A Challenging Intersection of Passover, Easter and #CanadaSummerJobs

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"This Good Friday 2018 I decided to reflect on some events of Holy Week in writing. It’s been a unique Holy Week. Passover and Easter coincide this year. And, it seems our federal government is determined to keep the Canada Summer Jobs story alive, having carried it forward into mid-week, before our Prime Minister tweeted “best wishes” to Christians today.

Here’s our brief Good Friday interaction:

Justin Trudeau @JustinTrudeau : On Good Friday, I send my best wishes to Christians around the world gathering to reflect and pray on the blessings we share. Wishing you a peaceful and meaningful day.

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : Praying for you @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau, even as we seek constitutionally guaranteed equal treatment from your government. It would mean much more to us than ‘best wishes.’ #CanadaSummerJobs #CharterOfRightsAndFreedoms #ReligiousFreedom #EqualityRights #Diversity #inclusion

Of course, it’s not the Prime Minister’s tweet or my reply that brought the story into this week but the announcement made by Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu following her meeting with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The Minister acknowledged there is a problem with the attestation clause, and said she is prepared to review it prior to Canada Summer Jobs 2019.

That’s right. The government recognizes a problem exists today. The list of applicants for 2018 has not been finalized. No decision has been made about grant recipients. But the Minister and Prime Minister are not prepared to take the simple corrective action required now. Maybe next year?

Here was my twitter response to the announcement:

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : @PattyHajdu it would be simple enough to modify #CanadaSummerJobs #attestation now and open applications for a ten day period. Kids, refugees, homeless and students aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule. How about it @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau ?

It’s not complicated. That said, the Prime Minister and his Minister have said an unequivocal “no” to respecting the religious beliefs of past recipients and potential new applicants, leaving Christian ministries from coast-to-coast-to-coast responsible to determine next steps if they are in this summer of 2018 to serve the children, those with and without disabilities, the financially struggling, those with and without homes, and the students relying on summer employment to help fund their education.

Rather than comment on the dangers of the Church’s dependence on government funding (the risks and cautions are described in chapters 14 and 25 of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)), here are a few words on how we the Church – for the Church is the people who comprise the Body of Christ, not a building or collection of buildings large and small – are called to respond to the needs of … the Church.

First, we pray. We pray intelligently, knowing that there is a need and what that need is. We ask God, with whom prayer is conversation, about our part in responding to that need. He may well encourage us, individually and/or congregationally, to do something in addition to prayer.

That brings me to Passover and Easter. The two also coincided in the year that Jesus was crucified.

The night before the Feast of Passover was to begin was the same night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Before that late night betrayal took place, Jesus made arrangements to partake in what He knew would be a last supper with His closest followers. During the private dinner, Jesus shared with His disciples through example, washing their feet as their Servant, through discourse, communicating what the events that would unfold over the next few days would mean for their future, and in prayer, a prayer for unity among those at the table and for all of us who believe because of the historic record of His life and their testimony. You can read the true story for yourself in the Gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17.

Jesus knew that His prayer for unity was not a call for uniformity, either uniformity within the Body of Christ today – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant – or with the diverse twelve around the table with Him.

Jesus knew it would only be after His resurrection that His disciples would understand the significance of His example and His heart-to-heart exchange with them.

And, Jesus knew that, in time, we would be the beneficiaries of what was chronicled from that evening.

Without discounting the two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with all we are and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, Jesus added a third for those of us who follow Him.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)

The writers of the New Testament extended repeated challenges to us about how to love one another. They did so writing to a Church that had not yet found favour with the government of Rome and was out of favour with the governors of Jerusalem.

We tend to read New Testament comments on “love one another” as applicable to the second command, to love our neighbours as ourselves, when they were recorded as practical application of the third command, to love our brothers and sisters in the Church. The third might even be regarded as instruction on the “love ourselves” part of the second.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:4-13, ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26, ESV)

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, ESV)

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV)

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27, NLT)

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. … By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:14, 16-18, ESV)

When we consider Jesus’ new commandment, the message of the New Testament authors is compelling for you and me today when Christian ministries that serve other Christians and/or serve people in need find themselves to be in need. Those ministries are part of the Church, as are we. It’s time for us in the Church to assess what we can do to supplant the absent federal funding that was vital to the congregational and para-congregational ministries expressing the heart to serve “kids, refugees, homeless and students [who] aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule.”

I don’t know what I don’t know – how about you?

“For people who don’t know, they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know.” My pastor said this on Sunday. I know he will appreciate that it’s not the only thing I remember from his message. But that sentence stood out because of some recent commentary I’ve read online from Canadian Christian leaders.

