Ricks Mission

DR RICK TOBIAS

Our community has been seriously hurt by increased levels of violence in the past 6 months.
Few in the community have been untouched. Certainly not the children nearly run over by an armed gunman fleeing a shooting. Certainly not those in a neighborhood recreation centre
alarmed by stray bullets blasting into their facility.
The level of violence built through the summer here in Toronto and we began to prepare for the possibility of extreme violence in or around Yonge St Missions community center. We made a commitment to stay open and active no matter what transpired. The children in our neighborhood have no way to escape the violence; they have to stay in the community no matter what happens. So it seemed right to us that we stay as well.
The violence came very close to home. Two young men were murdered. Both were associated with our youth programs ,neither was associated with drug trade or gangs.
The grief inflicted by such violence is amplified by stereotypes. Very quickly the caricature images of innercity youth ,gangs, and drugs circulated through the city distorting the reality, both of this young mans life and life in this community.
To their credit our community centre youth developed a righteous anger as their friends memory was shamed and the collective reputation of community youth dragged through the mud. How would you feel if every time you walked to youth group with your friends meant you would frequently be stopped by police because you are mistaken for a gang. What impact would it have on your self image to always be thought of as a criminal?
What if you lived in fear of being caught up in the web of someone else s violence?
We have some great youth in our community.
They represent many others-youth who are alive with hope, who dream and work long and hard to build futures for themselves against rather enormous odds.
When you meet with them tell them your proud of them.

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Compassion is not enough! It is time for Christian leaders to move beyond compassion and commit themselves to justice.
by Dr. Rick Tobias

Psalm 72 is not the official Scripture of the nation of Canada, but if we were going to have an official Scripture it would be the one. It was Psalm 72 that Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley was reading during his morning devotions as the fathers of Confederation met in 1864 to decide upon a name for our nation. Based on Psalm 72, Tilley suggested that we call our nation “the Dominion of Canada”. It was from Psalm 72 that in 1921 we chose the phrase “from sea to sea” and it became an official part of our coat of arms.

… a world class leader … must first and foremost be an advocate of the poor and for the poor.

It is a good Psalm for a nation because it speaks of justice; and it is a good Psalm because it speaks particularly to those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves leaders in the land, whether political, religious or otherwise. There is a debate as to whether David wrote this as a blessing on Solomon or if Solomon wrote it as a blessing on his own life, but what is clear is that the writer has the gall to literally pray “God make Solomon even greater than he is today and make his nation even greater. In case I am not famous enough today make me more famous. And let the kings and queens of other nations come and bow before me.”

It is a fairly arrogant prayer, but conversely, behind those strong words there is a word which says make me “Just,” and there is an understanding that if Solomon is to become a truly magnificent leader, a world class leader, then he must first and foremost be an advocate of the poor and for the poor. In the prayer there are no words about financial competency, there are no words about management skills. There is no understanding of international trade—nothing about the art of war; simply a word that the king would be the prime advocate for the poorest of the poor. In fact the concern that the King would be that advocate is so strong that he is to crush those who mistreat the poor. The King knows that great leaders and their nations take care of their poor. In fact, so serious is the mandate to care for the poor that the Psalm uses three separate words to describe the poor and their plight.

The first is Aniy: it is a Hebrew word for the poor who are oppressed, and victims of violence; whether that violence be in the home, in the family, in the community, or at the hands of government.

The second word used is Dal: they are the people who are poor by virtue of infirmity or illness. Their illness may be physical, chemical or emotional.

And then the Psalmist uses Ebyone, the Hebrew word for the poor who are dependent; dependent on their families, on the community, and on the state for their well being. They are the group of poor we most like to despise. And it is the King who is to defend them and all those who suffer need.

That such a word should be spoken to the King is consistent with the introductory teachings and laws that are set down for the nation of Israel. In its founding the nation is told, commanded by God, that it was their job to create a nation in which there was no grinding poverty and no multi-generational poverty, a land in which need was responded to quickly so that the children of the poor did not become trapped in cycles of poverty that spiral downward toward desperation. Israel was given a whole series of economic laws designed to govern how its leaders were to respond to the poor. In Psalm 72 it is the ruler, the King, who is to ensure those laws are enacted to the benefit and protection of the poor.

