The Metis, the Museum and the Mennonite

Today’s guest blog is written by Steve Plenert, peace program coordinator for MCC Manitoba.

The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened to considerable fanfare a few weeks ago in Winnipeg where I live. Dignitaries came, speeches were given, and ribbons were cut. For us local residents, our cityscape is forever altered by the imposing structure located at The Forks. Towering over the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, it shines as a hoped-for beacon of hope.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Photo credit

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Photo credit

I recently had the opportunity to view the CMHR exhibits (at least the few that are open already) as part of an MCC Indigenous Neighbours learning tour. The architecture of the museum is stunning – particularly if you are fond of alabaster, as I am. The exhibits are comprehensive, interactive and full of impact. I was glad to see that such a beautiful and thoughtful investment has been made to challenge people to learn and think about human rights in our world today.

But I said that this was part of a learning tour, so we made other stops on our one-day excursion. And here’s the thing: I actually found the visit to the Manitoba Metis Federation – the Louis Riel Institute in particular – much more interesting.

MMF flag

The flag of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

I learned many things about Metis people, including how they are “defined,” what their governance apparatus is, and how their community is served by the structures organized for the purpose. I learned about amazing Metis happenings from cultural events to educational opportunities. Most interesting of all, I heard Canadian history from the perspective of a thoughtful Metis person. I heard a community voice – full of pride and power – articulating challenge and vision and hope for the Metis people, for my own community, and for all of us who call Canada/Turtle Island our home.

And I have to say that I was moved more by the passionate voice and stories of our Metis host than the glowing architecture and sophisticated exhibits of the CMHR. The experience pointed out to me (once again) that relationship and listening truly matter. It reminded me that knowing people, and caring about what they care about, matter. A lot.This is the path to mutual transformation. I am convinced that movement towards goodness, tolerance and love happen when we engage people and care about them in their own space. I was invited into someone’s space and was hosted admirably. I left feeling inspired and transformed.

I hope many people have rich experiences at the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I suspect they will be more profoundly transformed if they visit Shirley at the Louis Riel Institute.

Light through the cracks: a lesson from Naaman

This reflection on 2 Kings 5: 1-14 is written by Jon Nofziger, Constituency Engagement Facilitator for MCC BC. Jon has served with MCC in Germany, England, Haiti, and Nicaragua, as well as Miami, Winnipeg and Abbotsford.

How do we experience the reality of God in the chaos of the world today? Sometimes God works in unexpected ways and we miss recognizing God’s actions.

Peace candle

Naaman was a man of great authority, held in high esteem, second only to the king of Aram. He was popular, a folk hero, a victorious military leader. Yet he became afflicted with the skin disease leprosy. He feared that his condition — and his loss of beauty — could  lead to dismissal from his prestigious position. For Naaman, leprosy may have been as much a spiritual condition as a physical condition.

Naaman attempted to purchase healing, a pattern that is still prominent today. Many people use wealth and power as leverage to gain “healing.” Many today are perishing form the “leprosy” of power. When have we sought to purchase our healing?

In the story, Naaman became angry when the prophet Elisha failed to receive him with the pomp and ceremony he felt he deserved. Naaman’s pride prevented him from seeing how God could act in simple non-pompous ways. Many of us are like Naaman — we believe God must personally attend our pleas and it must be a grand show. If things don’t turn out as desired, we conclude that we didn’t get God’s attention or we have not been faithful. Why do we, like Naaman, expect God to respond in a set manner or time frame?

The story provides two “cracks” that shine light on how God acts. The first crack is a little slave girl – a weak insignificant person, someone on the margins of society — who cares for Naaman’s need and points him in the direction of God. The second crack is Naaman’s servants, who convince him to follow Elisha’s mundane instructions to wash in the river, and not wait for the pomp of a pre-conceived expectation. Sometimes it takes “simple” events or people to open our eyes to divine light shining in through the cracks.

Like Naaman, we too can believe our own “rivers” are cleaner than God’s; thus our own plans are as good, if not more complete, than God’s. How do we substitute our way for God’s way? Do our expectations try fit God’s methodology into a box in ways that we can “see and understand.” We need to be open to seeing the distorted light oozing in through the cracks. True faith is assurance that God is working in our lives and in the world, even when we don’t perceive the signs.

In the Lord of the Rings series, the great wizard Gandalf says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay: small acts of kindness and love.” It is the Bilbo Baggins of this world — the slaves, the servants, the marginalized ones — that demonstrate how God will ultimately destroy evil.

In the MCC world, it is often the ordinary people who provide the cracks. As Doug and Naomi Enns, our MCC reps in Lebanon and Syria, inform us — ordinary folk are opening their churches, mosques, homes and lives to offer refuge to thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.

All of us have cracks in our lives. I believe God shines through these cracks. As we move forward as the church, may we encourage one another to see God/Christ in the unlikely actions and people who point us to the cracks. In his work “Anthem,” poet Leonard Cohen puts it this way:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Displaced by religions of peace…

Today’s reflection originally appeared on the blog of Mary Lou and Dave Klassen, MCC workers in Nigeria. Learn more about the work of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams here.


“Instead of me providing it is me receiving,” observed Samson Adamu when he finished passing through the line to receive his sleeping mats, bucket and soap. Adamu is from one of the 995 families who received assistance from MCC through partner, EPRT (Emergency Preparedness Response Teams) because of the conflict that has engulfed Wase LGA._W4A3267 (Large)

Many of the beneficiaries were confused by the question, “why are you here?” Their forefathers have lived in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors for generations. The different ethnic groups accepted their differences and lived with them. Faith was not an issue to kill for.