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There have been some seriously off-the-mark statements made about the state of religious freedom in Canada, the federal government, a few provincial governments, and the response “demanded” of Christians.

Please consider the following as measured advice; my understanding of what is demanded of us.

First, the response demanded of Christians begins with prayer. There’s no way around it. Jesus said it. Peter repeated it. Paul wrote about it. Luke recorded it in both of his books. Here’s a concise summary written by James:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. (James 5:13 NIV)

Start with prayer.

Pray for understanding. Pray for government leaders. Pray for the God of all creation to intervene. Pray to know what God wants you or me to do, if anything, in addition to prayer.

The second response demanded of Christians is to conform our behaviour, including our comments, to the pattern found in Scripture. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book In the Name of Jesus:

Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance.

Prayer and biblical insight go hand-in-hand.

Drawing from Nouwen’s first sentence above, the third response demanded of Christians is to “have well-informed opinions.” There’s a lot of stuff circulating on the internet, and sometimes we post things on social media that we think are (or maybe just might be) true, but we don’t really know. If we don’t know, it’s probably best not to post. Even if we saw it in a trusted friend’s tweet, if we don’t know and have confidence in the reliability of the initial source, we actually don’t know, and it’s best not to post, retweet or quote tweet.

What I have read online suggests there are drastic misperceptions about the Canadian situation. They are being widely shared by a number of leaders in the Canadian Church. Among those misperceptions are misunderstandings (and thus, misstatements) about the extent of our religious freedom in Canada. As stated in Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017):

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… we need to be prepared in our relationship with Christ, and the nation in which we live, to stand publicly in our faith as witnesses to Him whom we live for. One key to that preparation is engaging fully our commitment to Christ, His Church, and His Word (the Bible). Another is being accurately aware of how Canadian courts are defining what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to as the “fundamental freedom” of freedom of religion.

One of the many things I appreciate about my pastor is the knowledgeable simplicity of his biblical teaching. Some preachers complicate the understanding of Scripture. My pastor makes it straightforward and down-to-earth. Of course, with understanding comes the challenge of meaningful and genuine life application. He explains that simply, too.

That’s the manner in which I wrote Under Siege. As someone who has been a pastor and focused on constitutional freedom of religion as a lawyer, the book is written for pastors and pew-sitters, all of us Christ-followers together. The uniquely Canadian context is established through a brief look at relevant history, a little political insight, and key decisions of Canadian courts on Canadian religious freedom. The application of that content to our current situation is then set in the framework of Scripture and contemporary culture.

As I cringed my way through some of the last month and a bit’s commentary on the church-state relationship in Canada, what repeatedly came to mind were various chapters and thoughts in Under Siege that would have been helpful to those authors, whether writing 140 characters, 140 words or more.

As awkward as I find it to recommend my own book, it would be more awkward if I didn’t trust that I could.

I know a journalist who keeps Under Siege by his desk as a reference book. A lawyer informed me that he gained an appreciation of the overarching context for religious freedom that he had not previously grasped. A pastor who moved to Canada from Nigeria suggested the book should be required reading in Canadian seminaries and for immigrating pastors. One amazon reviewer noted the book is written “in a way that makes the subject easy to understand and fascinating.”

You can assess for yourself. Take a look inside the Kindle edition at amazon.ca. If you’re looking for paperback, there are fewer than 140 of the special Canada 150 logo edition covers left in stock at donhutchinson.ca. There may also be some left at Chapters/Indigo and local Christian booksellers. These were produced under limited license from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. The second printing does not have the Canada 150 imprint on the cover (although the content is just as good!).

Here’s what my pastor had to say about Under Siege.

In Under Siege Don has written an outstanding resource driven book which outlines not only our religious freedoms in Canada, and how our culture has arrived at this point, but how we might best engage today. Under Siege is recommended reading for all followers of Jesus, not just leaders.
– Jason Boucher, Lead Pastor, Lifecentre, Ottawa

You can read what others have said here. And you can check out some of the media reviews and interviews here. Thank you to those of you who have benefited from securing a copy of Under Siege. Let your friends and colleagues know this book is a useful and timely resource for today’s Canadian Church.

We still may not know what we don’t know. But about this, now you know.

Canada Summer Jobs: headed to a courtroom near you?

These have been an interesting seven days for those with interest in Canadian religious freedom. Two important decisions in regard to violations of religious freedom demonstrated that decision-makers are not necessarily listening. A third suggests, it is possible.

