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.


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.

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.

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.






Church 30 – First Baptist Church

Continuing with the Baptist stream, I attended First Baptist this morning.  This is located at the far east end of the city, and I understand that it has been around for about 12 years.

In short, I really liked it.  It reminded me of Erindale Bible Chapel, the church we attended when we were living in Mississauga.  The architecture, the relaxed, warm feel to the service, and the sense of family that the congregation exhibited all seemed pleasantly familiar.  I get the feeling that this is a group of people who genuinely enjoy getting together for worship on a Sunday.

Musically, the service was a mix – we sung some hymns to the accompaniment of an organ, interspersed with a couple of songs led by an enthusiastic praise band.

It’s no secret that I don’t usually enjoy sitting through sermons, but I did appreciate this one.  Not least, because the topic of the sermon was grace.  For some reason, this is a subject that we talk about surprisingly infrequently.

The speaker took half an hour or so to talk about several of the people that Jesus showed grace to: Zaccheus, the woman caught in adultery, the Roman centurion, and Simon Peter after his rejection of Jesus. It’s interesting to me how Christ’s grace to these people both challenges the assumptions of those around him, but also led directly to transformation in the lives of the recipients.

In the words of the song we sang at the end of the sermon, “your grace has found me just as I am…, forever I am changed by your love.”

I liked this church, and I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone living in that part of town.

I am an Ultrarunner.

Avid readers of this blog may remember that after a particularly frustrating half-marathon last year, I decided to up the ante and set myself the challenge of completing an ultra marathon.

Yesterday, I competed in the ‘Pick Your Poison’ 50km trail run.  I have two things to say about that experience.

I finished.  And it hurt.

It was a thrilling, painful, and humbling experience.  Towards the end of the race I was ready to swear off running for good.  Now that 24 hours have passed, maybe I can be a bit more objective, and think about some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience.

What I’ve learned

First, it is actually possible to set yourself a Big, Hairy, Audacious goal and actually achieve it.  Last summer I couldn’t run past the 10k mark without my legs giving out.  Yesterday I did 50km on brutal, draining hills.

Second: you get what you train for.  As Archilocus said 2600 years ago, we do not rise to the level of our expectations but fall to the level of our training.  I’ve done lots of 25km training runs over the last few months, and the first 25km yesterday went very well.  The second 25km were absolutely brutal.

Third: preparation matters.  It took months to prepare for this race.  I’ve rebuilt my gait from the ground up.  I’ve experimented with nutritional plans, I’ve done long slow runs and fast hill repeats.  I reconnoitered the course, carbo loaded all last week, and carefully tapered.  All this preparation was enough to get me through the first half without too much hassle.  The second half I did just because I’d said I was going to, and I refused to stop, even as my quads were screaming at me on every jolting downhill step.

Fourth: community matters.  From Patrick, my training partner who encourages me to get up for our early morning Sunday runs, to my colleague Shane who selflessly gave up his Saturday to pass me snacks and cheer me on and even pace me on the final loop when I was close to cracking, to all the strangers and volunteers on the course who encouraged and motivated me; all these people helped me achieve my goal.

Fifth: intentionality matters.   Yesterday I achieved something at the very limit of my abilities, not on a whim but as a result of months of planning, preparation and hard work.  I managed to struggle through the final kilometers partly because I’ve practiced slogging out an extra 10k at the end of a run when I’m already exhausted.  Achievement is not an aspiration but a choice.

Finally, joy matters.  Even in the middle of the pain, I tried to recognize that I had been granted the opportunity to run in beautiful sunshine through stunning Ontario scenery, surrounded by inspiring, motivated athletes, and that I had a body that could respond to the demands I was placing on it to achieve something I could be proud of.


Church 29 – Heritage Baptist Church

I gave the Anglican church a bit of a break this week and tried out Heritage, which is apparently a ‘Fundamental Independent Baptist’ church.

My first impression was the outside of the building, which is a striking piece of antebellum architecture on Ardagh Road.  My second impression was how good the music was.  Heritage has an excellent pianist and and exceptionally strong choir.  The dynamics were expressive, the harmonies were tight, and the arrangements very well executed.

My third impression was that I was probably the only guy in the building not wearing a suit.  These places really ought to post a dress-code on their websites!

Things went a bit downhill when we got to the sermon, unfortunately. It began with the standard evangelical nonsense about how God demands that we give 10% of our income to the local church.  It bugs me when a church claims to hold the Bible in the highest regard and then jump through all sorts of hermeneutical hoops to arrive at this frankly untenable position.

The rest of the sermon was about the importance of giving money to missionaries.  However, it was based on 2 Corinthians chapter 8.  This chapter, of course, is  where Paul encourages the Corinthians to donate money to poor Christians in Jerusalem.   To claim that this passage is about missionaries, rather than the poor, is once again regrettably bad exegesis.

I don’t know why we do this, to be honest.  I’m all in favour of people hearing about Jesus, but I don’t know why we need to resort to guilt manipulation and a deeply flawed reading of the New Testament to make it happen.

After the service, a very intense gentleman decided to make me his personal evangelism project.  This happens to me quite a lot, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe I have some mannerisms that make evangelicals think that I’m not a ‘Real True Christian’, and decide that they have to convert me.  I try to listen politely, but I do find myself wishing that people would take the time to get to know me before they feel they can make sweeping judgements about the state of my soul.