Psalm 72 is given to rulers. To the MPs here tonight—this Psalm is for you.

However, held against the weight of the rest of Scripture, this is a word to anyone who would dare to call themselves a leader; certainly to those who would dare call themselves Faith Leaders.

Tonight I want to highlight three standards that the Psalm references as the marks of a great nation and its leadership. I believe the Psalm sets a moral tone for leadership; both government and faith leaders—for both nations and churches.

1. The First mark of a great nation, and the first mark of a great leader is that they stand for justice.

I believe that if you are poor, you might want to pick Canada as your nation of residence. There are few nations in the world which have as good a history of providing for those in need as does Canada. That was a little more true a decade or so ago than it is today, but even now, if there were a top ten list of where in the world to live if you are impoverished, Canada would still make the list. Some would say we have slipped to 20—we hope not. The U.N. has rightly suggested that the gap between the rich and the poor in our nation stands against us and the care we provide is clearly diminishing even as need grows; yet, I remain convinced that as a nation we still do better than most developed nations. The problem is, we used to be the best and we can afford to be the best again.

When I was 19 I walked into a little drop-in centre that worked with socially handicapped children and from that day to today, I have never been far away from poverty. And I can tell you, it is a strange thing to have spent most of your life working in an area and then arrive at 55 years of age and realize things have gotten worse. I’ve put most of my life into improving the quality of life for Canada’s poor, and things are worse now than when I started.

As a result, in the past year, and probably only in the past year, I’ve changed my thinking on some core issues around compassion and justice. I have come to believe that compassion is no longer enough! I recognize that as we gather, we represent some of the most compassionate caregivers in this land. I work for a mission that has provided compassionate intervention in the lives of low income individuals and families for 110 years. I have spent 37 years of my life in what I hope has been compassionate service. That being said, compassion is not enough!

• It is not enough that we run food banks, clothing stores and can serve a gazillion meals.

• It is not enough that we operate drop-ins and work the streets and alleys of our cities and function as chaplains in our jails.

• It is not enough that we house and employ.

• It’s not enough that the church is the number two provider of care of the poor in this land.

• It is not enough that we now number in the 100’s of thousands of care givers, front line workers and support workers.

• It is not enough that we now have combined budgets that are measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars and beyond.

• It is not enough that we are caring, compassionate and committed people.

Justice means that we speak truth …

It is time to move beyond compassion and commit ourselves to justice. Justice will put some of us out of work. How good would that be? It is time to commit ourselves to justice. Thus the term “truth-tellers.” Justice means that we speak truth, we neither diminish it nor do we exaggerate it. The truth is hard enough without exaggeration and to diminish truth is immoral.

In the first segment in this Psalm, the psalmist uses three different words to describe the justice that is expected of a nation or a leader:

• The legal decisions of the land are to be moral. They are not to be biased and are not to favour a particular group of individuals. We know this is not true for the people that we serve.

• The poor, especially the victimized and oppressed poor, are to receive justice, and that justice is to ensure that they are vindicated when their oppressors would wrongly accuse them.

• The church and the state are not to re-victimize the poor by blaming them for their poverty. In the developed world we have taken the symptoms of poverty, things like chemical dependency and youth crime, and turned them into the causes of poverty—and that is immoral.

2000 verses of Scripture and 400 passages of Scripture clearly indicate that the prime causes of poverty are beyond the power of the individual to change or even to manage. The legal rights of the poor are not simply to extend to a fair trial but to a fair and reasonable share of a nation’s goods and services; not necessarily equal but a fair and reasonable share. A society in which the top one percent of the population earns as much as the bottom 40 percent does not represent a fair distribution of wealth and is not just (see Charles Handy, The Hungry Spirit, 1998).