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Hope – adventus as Jürgen Moltmann referred to it, the need for something new to come from outside to change the situation, like the advent of Christ, the Hope of the World – was high that the Canadian government would hear the united voices of over eighty religious leaders and thousands of calls, emails and letters to Members of Parliament, Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about problems with changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program that bar participation for many religious organizations.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister posted photos of himself observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Surely he would hear the pleas of Canadian rabbis in regard to CSJ. Any concern for the marginalization and exclusion of an identifiable group of religious Canadians, including Jews, precipitated by the CSJ attestation requirement did not, apparently, change his mind.

Two days later, the Prime Minister attended the ceremony observing the first anniversary of the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy where six Muslim men were killed and nineteen seriously injured while participating in worship. Surely the Prime Minister would listen to the pleas of Canadian imams in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? Not yet.

The next day, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. The day after that, he issued a statement celebrating Black History Month. The significant and continuing contribution of Christian black leaders, including congregations and ministries that have a history of accessing CSJ funding to benefit vulnerable communities must have come to mind. Perhaps, he would hear these leaders in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? He did not.

Having committed to be in the House of Commons for Question Period each Wednesday when Parliament is sitting, it was reasonably anticipated we would that day get answers from the Prime Minister to the questions with which Canadians have inundated Members of Parliament since the CSJ announcement in December. This week, however, the first week Parliament is sitting after the government’s announcement of the revised CSJ attestation clause, Prime Minister Trudeau opted instead to leave Ottawa following his morning caucus meeting, skip Question Period, and fly to Winnipeg for a town hall Q&A at the University of Manitoba.

The response of Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau to the repeated efforts of Canadian religious leaders, from across the spectrum of faith communities, has been to repeat government talking points, like the tourist speaking slowly, louder and more assertively in a foreign land, as if religious leaders did not understand them the first time. Core mandate and student hiring conditions as defined in the new for 2018 requirements from the federal government for CSJ funding insist religious leaders and communities must compromise their beliefs, surrender the constitutional right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion,’ and relinquish the right granted under provincial human rights legislation to observe religious beliefs and practices in the hiring of co-religionists, even summer students, for their work.

Each summer, many CSJ summer students have worked with religious charities to serve, among others, the needs of those with disabilities, or identified as underprivileged, or the most in need and at risk in our society. Without question, they have also provided services that benefit co-religionists, equally Canadians.

The mandated checkmark may have seemed innocuous to government officials, but the response of religious leaders made it clear the attestation statement to which that checkmark is affixed was a demand to betray their beliefs. In addition to calls, letters and emails, the concern was expressed at town hall after town hall. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response at those town hall gatherings suggest he is more concerned about talking than listening.

Thursday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its report Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia, in which it recommended consultation with religious organizations on government action that affects them. (There is some good stuff in the report, for a later blog. There are Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs who consider listening to religious perspectives by government to be both possible and beneficial.) On the matter of Canada Summer Jobs funding, such consultation might have prevented the current predicament. Actively listening to after-the-fact communications from religious leaders and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast would also have led to a solution.

The last time I was as disenchanted by government refusal to hear legitimate concerns about taking action that will have damaging impact on employment opportunities and services for Canadians living on the vulnerable edge of our society was the previous government’s decision to cancel the national census. The Canadian census is internationally recognized as one of the most accurate. It is valuable to government at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards), charities and businesses for their program and financial planning. The people most impacted by the cancelled census were those who became the invisible disadvantaged, because they did not show up on the national household survey. The same holds true for those who will lose out on the benefits of summer jobs and the programs conducted by summer student employees across the country. Many are students on the edge of being able to pay for their education. Others are those living on the edge of poverty who will lose the option of supervised activity for their children during school vacation, and those caring for special needs children who will lose the one or two weeks of respite provided by summer camps or a few hours each day provided by local church-run day camps.

While the clock ticked down to the Friday midnight (Pacific Time) deadline for CSJ applications, Minister Hajdu offered her own form of compromise. To those asking for a change in the attestation clause and an extension for application, she conceded a one-week extension, but kept the clause. Is there still hope that the many voices, and more voices, might be heard over the next week and the necessary adjustment take place?

Hope had also been high that three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court would sort out the law, accurately apply the Charter, and protect physicians from being forced to choose between violating their consciences or leaving their current medical practices. Thursday, in its decision, The Divisional Court concluded the beliefs of physicians were indeed violated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy requiring all practicing physicians in the province to participate in ending-life medical procedures. But, the court also found it justifiable to require this standard as a condition of patient care in the province. (Yes, patient care was defined to include intentionally ending the patient’s life.) Ontario is the only province refusing to accommodate physician’s personal beliefs on this matter.

