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Thursday, February 19, 2009

God alive in heart of city

A few years ago I was walking along Burrard Street in Vancouver in the early morning hours when I saw across across the street from me on one of the churches a huge banner proclaiming, "God is alive in the heart of the city."

I had no problem with the words on the banner, but I immediately thought of the homeless who would be unable to seek refuge in God's house because the doors were locked. Churches have generally kept their doors locked for years now except when open for Sunday services and other stipulated times ostensibly to keep the "bad" people out.

Perhaps I watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame too many times and looked at the church -- no matter the denomination -- as the last refuge for the scoundrel. At times in my less than perfect life, I have been so grateful when I have found the church door open and I could enter, rest and pray.

Anyway, as usual I digress. My walk along Burrard Street came to mind for two reasons methinks: the government of British Columbia announced once again that it plans to do something about the Downtown Lower East Side, and the horrible conditions there; and, yesterday U.S. president, Barack Obama outlined a mortgage plan to help his citizens who may or have already become homeless in this time of economic crisis.

Shortly after I was elected as the faculty representative to the Board of Governors at College of the Rockies, I convinced Dr Wm Berry Calder, the president, to let me go to Vancouver and look at outreach education programs in the Downtown Lower East Side.

I visited the Carnegie Centre and First United Church right in the heart of the area, after walking from my hotel. It was an overwhelming experience but in the midst of the misery, I met many dedicated people working to make each day a little better for those who had fallen through society's cracks. And yes, the doors of the church were open and some homeless people were resting on the pews. And students were learning too.

I also visited the Gathering Place, a living room for those who need it in downtown Vancouver. There people can get a shower, wash their clothes, have a meal, read, shoot pool, work out it in the fitness centre and get advice and counselling, and of course, just visit and be among people. I have also seen some of the poetry written and art work created by folks at the Gathering Place. Amazing!

Whatever our circumstances today -- whether we relate best to the citizens of the Downtown Lower East Side in an otherwise beautiful city or are facing the prospect of job loss and foreclosure on a mortgage or are still sitting in a comfortable pew, I am sure there are times when we felt homeless even when we had a place to live.

In these challenging times I believe it is time to throw the doors open so that the banner rings true, "God is alive in the heart of the city" -- no matter where we live!

Please feel free to comment or email me at mj.morris@live.ca

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Barack Obama is heading to Canada

Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Canada on February 19, making it his first official visit to another country since becoming president of the United States on January 20. Some Canadian journalists are calling it a 'fly by' as Obama will arrive in our capital city Ottawa in the morning, spend time with Stephen Harper, the prime minister and have lunch, answer a few questions at a news conference, then head back to the airport and likely be back in Washington before his children go to bed.

His trip may or may not get a mention on the major American news broadcasts, but at the news conference, Canadian journalists get two questions --- one in English, the other in French. The other two are for the U.S. traveling press corps, according to reports.

What will President Obama and Prime Minister Harper discuss. Obviously the economy.

The U.S. president is hugely popular in Canada with about an 80% approval rating but he will not be making a major address to the Canadian people. In fact the Canadian parliament is on a break this week.

It is difficult to really say how the president and the prime minister will get along but given the dire state of the global economy and the importance of Canada - U.S. trade let's hope all goes OK. I can recall the disastrous relationships between President John F Kennedy and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Lester Pearson.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President Bill Clinton became golfing buddies.

I have my doubts if Obama and Harper will ever break out into song like President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did with the rendition of 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' but making a connection for a positive relationship between the two countries will be sufficient.

Harper must be looking forward to the photo-op with Obama, the world's political rock star, hoping it will give him a boost in the polls.

Perhaps President Obama will have much more in common with Official Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff who he plans to meet at the airport. Both attended Harvard University, and Ignatieff headed the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy there during the time that Lawrence Summers was Harvard president. Summers is now the head of Obama's National Economic Council based in the White House. A good friend to have in Washington and Dr Summers is apparently accompanying the president to Ottawa!

Please feel free to leave comment. Email me at mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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