The leader of a nation is not simply to ensure that justice happens; the leader is to become the prime advocate for justice—the prime promoter of justice. Thus the Prime Minister of Canada is to stand as the first advocate for the poor and will be first in the line of accountability when we as a Nation stand before God in Judgment (see Matthew 25). In vs. 2, Solomon is called to plead for justice for the oppressed. In vs. 4 it says he is to vindicate the victimized and the oppressed. To vindicate—that means to declare them guiltless or innocent.

The teaching of the Psalm is consistent with the teaching of the Prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 22 we are taught, “did not your father the King eat and drink.” That is, didn’t he party, and “plead the cause of the oppressed poor and of the dependent poor.” Then the Scripture says, “is this not what it means to know me declares the Lord”? That is, if we are not pleading the cause of the poor, how would we ever be so arrogant to say that we know God? The Scripture is not anti-wealth, but it does expect the powerful and the wealthy to be first in line when it comes to caring for and advocating for the poor.

We are not kings, we are not prime ministers or even premiers, but we do claim the mantle of leadership and we are called by God to journey with the poor and we need to recognize injustice and stand for justice.

When the poor are not included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—justice is found wanting.

Section 15.1 of the Canadian Charter provides a legal protection against discrimination for any number of groups of people within the nation. The poor are not there, and in fact have no Charter protection. The national Charter should be amended to protect Canadians from discrimination based on “social condition.”

In 2000 Human Rights commissioners from across Canada including federal and provincial representatives together with representatives from the U.N. gathered in Toronto for a discussion around human rights legislation in Canada. I know this because I was an invited guest. A significant portion of the meeting focussed on the need to enshrine the protection of the poor within the Charter by declaring that it is unjust to discriminate against anybody on the basis of social condition. That would provide legal protection for the poor, the homeless, the welfare recipient, the kid who grows up in a “high risk” neighbourhood and, in fact, it would protect the rich as well.

Only Quebec has enshrined social condition in their human rights legislation. (I have since learned that New Brunswick has recently enshrined such protection). Until we provide this protection as a nation and across the nation, justice is found wanting in Canada.

When we leave those with psychiatric disabilities and major emotional disabilities to fend for themselves on our streets, to rummage through garbage for food, and to live in alleys, valleys and creeks, then justice is found wanting in Canada.

They are certainly the poorest of the poor, the least of the least and the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable of our adult populations, and we leave them in homelessness in a misguided and a misinformed understanding of what it may or may not mean to violate their human rights and their freedoms.

As long as we bestow upon them the freedom to live in alleys and gutters, then justice will be found wanting in Canada.

When the children of the poor are forced to grow up hungry, malnourished and live in squalor without adequate services and education—then justice is found wanting in Canada.

We have the studies, like the Mustard Report, which remind us of the cost in the lives of young people when we neglect them in the earliest days of their lives; when they lack access to proper nutrition, proper health care, proper stimulation, and proper early years’ education.

The consequences of our neglect of our children last them their whole life long. Claudia de la Cruz from the Dominican Development Centre in New York says “hunger has become the weapon of mass destruction” and I would like to suggest that when we inflict that weapon on the children of Canada we doom them and our nation to very uncertain and very diminished futures.

Over a decade ago we pledged to eliminate child poverty in Canada; we have not. Our failure to provide good beginnings for the poorest children in our nation means that justice is found wanting in Canada.

When we criminalize our youth and make them the brunt of our frustration with the criminal justice system, justice is found wanting.

I don’t know the stats for the rest of the country but I know that Ontario has more young people per capita incarcerated than any place else in North America. Did you hear that? Not California, not New York—Ontario has more kids, per capita, in jail than anywhere else in North America. If law and order was going to fix youth crime, then Toronto would be the safest city in Canada today, and I wouldn’t be reading in the newspapers about more of our youth dying in shoot outs.

When we criminalize our youth, justice is found wanting. It is not youth who import guns and drugs into this country. It is not youth who produce the movies, the TV shows and the videos games that promote violence and crime. It is not even youth who control the 75 gangs that own the streets of many communities within my city. We need to get tough on crime, but we need to get tough on adult crime and predatory crime.

When we eliminate services that are designed to help youth to break the cycles of poverty—justice is found wanting.