Samson describes how just months earlier he had hosted those who came to attack his community, giving them places to sleep and food to eat. The best he could discern why they came back to attack in April 2013 was “religion”. Samson is a faithful Muslim and his attackers, he knew, were Christian.  In other parts of Plateau…

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Park(ing) Day: Re-imagining city spaces

This week’s guest writer is Myriam Ullah, community engagement coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan. Myriam recently celebrated her one-billion-second birthday!

Parking Day streetOn September 19, 2014, MCC Saskatchewan participated in Saskatoon’s third annual Park(ing) Day.

Park(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

So why do people do this — create bike lanes, pop-up retail, and public spaces infused with art and culture just for ONE DAY?  Because it is an experiment in “city-building,” where people envision their city in new ways and see if their visions are worth building on.

The overall idea is to re-imagine how city spaces could be used if we didn’t have so many cars. People are invited to host a creative stall the size of one metered parking spot for the day, alongside food trucks, entertainment, speakers, and other fun things.

For the past three years, Park(ing) Day Saskatoon has taken place on Riverdale’s 20th street, site of two MCC thrift shops (a clothing shop and a furniture shop). So we thought Park(ing) Day would be a great way to highlight thrift! We hosted two parking spots to demonstrate that second hand shopping can stylishly clothe us, furnish our homes, and build a community that balances between give and take.

MCC stallsThe clothing thrift shop set up several racks of clothes and held a “dress-our-mannequins” contest. It asked passers-by to choose a character, and then dress a mannequin within three minutes according to the character’s style. Many people participated and got really creative in playing dress-up. It was amazing to see how many visitors affirmed the thrift shop idea and expressed how much they love shopping there.

The furniture thrift shop made a curbside living room to showcase some of the amazing pieces they have in their store. Some people stopped to sit for a rest, others bought the items on display, and many more just paused to chat.

Alongside the stalls, we set up an MCC booth to draw attention to the many projects that thrift shop revenue supports and we invited folks to make their own thrift slogan buttons. Our slogans included: “Thrift Shopper for Peace,” “The Re-Purpose Driven Life,” “Keep Calm and Go Thrifting.”

parking benchWe had a great time re-imagining how these small city spaces could be better used to build community and were inspired by the task. All of need to continue to re-imagine our world at peace with God, one another, and creation.

If you’re interested in reading more about the ideas behind PARK(ing), a reading list, courtesy of the Saskatoon Public Library, is available here.


World War I and the Humanitarian Imperative for Nuclear Disarmament

This week’s guest writer is John Siebert, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization that works with churches, governments and civil society, in Canada and abroad, to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace. Project Ploughshares is a longtime coalition partner of MCC.

The widespread use of weapons of mass destruction in World War I (WW1), particularly chemical weapons such as chlorine gas, shocked the public conscience and added to the existing demand for banning such weapons. The staggering numbers — 100,000 dead but more the hideously disfigured bodies of the wounded 1 million — shocked the conscience of the public as these poor souls returned home and compelled efforts to make chemical and biological weapons illegal to possess or use.

Attempts by nations to ban chemical weapons reached back into the 19th century, and extended well forward into the 20th. And yet in Syria chemical weapons were recently used in civilian areas. You scratch your head and wonder how long and how effective these efforts are if, after over a century of work to outlaw this particular class of weapons, it is worth the candle.

It is.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Setting norms in international law is notoriously difficult and time consuming. Implementation and verification are even more difficult and more time consuming. The difficulties of implementation and verification typically are used by opponents of constraints as an argument for not even trying to set new international norms. It becomes a vicious circle favouring a lack of action.

So, the advocates of legal restraint on specific military technologies have to somehow overwhelm the natural momentum of advocates for hard security realism, those who argue for the primacy of power as determining the outcome of conflicts and the use of dodgy military technologies, with another kind of argument.

The good news is that the machinery of disarmament for conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction has made great strides since WW1. Chemical and biological weapons have been deemed illegal; both possession and use. Certain classes of conventional weapons have been banned as well, including personnel land mines and cluster munitions.

But efforts dating from WW1 took almost a century to bear the less than comprehensive results we have today in outlawing and eradicating chemical weapons.

The way it works in practice is that these international norms are eventually nearly universally accepted and observed. The legitimacy of these weapons is then permanently degraded so the world can focus on the outliers, or spoilers, who continue to possess or use them. It isn’t perfection but the process makes the world considerably safer if not absolutely safe from the banned weapons.

no nukesSimilar arguments used to ban chemical and biological weapons, and some classes of conventional weapons, are just as applicable and arguably more so to nuclear weapons.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC), following the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, in 2011 passed a resolution indicating “that the principles and rules of international humanitarian law apply to nuclear weapons and that the threat or use of such weapons would generally be contrary to the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.”

Why? Nuclear weapons violate the principles of war because their use fails with respect to distinction, precaution and proportionality. Nuclear weapons cause incalculable human suffering that are unconstrained by time or space, there is no way to prepare for, or to meet, the overwhelming humanitarian needs of those affected even by a limited nuclear exchange, and damage to the natural world would be incalculable and could not be mitigated. We often explain this by the term “nuclear winter.”

In short, the possession or use of nuclear weapons threatens the future of human and other species, and the biosphere of the earth itself.

The ICRC sought in 2011 and going forward to “reframe the international debate” on nuclear weapons from considerations of geopolitical, security and deterrence to the humanitarian imperative to make them illegal and eliminate them.

Experience from other disarmament processes says that certain weapons, or a class of weapons, have been eliminated only after they have been outlawed. Civil society reflects and focuses widespread public disgust and mobilizes sympathetic states against the outlier and spoiler states who want to continue having them in their arsenals.

Not since the post-Cold War draw down of nuclear weapons from approximately 60,000 warheads to the current 17,500 has there been such a sense of optimism about the prospect for eliminating nuclear weapons. Let’s make the momentum continue!