So, another ambiguous experience.  I will say that I appreciate the passion and focus on telling others about Jesus that Heritage has.  I’m less comfortable with the sense of exclusivity that I got.  For example, during a short presentation by one of their missionaries we were told that the country of Poland is 90% Catholic – but only 0.1% Christian.

If I have any Catholic readers, I’d love to know how they feel about statements like that.  Heritage may not be as obsessively exclusive as, say, the Gospel Hall, but it’s attitudes like this that make me feel I have a long way to go in working towards reconciliation, understanding and co-operation among the churches in the city.



Church 27 – St. George’s

I spent last Sunday morning at St. George’s, another Anglican church.   As well as being Palm Sunday, the service was lead in part by Bishop George Elliot, the area bishop for York-Simcoe.

I liked the liturgical nature of the service.   Rather than listening to a lecture where the point of the talk is pushed in your face and reinforced with bullet points on the screen, the approach taken on Sunday gave us space to reflect on the Palm Sunday story.  Bishop George noted that most of us present were very familiar with the passion week narrative, and suggested that rather than rushing ahead, we take some time during the week to ‘dwell’ in the story, for example by contemplating the thoughts and actions of the minor characters.

We also had an opportunity to do this during the service by participating in a responsive reading.  Being part of a crowd yelling ‘crucify’ made me think about why we would be saying that.  I suspect that it’s very easy for us to see someone that society has condemned as a loser, as a criminal, or as an undesirable, and adopt that perception ourselves.  Even though the crowds in Jerusalem must have suffered under the unjust Roman regime, they were quick to accept the authorities’ condemnation of Christ.  It’s much easier to sidle up to power than to stand with the outcast.

One thing that concerns me about St. George’s is the demographic.  It seemed to me that the vast majority of congregants were retirees.  There is a lot I like about Anglicanism, and I think the Anglican approach to doing church has a several aspects that the postmodern, emerging generation may be looking for, but in Barrie at least it seems that they are not finding it here.

Church 28 – St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s is another church at which I’m not really an outsider, as this is my local parish church.

So rather than talk about this particular congregation, I think this is a good time to share some of my thoughts and observations about Canadian Anglicanism in general.

I grew up in the Anglican church, and over the years I’ve come to recognize a number of key strengths that the denomination has.

Firstly, the Anglican church prides itself on being a ‘broad’ church.  That is, it shelters a wide range of opinions and traditions under its umbrella.  I’ve attended Evangelical Anglican churches, charismatic Anglican churches, Anglo-Catholic congregations, even an incredibly moving ‘Goth’ Eucharist at St. Edward’s in Cambridge.

Secondly, Anglicanism is a global church.  The Anglican communion extends across the planet, with a particularly strong representation in Africa.

Thirdly, Anglicanism is a liturgical church.  The prayer book provides a common structure that can be used in any language in a vast range of settings whilst keeping our worship centered on Christ.

Fourthly, and perhaps surprisingly, I’ve found it to a be an innovative denomination.  Perhaps because the liturgy provides a solid foundation, it is possible to build all sorts of variations on top of it.  The Alpha Course, which has been used to introduce over 15 million people to the basics of the Christian faith, was pioneered at an inner-city Anglican church in London.

At its best, I’ve also found Anglicanism to be a respectful church.  I’ve had the privilege of watching the Church of England’s  General Synod in session, while it was debating some politically and theologically contentious issues.  In stark contrast to the atmosphere in the House of Commons, which meets just a few hundred yards away, I was very struck by the way that even those who held very strongly diverging views were able to engage with each other in a respectful and polite fashion.


Having said all that, since emigrating to Canada, I have to admit that I’ve frequently found myself disappointed by the Canadian Anglican church, and I think that she has several critical weaknesses that must be addressed.

Firstly, like many immigrant churches, the Canadian Anglicans have too often seen themselves existing to preserve a certain cultural heritage.   Anglicans have been described as ‘the Tory party at prayer’, and there is some truth to this accusation.  If Canadian Anglicans see their raison d’être as protecting conservative English social values, they will miss their greater calling.

Secondly, I’ve noticed a lack of connectivity.  In my childhood it was common for all the churches in the Diocese to come together at the cathedral for special occasions such as Easter, and for individual parishes to co-operate at a more local level. I’ve rarely seen this type of inter-church engagement in Ontario.

Ultimately, I worry that Canadian Anglicanism is suffering from an identity crisis.  In a multicultural environment it can no longer content itself to be the ‘official’ church of English immigrants. With an aging demographic it seems unsure whether to continue to offer what is expected from an older generation or to attempt to awkwardly reach out to a younger one.  And by trying to keep disparate groups of people happy, it runs the risk of losing sight of the key strengths that I’ve outlined above.

I feel that Canadian Anglicanism may be in the process of missing a great opportunity.  There are an increasing number of people who don’t want to have religion spoon-fed to them with power-point slides and slick lecture-hall presentations.  They have grown up with the ambiguities of a post-modern world, and are used to being surrounded by diversity of opinion and behaviour.   They understand that the quest for truth can be complex and ambiguous.  And they know that ultimately truth is experienced, not just taught.

To this emergent generation, the Anglican church could offer her global breadth and diversity, her experiential liturgy, her historical depth, her willingness to engage and wrestle with complex issues in a grace-filled and respectful environment.

She could.  My question is – will she?