When squabbling between various levels of governments hit new heights in the mid-90s, when we saw welfare cuts, diminished program funding and a decade of shell games as governments tried to out manoeuvre each other, the poor in this land paid the price of those games, and every front line caregiver in this country knows it. We know it. Justice is indeed found wanting.

We see it in the agencies we’ve said goodbye to; we’ve seen it in the kids we have done funerals for; we’ve seen it in the programs that are gone. There is a direct line connection, not a dotted line but a direct line connection, between the diminishment of the programs that we offer youth and the blood on the streets of our cities. And in the end that blood is on adult hands.

When we lack a national housing strategy, when we have a minimum wage instead of a living wage, justice is found wanting.

Until 1983, in Canada homelessness meant you lived in a cheap hotel and you were cut off from your family. Until 1983, in Canada homelessness meant that you stayed in hostels and shelters. In 1983 that definition changed and homeless came to mean shelterlessness. And we have more shelterless people in our nation than in any time since the great Depression.

When the working poor can’t afford rent and wind up in our food banks, justice is found wanting. (With a show of hands, how many people run food banks and now have working people coming to your food bank for groceries? You can see hands literally all around the room). When you can’t earn enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries in one of the richest lands in the world, justice is found wanting.

When loyalty to party platforms and religious bias is placed ahead of the welfare of the poor, justice is found wanting. When churches avoid literally 2000 passages of Scripture that speak about God’s love and concern for the poor and we focus on minor side issues, then justice is found wanting.

We don’t offer courses to train our staff in our Bible schools or our universities or in our seminaries. That is why we started Street Level. We couldn’t get anyone to train us. Generally speaking, we couldn’t even get workshops in our denominational and evangelical conferences. When the educational materials being prepared by our denominations don’t touch on issues of violence and poverty, justice is found wanting. When those who work for the poor are moved to the margin of the life of the church, justice is wanting. Make no mistake, we have been deceived. Jeremiah (see chapter 29) says, stop listening to your prophets, they lie to you. We have been listening to prophets who have been leading us to focus on all the wrong issues. Poverty is the issue. Justice is the issue. I haven’t even touched upon First Nations issues, race issues, cultural prejudices, homophobia or a bag full of other issues that we should be talking about.

So I am convinced that it is time for those of us gathered here to recognize that compassion is not enough. We will not abandon compassion, but we do need to stand for and advocate for justice even as we work compassionately. We must not simply run the programs that serve the poor, but speak with a strong and prophetic voice with and alongside the poor. Speak out when we see injustice wherever it is.

You have already heard David (Adcock) allude to our need for a national movement, and he is right. We will need to work with other organizations and commit ourselves, not to the reduction of poverty, but to the elimination of poverty in this nation.

We will need to review our own activities critically. You know—all the programs that we run to keep the people from getting so angry that we don’t have a repeat of the Winnipeg food riots. Maybe if we didn’t run those programs we would have a few food riots, and maybe there might be some change. Maybe a country like Canada needs a food riot or two.

… it is time to go back to the source of all power, the Mighty God and find new resources …

We need to change attitudes and to work within churches and within denominations. We need to work with governments across party lines. Gerald Vandezande taught me that. We don’t align ourselves with a party—we speak to all parties for justice.

So you come to Street Level, and you are weary, and you are tired, and you are looking to get fed, and you want good things to happen but you know what? In the words of the great saint of the church Emeril Lagasse, it is time to bump it up a notch; it is time to go back to the source of all power, the Mighty God and find new resources so that we can speak with ever fresh voices and call for justice in our land.

2. The second mark of a great nation, and the second mark of great leaders is that they stand and work for Shalom.

Great nations and great leaders stand and work for Shalom. Shalom, as in peace. Shalom as in Jeremiah 29; the welfare and well being of a whole city or nation and all its people. Shalom as is highlighted in this Psalm; the personal safety of the poor. Great leaders work for safety. The psalmist prays for an abundance of safety. He prays that peace and safety will roll down from the hills. The writer is wise enough to know that you have to pray for justice before you can pray for peace because peace grows out of justice. But he also knows that peace must be worked for too, and in vs. 4 and in vs. 12 he prays, “May He save the children and deliver the dependent poor when he cries for help, the victimized and the oppressed also.” Vs. 13: he will have compassion (and this is not a feeling it is an action) on the sick and the infirm poor, and in vs. 13 again, he will save the lives of the dependent poor. In vs. 14, he will be the one to rescue their lives from oppression and from violence.

