Monthly Archives: May 2012

Corporations are People

I listened this evening to part of CBC’s story about the $18 billion dollar judgement for pollution in Ecuador that Chevron is still fighting.

As a representative of the indigenous Ecuadorans discussed the lack of environmental controls in place at the time, and the huge legal challenges that they had had to go through to even get the case heard, it struck me that perhaps one of our problems is that we forget that corporations are people.

Not in the sense of Corporate Personhood, but that every enterprise, organisation, business or corporation is made up of individual human beings.  ‘Chevron’ may be refusing to take responsibility for the ecological disaster it has created, but this is merely the aggregate behavior of a group of individual employees.  Forty years ago real, living, breathing people decided that an Ecuador drilling operation didn’t need the same environmental safeguards that would be required in North America.  Today, real, living, breathing human beings will get up, eat breakfast, and then go to work on drafting legal arguments explaining why no further effort needs to be made to clean up the mess created by the dumping of 18 billion gallons of oil-contaminated water.

The ‘limited liability’ nature of the modern corporation may well legally protect shareholders and executives from unlimited prosecution, but it cannot protect them morally from culpability for their actions.

Rather than just talk about Chevron, or any number of other ethically-challenged corporations, perhaps we should talk about the real human beings who made and are still making the decision to treat the lives and livelihoods of those around them with contempt.


Efficient Team Building – How Not to Do It.

As I travel around the city of Barrie and witness her different expressions of Christian community, I can’t help but think occasionally about the strange group of followers that Jesus gathered around himself.

You might think, especially if you read a lot of books on ‘leadership’, that Jesus would have had a certain type of person in mind to carry out his mission and vision.  Someone who could take orders, but also take initiative, someone passionately devoted to his cause, a quick learner but but also a willing subordinate.  And with this ideal in mind, he might have recruited a number of like-minded people who would quickly learn the roles he had in mind for them.

Strangely, Jesus chose to do something completely different.

We are told in Mark 3 that Jesus hand-picked twelve followers from the large crowds that were flocking to his message. So, given that he had far more candidates available than positions to fill, why on earth did he choose such a strange, conflicted bunch?

Let’s consider the political situation at the time.  Jesus spent most of his life in ‘occupied territory.’   The situation in 1st century Palestine might seem very familiar to an inhabitant, say, of apartheid-era South Africa, or Soviet-occupied East Germany, or even present day occupied Palestinian territories.

The Jewish nation he grew up in had negotiated an uneasy peace with her Roman overlords, but the threat of violent oppression always remained.   Just like in occupied France during the Second World War,  different groups responded differently.

The Zealots, for example, advocated violent overthrow of the unwanted invaders.  Some might call them freedom fighters, others would call them terrorists.   The Sadducees, on the other hand,  were consummate politicians.  They obtained positions of power under the new regime, ran government departments on behalf of the empire,  as well as being responsible for the religious life of the country.

Another group, the Pharisees were more separatist in nature, focussing on maintaining ideological purity against external threats.  And finally the Essenes were a kind of monastic movement, choosing to focus inwards on communal, ascetic, living.

And into this complex, politically charged environment, Jesus started to talk about a new king, a new empire, a new way of life.  And to spread his message, he recruited a ‘team’ consisting of some very weird characters indeed.

There was Simon Peter, the laborer.   A leader, a hothead, just as quick to rush into situations as he was to desperately try to extricate himself from them when they got difficult.

Alongside him was his brother Andrew.  Very different in temperament, he was a devout spiritual seeker and evangelist.

Another contrasting pair of brothers was also recruited.   James, the fanatic, the troublemaker and eventual martyr; and his brother John, who devoted his life’s energies to calling the fledgling Christian community to live in love and harmony.

Yet more contrasts: we see James and Jude, traditional Jewish names, but also Philip, a Greek name, and someone who is recorded as connecting the Greek community to Jesus.  A mediator, perhaps, who could stand up for the needs of a minority community.

In Nathaniel, we see a devout, observant Jew.  In Thomas, we meet a fatalist and a skeptic, and yet also someone who, once he found the proof he needed of Christ’s claims, would travel further than any of his contemporaries to spread the message.

Stirring things up even more, Jesus saw fit to recruit Simon the ‘Zealot.’

Today, he’d either be known as ‘Simon the Patriot’ or ‘Simon the Terrorist’, depending on how you viewed the Roman occupation.   One person who would definitely use the latter term would be another recruit, Matthew.

Matthew, the tax collector.  Matthew, the tool of the occupation.  Matthew the collaborator.  The guy who had made a tidy profit from working hand in hand with the military force that Simon had dedicated his life to overthrowing.

I’m sure Simon and Matthew had very intense conversations around the campfire at night.  Maybe Jesus had a sufficiently mischievous streak to send them out together when he assigned the disciples to work in pairs?

And then, finally, Jesus recruited his team’s accountant.

Judas Iscariot.

It’s very clear that Jesus never read a book on management theory.

