Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Moral leadership and Advent hope

I’ve been out of the country this week fulfilling a leadership commitment to the North American Ecumenical Stewardship Center, made long before becoming Moderator. It sometimes seems easier to get a perspective on Canada from a distance, and at table with those of other nations. This week two remarkable yet paradoxical views on our country have emerged from where I sit: On the one hand, Canadians are seen showing remarkable moral leadership in response to the challenge of climate change, and on the other hand, the Canadian government is seen to be withdrawing support from those who are among the strongest of these leaders.

It reminds me of Desmond Tutu when he appeared as a guest on the popular TV program The Daily Show. In the midst of a national U.S. election, Tutu told the host, Jon Stewart, that Americans were known around the world as among the most generous, intelligent, and compassionate people anywhere—and that they deserved a government that would support and represent their qualities well.

Canadian church members and ministers are showing strong moral leadership on climate change, as evidenced in part through countless expressions of care and support I’m receiving for our church leaders’ presence at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change talks in Copenhagen.

Here are just two examples of the steady stream of e-mails I’ve been receiving this week in support of our United Church involvement in these talks:

As a sign of our commitment to carbon reduction, Barbara and I have signed an agreement to put a 2 kW solar system on our roof. We continue to wait for approvals, and with the other decisions we have made over the past couple of years I have come to realize that it is possible to make a difference.

At Elora UC we are active in preparing for the conference. Many of us have written letters and made phone calls or signed a petition. More than 20 of us have made a commitment to fast for one day during the conference to show our concern and support for delegates and our hopes for meaningful results. Also in support of Bill Phipps as he spends the week fasting. We are joining with our Anglican community in the bell ringing on Dec. 13th, and the momentum is mounting. Perhaps a candlelight vigil too.

Yet mid-week came the shocking news that the Government of Canada has decided to cut funding to KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, funding that’s been provided since 1973.

KAIROS, a church-based non-governmental organization, represents seven of Canada’s largest denominations, including The United Church of Canada. It works with global partners on a range of social justice issues, including human rights in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The government’s decision, if not reversed, will cut funds to 21 ecumenical and citizens’ organizations in Latin America, Africa, Asia, 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. I was grateful for the General Secretary’s quick action expressing our concern.

KAIROS is also giving extraordinary leadership in the area of ecological justice related to climate change. It has spoken out about the dangers of the Tar Sands, for instance. In the absence of any explanation for our government’s decision, one wonders if there’s a connection here.

I also wonder what it would mean to trust that the Canadian government does care as much as we do about the devastating effects of climate change on peoples around the world—on food supply, on housing, on health, and more. Like many of you, I will be contacting my Member of Parliament to learn more about his care for these things and how he intends to represent Canadians’ care for such things.

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.…” And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:37–40)

What does it mean today, as our planet and humanity ache together, to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my neighbour as myself?

It means changing many things in my life: how I pray, how I eat, how I travel, how I remain engaged in my community, and how I talk with my Member of Parliament so that I may reduce my harm and threat to air, waters, lands, and peoples, near and far. It also means living in Advent hope that our government leaders can and will represent the best of Canadian moral leadership. It means travelling the difficult road to Bethlehem together, with the expectation that something amazing is possible.

What does it mean to you, as our planet aches, to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbour as yourself?

P.S.: I’ll be blogging daily from December 6th to 18th—assuming all goes well with Internet connection when I’m in Copenhagen December 12th to 18th.