Monthly Archives: June 2017

Should we apologize for the sins of the past?


No according to those who advocate the “hermeneutic” of discontinuity with the past. Hermeneutic refers to the lens by which we see, interpret and understand the world.  Those who adhere to this discontinuity interpret the wisdom and actions of previous generations as flawed, erroneous and naive and so forth.  By this logic, the sins of previous generations are theirs and theirs alone.

But, according to the 2013 apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to former students of Indian Residential Schools, it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and seek to “take the Indian out of the child.”

Our colonizing ancestors thought they were doing what God wanted them to do.  Namely, bring Christianity and civilization to the indigenous peoples of Canada.  They  were naive but had the best of intentions.  They were not equipped to deal fairly with the indigenous peoples that Columbus had discovered for Spain and Pedro Cabral had discovered for Portugal.  Their society lacked the sensitivities and tools needed.  The Residential Schools should never have existed, period.  So if there is discontinuity with the past, why should we apologize today?

Because we all have sinned too.  Romans 5:12-14:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

We see and interpret the facts of the past – history – through our own personal, cultural and racial lens.  Consequently there are an infinite number of views.  For example the native child who was removed from an alcoholic and abusive family situation who now feels that the Residential school saved her life.  The strong Catholic faith of the Algonquin Nation which they know and cherish.

Today in Canada since we see the past through much more inclusive lens, we may be reluctant to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada as reported by the NYT.  However there is indeed something to celebrate here – our willingness to say we are sorry.








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My Friend Nassr


Staring in 2002 I worked in the HR department of Industry Canada.  We were responsible for workforce demographic analysis and forecasting.  We produced glossy annual reports that the Deputy Minister enjoyed reading.  It was there that I met Nassr Al-Maflehi (pronounced al-maflayhee).

Nassr was a statistician by training and the heart of our little analytical group.  He was from Yemen and his mother still lived in Sanaa, the capital  He was anxious to apply his knowledge to improve employee departure forecasting based on probability theories that he had studied in the U.S.  He was anxious to raise his family who were in Ottawa and to continue his education at the post graduate level.

We spent many hours discussing statistical theory with Nassr trying to explain it all to me.  He helped everyone in our group and our clients in the same way with his kindness and eagerness to share his skills and knowledge.  He was a very positive person that everyone loved.

He was muslim as were 1 or 2 others in our group.  I had worked with Muslims before and was very impressed with their integrity, friendliness, knowledge and good nature.  Nassr asked me for a recommendation to help him get into a PhD program at Carleton.  I gladly did and I believe that he was ultimately accepted.

Another time we had a golf day at work.  He had never played before.  I remember everyone trying to coach Nassr how to swing the club.  With much perserverance, towards the end he started to hit the ball well and we were all amazed.

He invited Marie and I to dinner at his modest house.  We had a delightful time sampling the delicious foods that he and his wife had selected and prepared.  As we left that night he gave me a gift of a Yemen ceremonial dagger called a jambia.  I did not know what to do other than accept it.  To this day I have no idea if it was a precious family heirloom he gave me or a typical gift that people of Yemen exchange.  I treasure it to this day.


Another time, his uncle from Saudi Arabia came to visit.  Nassr invited my boss and I out for dinner.  We thought this was very generous and thouroughly enjoyed the evening.  However at one point Nassr’s uncle started to insist that we come to Saudi Arabia for a visit and that he would pay for everything.  We felt uncomfortable and politely but firmly declined.

It was shortly after this that Nassr announced that he was moving to Saudi Arabia for a new job at King Saud University and to be nearer his aging mother.  We were all sad to see him go.  There was a luncheon, hugs and tears as he wished us well and we said our goodbyes.  Since than Nassr has gone on to become a professor and teaches biostatistics in the field of dentistry in Riyadh.  I am not surprised at his success.

Hopefully we will see you again Nassr.  Thanks for the wonderful memories and the important lesson that we are all brothers and sisters.


Saying goodbye to Nassr


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“When she poured the perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matt 12:12-13


In 2013 Marie and I visited a small town just east of Marseille, FR called Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.  Our purpose was to explore the grotto of Mary Magdalene.

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery, 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and St Maximin.


The legend goes that after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and Maximin, (one of the seventy disciples mentioned in Luke 10: 1-24) left the Holy Land by boat to escape persecution.  They landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer further west near Arles, FR.  Mary Magdalene went to Marseille to convert the local people and then retired to a cave in the St. Baume mountains.  She was buried in St. Maximin where her relics are reputed to be.  (Other reputed resting places for her relics are in Vezelay, FR and Ephesus, TR.)

We hiked up a steep path and made our way into an underground grotto buried in the mountain.  There was an altar, statues and water dripping down.  If this is where Mary Magdalene finished her life it was certainly not very fancy.




The panoramic view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.  We slowly returned down the path stopping to chat with a friend along the way.



We retired to Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer for dinner and caught the Fête Votive Camargue parade going right by our table.  We felt very nourished by the history, beauty and reverence of this pilgrimage outing.  France is a gorgeous place to visit anytime.  For the detailed account of the Marys that came here and how the story has changed over the years, click here.



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Missionary Methods

It is interesting to revisit methods used by Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries as they spread the good news message of  Jesus Christ to indigenous peoples.
Here we are not pointing out abuse scandals that have been exposed for example in the Canadian Residential School program.  Rather, about cultural and colonial superiority and absence of respect for local religious traditions that were evident in the way the Christian faith was propagated in this era.
Lesotho is a landlocked ‎kingdom encircled by South Africa. In the 19th century it was besieged by and welcomed Protestant and Catholic missionaries. One of the Catholic missionaries was Blessed Joseph Gerard, OMI (Oblate of Mary Immaculate). He sought to save the souls of the indigenous Basotho people by using the techniques of the day.
Today we talk about enculturation – adapting the message, rules and practices of Christianity so a local culture can see parallels with their own beliefs.  ‎This can work surprisingly well as the recent Book of Mormon play so aptly taught us.
In a candid and frank assessment, Fr. Bernhard Albers, OMI tells the story of Blessed Joseph Garrard’s strengths and weaknesses in his missionary work in Lesotho.  This article made me both laugh and cry.  It also reinforced for me that something really is happening here – the very successful work of the Holy Spirit.
A great read here‎.


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