Gabrielle Giffords confronts NRA on guns

Gabrielle Giffords confronts                   NRA on guns

Has the time finally arrived, after the unspeakable shooting rampage in December 2012 that killed 20 children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, when the United States will finally take action to prevent thousands of its citizens from being gunned down every year? Two years ago Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during a political event in a mall parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. She survived but six people were killed. Giffords has had to retire from politics but has made a difficult and courageous recovery. “Since that terrible day,” Giffords writes on her website, “America has seen 11 more mass shootings – but no response from Congress to prevent gun violence.”

Recently, Giffords met with town and school officials in Newtown before visiting with victims’ families from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Giffords  has chosen to become involved in a campaign for the stricter regulation of guns in the U.S. and has just launched an organization called Americans for Responsible Solutions.

There are 33,000 guns deaths a year in the U.S. and 12,000 of those are murders. Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, quoting American sources, writes that “more Americans die from gun-related homicides and suicides in the space of half a year than have died in the past quarter century of terrorist attacks, as well as the Afghan and Iraq wars combined.”

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John Baird's Office of Religious Freedom

John Baird, Office of Religious Freedom

The Conservative government will soon announce an Office of Religious Freedom, fulfilling a promise made in the 2011 election campaign. The stated intention of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is to create an organization that will monitor and criticize religious persecution and to promote religious freedom around the world. There is no shortage of persecution in countries as diverse as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Colombia and Mexico, but as is always the case in politics it is important to scrutinize the intent and the fine print of any undertaking. Doing so raises some genuine questions about the wisdom of this idea, a fact that may also explain why the government has been so slow in fulfilling its promise.

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Pulpit and Politics, best stories 2012

I worked for years in newsrooms and each December we would produce what we called Year Enders, which summarized the most significant stories that we had covered in the past 12 months. In that tradition, I have reviewed Pulpit and Politics for the year past and this is a brief summary of what I have found.

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The Christmas Concert (seasonal fiction)

The Christmas Concert

The school Christmas concert is on in the town hall tonight and Dale has a big part in it. When they pull back the curtain on the stage and fourteen kids stand there holding pieces of cardboard with block letters spelling the words “Merry Christmas”, he is going to be the letter M. He is also Joseph in the crib scene. His mother has made him a headpiece from an old orange dishtowel. He has a fake brown beard, and sandals borrowed especially for the concert from his cousin in Saskatoon

Miss Melanson, the principal, has overseen three weeks of happy rehearsals. She stands five feet eleven. The scent of her perfume sets fire to your nostrils and catches in your throat. Her hair is a shoe polish black but white at the roots, and she wears framed glasses with thick lenses that magnify her eyes in such a way that any student who catches her stern gaze freezes like rabbit in the headlights. The awe inspired by Miss Melanson’s presence, however, does not prevent students from poking fun behind her back. Her Christian names are Mary and Theresa — Mary Theresa Melanson. She signs report cards and notes home with the initials M.T., letters that loop and flow on the page. M. T. Melanson. So the students call Empty. Empty Melanson.

Miss Melanson’s Christmas program has a little bit of everything. There are carols sung by a thin-voiced children’s choir; actually, it’s mostly a girls’ choir because even fear of Miss Melanson doesn’t move boys over ten years of age to sing. Then there are the dramas. Miss Melanson has produced a coup this year with Dickens’s Christmas Carol because a girl who has a bone disease and actually wears a leg brace is playing Tiny Tim. Then there’s the crib scene which involves every child in the primary grades, with many of them being shepherds and others sheep.

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Stolpersteine commemorates Jewish victims

My wife Martha and I spent September 2012 in Europe with about 10 days of that time in Berlin. We rented a small apartment in an area called Scheunenviertel not far from the city centre. We discovered that this neighbourhood had been a centre of Jewish population in the city prior to the Second World War. We were just a few blocks from the gold-domed Neue Synagoge, which had been inaugurated in 1866, destroyed by allied bombing in 1943, and later rebuilt as a museum that opened in 1995. There were an estimated 560,000 Jews in Germany (160,000 of them in Berlin) when Hitler came to power in 1933. Most were either driven into exile or killed. Today there are 100,000 Jews in the country, about 10,000 in Berlin.

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Murray Thomson, peace activist at 90

Murray Thomson at 90,  Koozma Tarasoff photo

If Murray Thomson wasn’t a pacifist you might call him a happy warrior. The moving force behind many worthy peace endeavours, he will soon turn 90 and more than 130 of his friends gathered recently in Ottawa to celebrate. There was a dinner with much good humour and music, some of it supplied by Thomson on his violin, but predictably the event was also a fund raiser and was preceded by a panel and discussion about the best way to get rid of all nuclear weapons. An american-based organization called Ploughshares Fund (no relative of Canada’s Project Ploughshares) estimates that there are about 19,000 nuclear weapons in the world. We know that nine countries have them with Iran threatening to join the club. Thomson, along with two other elders of the peace movement, has come up with an interesting new proposal. The three are recipients of the Order of Canada (OC), our most distinguished award for public service. Ernie Regehr is a Mennonite and the co-founder (with Thomson) of Project Ploughshares.  Doug Roche is a former editor of Catholic newspapers, a Conservative MP between 1972 and 1984, Canada’s UN Ambassador for Disarmament between 1984 and 1989, and later an independent in the Senate. In 2011, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Dennis Gruending’s Pulpit and Politics in Ebook format

Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life

Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Pubic Life is now available in an Ebook format. The book is a provocative exposé of …

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Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Archbishop Richard Smith, CCCB President

The Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) is in turmoil after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) pressured the organization in  September to scuttle an educational post card campaign just as the material was about to be distributed. The postcard, which was to be sent to the Prime Minister, asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance. This is hardly the stuff of revolt but the CCCB said that the campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

It would appear that the CCCB’s decision that the fall campaign should be shut down may have been made without the knowledge of bishops who sit on the CCCB’s standing committee on Development and Peace. The Catholic Register newspaper quoted two of those bishops saying that they had not been contacted directly about the ultimatum to Development and Peace.

Bitter reaction

That decision has resulted in D and P staff resignations, criticism of the organization’s management team and elected National Council, and accusations from D and P supporters who accuse the CCCB of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government.

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