It is time for a new national peace movement. If government can deal with laws and policies and programs, the church is well equipped to deal with peace.

It is time for a new peace movement that grows out of our churches—grows out of our ministries—and causes us to stand and say that we are against violence in every form: the physical violence that we do; the emotional violence that we do; the verbal violence that we do. Churches need to take the lead.

Every agency here knows that if we were to eliminate family violence in Canada, the need for our programs would diminish by 50 percent, maybe 75 percent. You can’t work with the poor and not be pro-peace; pro safety. You can’t be for the elimination of poverty and not stand against violence. We need a new peace movement.

160 times in Scripture the word for poor is aniy—the Hebrew word that references the beat up, the oppressed, the victimized and the violated. In Canada “a woman is more likely to be assaulted or murdered by her partner, husband or her lover” than anybody else. And we have made violence against women a side issue and it is a major issue; we’ve made it a women’s issue. It is not a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue. Men do the hitting.

Violence against women has reached such epidemic proportions in our land, that when women decide to go to the shelters that we have built to keep them safe in times of violence, we turn them away because they are full, or they are brought in for short period of times and are the turned out. And the staff members who are to care for them are harried and frayed and frazzled. To call them overworked and overstressed would be a gross understatement. Violence against women needs to be an issue for us, for our churches for our agencies.

If you are a man and are here today I want you to make a public commitment to give a significant chunk of your life to stand against violence against women. And if you are a woman in this room, you hold them accountable. Men, if you will commit yourselves to stand against violence against women, please show your commitment by standing.

The home is the most unsafe place for kids in this country, and it is not simply men who beat kids, it is men and women who beat kids. Even in the midst of the gang violence in our cities that has our kids dying on the streets in numbers that we can’t comprehend, the streets are not the most unsafe place for our youth. Homes are the most dangerous turf in the lives of our youth. So, if you are a woman in here, would you join the men and please stand with the men if you will commit yourselves to stand against violence against children and youth. We need a new peace movement, and why not have it begin here? Why not commit ourselves to it?

Now, if we are really fortunate and if we are truly blessed by God this weekend, the Governor General will make an appearance, she is hoping to. Please know that she has made a commitment that during her term as Governor General, she will work against family violence and against violence against women. So if you are fortunate enough to meet her when she comes, tell her you are proud of her and tell her that you stood with 350 people tonight who will stand with her coast to coast—stand with her against violence and stand with her for peace. Tell her that you dream of a day when violence in our homes and on our streets will be no more. In a nation committed to peace—in a nation whose leaders are committed to peace—there will be a reduction in the demand in our programs.

3. The third mark of a great nation, and the third mark of great leaders, is that they recognize the poor are precious in God’s sight and they should be equally precious in our sight.

And finally, the mark of a great nation, and the mark of a great leader is that it views the poor as precious. The poor are precious in the eyes of great leaders. The passage in Psalm 72 ultimately shows us the mind of God, and God sees the poor as precious—as people of worth; people who have a contribution to make to the good in the nation.

God sees the people we serve as precious and therefore we ought never develop an attitude of superiority or arrogance.

We go to churches and sing about the precious blood of Jesus while Jesus is singing about the precious blood of the poor. And we can sing about the precious blood of Jesus and devalue the poor but He values the poor, and as we do to the least of them, we do to Him. God sees the people we serve as precious and therefore we ought never develop an attitude of superiority or arrogance.

My testimony is this; for 37 years I have been with the poor. I am not poorer for it; I am richer for it! My life is better, has more meaning, and I think that I am one of the most blessed people in the world. I get to spend my life with people who we have been written off by society as being without value; but they are the very people God esteems as being high in value.

