say this?

  1. We are not what we "do" for employment.
  2. We are not what we do in our spare time.
  3. We are not what we can do artistically.
  4. We are not what we can do athletically.
It is so very hard to break out of this mentality when we live in a society that places so much value in how we make our money. It is so hard to break out of this mentality when we see athletes breaking records or artists climbing up the Top 40. Then we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "What the hell have I ever done?"

Instead, a question that needs to be asked by each one of us is "Who am I?" This might bring up a lot of heartache and pain: "I'm a nobody," "I'm a failure," "I've never succeeded at anything and I never will." Most often these are messages that have been within us for a very long time and they've stuck.

But one thing that I have learned (and I admit there are many days when I forget it) is that it is not what we do that defines us, it is who we are. Some people may say that it is the other way around, that "by your fruits you shall know them," and there is some truth to this. But I believe that everything comes back to how we view ourselves and in turn the rest of humanity.

This is what I believe: 
  1. You and I are the Beloved of God (insert Divine, Spirit, Father, Mother, Universe in here if you use different language to describe God). 
  2. Before we were even born, and helpless, we had been stamped with the mark of Love.
  3. There is nothing that can separate us from this love - not a lover or a parent or a friend who told us we were worthless, no act of abuse or bruising word.
  4. This love is not based on any feat we must accomplish. Look at those in our society who are severely handicapped and can seeming "do nothing." Does this make them less valuable? Of course not. Each of us is equally loved.
  5. This love is not based on religion, economic status, race, sex, sexual orientation, or age.
  6. There is nothing that we could do more or less to be recipients of this Love. 
Be easy on yourself. Be kind to your self. Try to take a few moments each day realizing that you are truly, unconditionally loved.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sitting With Your Sadness

"Love your sadness. It gives you a chance to be still with the most tender place of your being. Love gives your sadness the energy it needs to move through you, so you can move on. By loving your sadness, you are respecting your truth. And freedom always follows truth." 
~ Danielle Laporte

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
~ Frederick Buechner

I have been sad lately. Actually, I am very often in a sad place; it has been this way for many years. Yes, part of this is depression, and then our (society's) predilection is toward treatment through therapy and/or medication. Those who know me will know that I am a big supporter - and user - of both therapy and medication if a person needs them for a certain time, maybe even a long time. But lately I have been feeling sad and instead of running to music or TV or the internet in an attempt to crowd it out, I've just been sitting here, noticing it. Yes, there can be a destructive sadness or depression, but I think there is a kind of sadness that is not destructive; rather, sadness, like many other emotions, can remind us that we are alive. Loving our sadness, as Danielle Laporte writes, "gives (us) a chance to be still with the most tender place of (our) being." It may be that in the most vulnerable, fragile times in our lives, that we actually are on the brink of something great - a new understanding, a greater ability to love, a connection with the Divine. The difficult part, though, is to actually just sit there. We automatically think there's something wrong if we feel sad. And then we reach out, yelping like a wounded dog, saying to all those around us who will listen, "Pay attention to me, heal my sadness! Why aren't you healing my sadness?" And then we suffocate them.  It would do better for us to go for a leisurely walk on a trail, or put pen to paper, or talk it out with a very close friend who can handle it. Sadness may also be a sign to slow things down a bit and perhaps to take a different turn in your life, especially if you are unhappy with how things currently are for you. Finally, it is natural for us to see a friend who is sad and try to cheer them up, but it is often better to just take their hand and be present.


Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Canada: A Government In Serious Decay

I am a 35 year old life-long Canadian. I can remember a time in my youth when I would excitedly travel to political events featuring either  then-current Prime Ministers or other party leaders. And I can remember a time, even though they aren't the party of my first choice currently, when I was proud of the government I had and how we were envied around the world.

That era is not just fading, it is plunging like a runaway train into a canyon. And, my friends, it is time to give a damn.

The last couple of weeks have highlighted a series of bungles, ignorance, and bullying that is almost unprecedented ever since the Conservative Party of Canada first took power in 2006. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ability to tightly control the country, not to mention his own party, seems to finally be falling apart.

In a recent case of friendly fire, Conservative MP's such as Michael Chong and Mark Warawa complained to Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer that they were being silenced in the House of Commons because of their controversial views. They argued that, despite their party whip's position, they are elected members and should therefore have the right to speak. Mr. Scheer did the right thing and essentially agreed with them. "The right to seek the floor at any time is the right of each individual Member of Parliament,” he said, “and is not dependent on any other Member of Parliament.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and a motion was put forward in the House of Commons by New Democrat MP Megan Leslie which said the following:
"That this House: (a) agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures; (b) condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and (c) call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.
And what were the results? 179 members of the House, mostly Conservative, but also Liberal and, unbelievably Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, voted nay to said motion.

It should be no surprise that the Conservative government is not dedicated to make any headway on the environment portfolio. Conservative Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently called a leading scientist's views "exaggerated" and said he was "crying wolf."

However, the bad news just got exponentially worse for Canada's government with this week's release of the Auditor-General's report by Michael Ferguson.

If there are two things that many Canadians have thought they could trust the Conservative Party with, they are "money" and "keeping Canadians safe." The AG's Report puts both into serious question. Ferguson found that $3.1-billion in money allocated for anti-terror initiatives has simply vanished. $3.1 billion dollars. Ferguson then said that there a search and rescue service that is nearly at the breaking point because of lack of a federal plan. "(Peter) MacKay said that a request for proposals to replace the 45-year-old Buffalo and 20-year-old Hercules airplanes used in search and rescue missions should be issued this year. But work has been ongoing on this file since 2002, leading to suggestions that this is not a priority for the department of National Defence." (The National Post)

Another section of the AG's damning report criticized the Aboriginal Affairs department for failing to co-operate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a historical record of Indian residential schools. NDP MP Romeo Saganash stood up to note that thousands died in the schools, “including my brother.”

Also, the Auditor General said that "The Public Health Agency has not been leading federal efforts to prevent and control diabetes. Activities remain largely unco-ordinated and their impact is unknown.”

Finally, and astonishingly, it was revealed only days ago that the Conservative government plans on blatantly intruding on collective bargaining within crown corporations such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada Post, and VIA Rail. Under new legislation, a representative of the government would be at the table, and would have final say on any deals.

This is a government that is used to a control and conquer mentality, however now it is cracking and crumbling.  It is time for Canadians to rise up and say a defiant NO.

We have two years until the next federal election, and it is our job to be as vocal as we possibly can. We deserve better government than we have been getting. I will put my partisan hat on for a moment and say that I believe that the Official Opposition New Democratic Party is most worthy to place our confidence in. Its caucus has hard-working dedicated members, and a seasoned leader who has been very vocal in standing up across from Prime Minister Harper in these recent embarrassing times. Meanwhile, "Justin Trudeau, the new Liberal leader, chose to all but ignore the (Auditor-General's) report, sticking to the increases in tariffs announced in the budget. It represented a missed opportunity for the Liberals." (The National Post)
While the NDP is my choice for good governance, they also have work to do to earn the trust of more voters, particularly in places like Saskatchewan, its birthplace..

In conclusion, these are sad times to be a Canadian reflecting on its government. Canada no longer possesses a government that is the envy of nations. We must change this in 2015.

Mark Andrew Nouwen