Whatever he was looking for in followers, it clearly wasn’t bland uniformity.

Church 31 – St. Andrew’s Presbyterian

Last week I got to visit St. Andrew’s church, located in the heart of Barrie at Owen and Worsley. I was glad to visit the day they were celebrating “Healing and Reconciliation Sunday.”

Reconciliation is a concept that is very close to my heart.  It’s hard to  work your way around the churches of Barrie without realizing that there are some deep divisions on the family of God.   Some of these are recent rifts,  and some are centuries old conflicts that successive waves of immigrants have brought with them from the Old World.  Very often I’ll encounter groups who define themselves not so much by who they are, but by who they are not.

So it’s fitting to have a day set aside to think about reconciliation.  This is, after all, at the heart of the gospel we claim to follow: reconciliation between God and humanity, but also between fractured groups and individuals.   In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul reminds us that God has both reconciled us to himself, but also given us a ministry of reconciliation.  In 1 Corinthians 13, he highlights the primacy of love – something that has greater importance than any knowledge, gift or ability.   These and other verses framed the discussion of reconciliation presented at St. Andrew’s last week.

This was not purely a theoretical discussion.   The speaker admitted that the Presbyterian Church had suffered deep divisions in its recent past.  In 1925 the denomination split apart, with 60% joining the newly formed United church.  Congregations, missions, colleges and residential schools had to decide on which side of the divide they would belong. The speaker also took the opportunity to delve fearlessly into the church’s recent history with the residential school system.  This is obviously a large topic, and one which as a newcomer to Canada I’m still learning about.  It was good to hear the church recognize that in choosing to become an instrument of government policy in ‘civilizing’ aboriginal people, she had lost sight of her calling to love, understand and cherish the communities in which she worked.  It was also encouraging to hear about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, and the various attempts that are being made to bring healing to past hurts.

I didn’t have much time to meet folks afterwards, but I did find it a friendly and welcoming congregation.  Lots of people greeted me on the way in and out.

All in all a good morning.  Reconciliation is not an easy topic.  It involves digging up past hurts and taking a long, painful look at our own behaviors and prejudices etc.   But despite that I’m convinced that it lies at the heart of the gospel, and I’m very glad to see a congregation deal honestly with the challenge of reconciliation.

Interval Training

So, spring is here, the race calendar is beginning to fill up, and that can only mean one thing.

Yes, it’s time for interval training, the runner’s very own, personal, customized hell.

Volume training –  the long, slow runs you do all winter, gives your body the endurance to complete a race.  Interval training gives it the speed to win.  Like a lot of runners, I don’t do speedwork year-round.  In the off-season I give my body time to recover, and work on running style and endurance.  But when the warm weather gets here, it’s time to learn how to suffer.

I have a loop in my subdivision that’s almost exactly a kilometer.  So, yesterday I went out and ran round it once.  Nice and slow, and taking the opportunity to drink a lot of water.  I’d be needing that.  First time round, 4 minutes and 24 seconds, a half-marathon kind of pace.

Six minutes after starting the first loop, I did it again.  4 minutes, 15 seconds this time.

Then again.  Down to 3:37.  Speeding up a little too much, better dial it back a bit.  Drink as much water as possible between repeats, breath deeply to get the heart rate down before it all starts over.

Next time,  3:57.  Bit more controlled.  Time to crank it up a bit.  On the six minute mark a started again.  Focus on breathing, keep lifting your heels, don’t tense up.  Let your body do the work.  3:29 this time.  Now we’re into fast race territory.

The six minute mark comes round again far too soon.  Off again – try to hold that same race pace.  3:28, hard but bearable.

Crank it up one more notch.  The next loop falls in  3:17.  Gasping for breath at the end, finish off my third water bottle.  Pour some of it over my head to cool off.   Pretty much maxing out, but I’m sure that heading out I was thinking ‘you know, I have one more gear in my legs…’

Ok, time for the hardest push.  Full throttle, no holding back.  On the six minute mark, start the watch and sprint to full pace.  At this point I can’t keep my legs relaxed, I can only think about breathing as hard as possible to keep the oxygen getting to my muscles and keeping my leg turnover high.

We get two things from interval training. One, of course, is teaching our body to move quickly.  But the other is getting used to pain.  When I’m in the final straight of a 5k race and my body is screaming to stop, I want to be able to tell myself ‘I’ve been here before.’  And I’m there now – cranking out a pace faster than I’ll ever do in a race.  My eyes start to close, I can’t see straight, I’ve got just enough concentration to veer round the kids playing in the road on the back straight.  Halfway round.  Three quarters.

I round the final bend, breathing on every other foot strike.  Try not to tense up, hold your stride, keep driving for the line.

I cross it in 3:09.  I manage to keep upright and head into the house for more water.  My wife is a little alarmed that my gasping for breath can be heard throughout the house and that I’m incapable of speech for several minutes, but personally I’m very satisfied that I’m only a few seconds down from my peak of last year.

Then after a drink I head out and do four more loops.

Welcome to spring.