Unchallenged, the decisions of government and court will mean those in greatest need will be those who suffer most.

The shortage of summer opportunities for those in need – whether student employees or student clients – means the vulnerable, perhaps the most vulnerable, will pay the cost Canada’s government has so far declined to fund because of an ideological transformation of a previously non-discriminatory successful program.

The violation of physicians’ beliefs will result in a different kind of shortage. Doctors have said they will retire or move on from meaningful work that was, for them, always about healing, easing pain, and saving lives.

If either or both decisions are to be contested further in the courts – the guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it were– there will be a different cost. The litigation process is expensive.

If you believe these freedoms are deserving of continuing protection, i.e. equal treatment of all applying for summer employment grants (of our money from our government) and recognition of the conscience rights of those who have taken an oath to do no harm, then you will want to follow the status of these situations. In addition to prayer and writing your MP about the CSJ, or your Member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly about the policy of the government regulatory College of Physicians, you may also want to make an encouraging financial contribution to those fighting the fight for continued recognition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion.

However these situations turn out, hope – adventus – is not sacrificed at the feet of Prime Minister or Divisional Court. We do need to keep praying for our Prime Minister, government leaders and the judges of our courts; appealing to Him who is our Hope, with confidence He is, in truth, the Hope of the world.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what the lawyer in Ontario’s physician rights case, Albertos Polizogopoulos, had to say about the book:

As a lawyer whose practice is largely focussed on religious freedom litigation, I read about the issues and cases referred to in Under Siegeon a regular basis. Don Hutchinson has been able to present a legal and political history of religious freedom in Canada in a manner that is not only easy to follow and understand, but also personal and engaging. It is written for lawyer or layperson and is equally accessible.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

For Christians Only: About the Canada Summer Jobs Program

I know. I know. Another piece about the Canada Summer Jobs program. But this one’s different. This one is just for Christ-followers.

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Are you praying?

Are you praying for our Prime Minister, his cabinet, our government?

Mainstream media – the major television, radio and newspaper outlets – across the country have expressed a common opinion. Even Canada’s leading pro-abortion activist has publicly expressed her opinion that the government needs to change the now infamous attestation clause. Is there more to what’s happening?

St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us in chapter 6, verse 12 that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Call me crazy, but this is about more than the nation learning what the word attestation means.

Stick with me.

Last November, Christian leaders from coast-to-coast-to-coast called the nation to prayer in regard to the Trinity Western University law school cases (Ontario and British Columbia) that were presented before the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 and December 1, 2017. And, people were asked to keep praying until a decision is released. Here’s a part of that prayer request as I noted last November,

… representatives from TWU have asked for prayer that there will be a healing of the hurts revealed through this process. The request is particularly that the dialogue between all people who live together in the shared free and democratic society of Canada might continue with respect and acceptance, even when there is not agreement.

Have you ever prayed about one thing and realized your prayer was impacting something else?

As Christians in Canada have shared in the prayer highlighted above, we have engaged a request for broader dialogue than the accreditation of a law school.

Step back from the politics of the Canada Summer Jobs situation for a moment. Ask yourself why self-described atheist and feminist Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, has asked Prime Minister Trudeau to make the correction that would enable faith groups to apply for funding without being asked to compromise the holistic claims of their religious beliefs?

The Canada Summer Jobs fiasco has resulted in the media – politically left, right and centre – giving more national coverage to the true nature of Canada’s abortion situation than the best organized pro-life group could ever have imagined. CBC, CTV, Global, National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and more have all run pieces written by people who cover the political spectrum in which they have shared that the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Morgentaler did not establish a right to abortion in Canada. Canadians have been informed that because Canada has no law providing protection to the child in the womb at any stage of gestation, our nation is the only outlier on this issue among the world’s democracies. The media has reminded Canadians abortion remains an active political issue.

In addition, the mainstream media has championed the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression (speech), found in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians from across the country are phoning, emailing and writing letters to their Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Trudeau.

This is amazing! Keep praying!

As Paul wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

And keep contacting parliamentarians. The application process is open until February 2.

Here are some excerpts from the letter I sent to my MP and the PM:

First, please be assured that I am praying for you, your family and the Government of Canada. Leadership of our nation is an immense responsibility.

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

… Both sides in this conversation seem convinced what they’re saying is reasonable and clear. However, as noted above, neither is being heard as such. Repeating the same words, a little slower and a little louder, will not resolve the situation. Movement is required. Under Canada’s constitution, that movement appears to be required of government, not the potential applicants.