The poor have taught me compassion, courage, faith and a real dependence on God. I have more joy, and I have received wisdom and life insights that I would never have learned had the poor not agreed to become my mentors.

James tells us that God has chosen the poor to be “rich in faith and heirs to the Kingdom of God.” That passage should cause us to pause and reconsider our theologies. If you want to be rich in faith, hang out with the people who God says are rich in faith. If you want to find your courage for life, then spend your life with those for who every day require great courage just to survive. The Scriptures teach that God is debtor to no person. I have learned that God will not be in debt to His creation even if they are care givers, and God most often balances the books by blessing us through the very people we feel called to serve. The poor are precious! That means they have worth and wealth to share with those of us who will have eyes to see.

For those of you who are here as delegates, the reason your churches are often not supportive of you is because they have not yet learned that the poor are precious in the sight of God. And maybe we haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them that the poor are precious in the sight of God.

For those of you who are delegates, when you find yourself competing with each other for shrinking government resources, you are in that competition because the government has not learned yet that the poor are precious in the sight of God.

And the reason it has taken the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada all these years to get to this point in time is because Evangelicals have not perceived the poor as precious. Bruce, you gave me hope today as you signed the Ottawa Manifesto and as you talked about correcting those deficits. Because of your commitment I dare to hope that Evangelicals will change their position and we, like Jesus, and we, like God, will come to see the poor as precious. It may take a miracle, and the psalmist says it is God alone who does miraculous things.

It will take a miracle to change the mind of the Church. It will take a miracle to change the mind of government. It will certainly take a miracle to change the mind of Evangelicals.

But we dare to hope; we dare to believe; and we dare to envision a Canada in which there is no poverty; in which there is no injustice. We commit ourselves to be great leaders—leaders who stand for justice; leaders who stand for peace; and leaders who view every person in the nation as precious in the sight of God and precious in our sight.

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Of Course We Have Hindu Angels

Here we were, people representing the world in all its diversity, celebrating a specific and blatantly Christian religious festival.
by Rick Tobias

Our Yonge Street Mission community Christmas pageant is like the hundreds of other concerts and Advent productions that take place in churches, schools and community centres across this country—charming, but hard to get excited about if your child is not in the cast. So as I walked into our community centre to attend another Christmas pageant, my expectations were modest.

I witnessed grace, embrace and acceptance …
I stepped into a sea of noise, laughter and movement, the bedlam which signals a party is going full tilt. “Whoa,” I thought. “This is good.” And as I began to make sense of the apparent chaos, I was truly amazed.

About 200 people had gathered. They represented 45 nations and five faith groups—Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist. The festive atmosphere was heightened by the fact that many had arrived in their national dress.

More surprising, people from four of those faiths actually participated in the Advent drama. Swarming over the room were shepherds, wise women and other nativity characters looking for costumes or parents or teachers. They were children of the world. It took me several seconds to realize that families from other faith groups had come to see their children act out the birth of Jesus.

I stepped into our chapel where a horde of preschoolers were getting into their angel wings and preparing to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. It seemed all the children of the world were represented. I said to one of the volunteers, “We have Hindu angels?” “Of course we do!” came the reply.

I’ve never been to such an event. Celebrating cultural diversity and promoting religious tolerance often translate into diminished uniqueness and spiritual sterility. Unless you are careful, you end up with nothing but superficial, bland, pseudo-goodwill. But here were 200 people representing the world in all its diversity, celebrating a specific and blatantly Christian religious festival.

Not that everyone in the room had a common understanding of the meaning of Christmas. They did not. Some were simply experimenting with what they saw as Canadian culture. Some celebrated the life of a good, and perhaps even holy, man. Others believed they were marking the birth of a great prophet. And many were honouring the birth of a Saviour, the Divine child of God.

Today these very different faith and cultural differences often lead to intolerance, violence and bloodshed—the very opposite of everything Jesus lived and died for. At our little party, as kids from around the world lisped their way through the nativity story, I witnessed grace, embrace and acceptance. What a great way to celebrate Christmas.
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