A failure to correct the situation will result in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of agencies that depend on CSJ funding not receiving funding they rely on to serve the most underprivileged in our society, as well as those in the middle class. Countless community service programs from coast-to-coast-to-coast may be cancelled as a result, with the least privileged in our society suffering the most. It will likely also result in freedom of information requests in regard to CSJ funding recipients, continuing media coverage, and litigation. Many organizations have expressed a willingness to fight for the equal treatment that journalists, religious leaders, and lawyers have now publicly assured is guaranteed them in our “free and democratic society” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Please do not take our nation down this divisive path.

Please make provision for religious organizations to have a means of application for CSJ funding without requiring them to compromise their beliefs.

There is a saying that often “when we mix politics with religion, we get politics.” Let’s keep our religion faithful. And remember – like St. Paul whose appeal to his Roman citizenship was for fair treatment, equal to any other citizen – the rights of our citizenship are to be exercised for God’s glory, not political gain.

John Stackhouse has written this concise reminder for us:

The most important message we have to tell, of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, however, is nested within the great Story of all that God has done and said, and all that God wants for us. So we have much to say, of different sorts in the public sphere today. (Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, page 183)

I couldn’t have said it better.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what Preston Manning had to say about the book:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

Christmas Time is Here

My childhood memories of Christmas include well-decorated trees, wonderful gifts, turkey and trimmings with  immediate family at the dining room table (with good dishes and silverware), and large family gatherings on Boxing Day. And, my heart was captured by “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

When I hear the music from Christmas Time is Here, with or without Vince Guaraldi’s lyrics, those fond memories from childhood arise.

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

My favourite people were other children. Early on, my cousins, whose company was scheduled for a full Boxing Day celebration, and gradually drifting closer to neighbours along Birkdale Road and friends from school. Maybe because my busy single Mum was working and had three children under her roof; my sisters being eight and ten years older had friends of their own and little time for baby brother. Or maybe it was just normal for a child to find his happiness in the company of other children.

My Mum worked for the Coca-Cola Company, creating another connection with the Charlie Brown Christmas special which Coca-Cola produced. There is much in life for which I am grateful to the Coca-Cola Company.

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Carols everywhere. I now know that Christmas carols are not the same as twentieth century songs of Santa Claus and snowflakes in the air, but are in fact those ancient rhymes of love. Away in a Manger. Angels We Have Heard on High. O Little Town of Bethlehem. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Silent Night.

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

The Western imagination has been captivated by thoughts conjured up by dreaming of a White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire, Jingle Bells ringing while riding in a one-horse open sleigh or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer making sure Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Even in tiny apartments without chimneys, the mind drifts to yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there.

Growing up, we sang both carols and songs in school choirs or impromptu gatherings throughout December. I knew more about the Santa tale than the Christmas story, but was struck each year when Linus answered Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Although that was the sum knowledge of what I knew about the Christmas story, at twenty-one I realized it is in fact the heart of what Christmas is all about. The trees and gifts have meaning. Turkey and trimmings with family and friends have meaning. The memories created are special. The truth shared by Linus, found in Luke chapter 2, verses 8 to 14, is what Christmas is all about.

There is no Christmas without Christ. No matter how much effort is put into creating sentimental images of which we may catch glimpses in moments of real-life celebration, there is something missing from Christmas if there is no Christ.

It may be old-fashioned to watch the news on television, but I do. In the days leading up to December 25 there seems consistently to be an increase in reporting of good news stories. They tend to echo the theme of Vince Guaraldi’s final verse:

Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

The spirit of Christmas is not in chasing shadows from Christmas past or imagined. It’s not attained in the efforts of men, women and children filling bags in shopping malls or dropping change into plastic bubbles on stands by the door as they exit. The spirit of Christmas is not even sealed by the aroma of turkey roasting and cinnamon-apple pie baking while the table is being set.

The spirit of Christmas is more than that. It’s more than memories, or moments of invention captured in song. The spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ, present because the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger grew to be a man who gave His life on a blood-stained cross, then three days later rose from the dead.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas captured the tension found in an idealized vision of celebration sought after by Canadian – perhaps more broadly, North American or even Western – culture. But, the spirit of Christmas is not a flawless image that evokes the challenge to capture it. Charlie Brown, it’s not about the perfect Christmas tree.

The spirit of Christmas is found in the message that offers hope to the world; hope that God who created, God who knows the state of our flawed and broken humanity, has made a way for us to know His presence, His encouragement, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.