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Practice real love: we need constructive conversations on many topics.

Gonversations are at the heart of relationships. They no doubt happen in smaller settings--pres-byteries, committees, our homes--but at present there is no mechanism for face-to-face discussion across the church.

Some people wistfully hope conversations can or should happen at assembly. But overtures, motions and the like are part of the procedures that govern debates, not conversations. Speakers try to be heard; rarely do they listen. And how meaningful would a conversation among a few hundred people be anyway for the other 60,000 in pews on Sunday? For sure, we try to encourage conversations in the pages of the Record--that is our sole purpose.

But more is needed. Conversations should be happening in our church communities: Aboriginal and justice issues and the environment generate daily tragic stories, yet there is no reference to church participation in any of them. Where and how is the church fostering and guiding constructive conversations on these issues? Take Aboriginal issues. The Presbyterian Church has repented as an institution for its role in the sorry history of residential schools. But what are we doing about it now? An apology for the past is fine; it rings hollow if there is nothing done in the present and plans made for the future.

Thousands of Canadian Aboriginal people are living on inadequately serviced reserves or in wretched prisons. On reserves, fresh water remains a huge problem; in prisons, the largest identifiable group is Aboriginal.

Aboriginal people make up about four per cent of our population, yet they represent almost a quarter of the federal prisoners. More than 40 per cent of all incarcerated women in Canada are Aboriginal. On top ofthat, thousands of young Aboriginal women have "disappeared."

Many undoubtedly raped and murdered.

Overlapping all this are the number of mentally ill prisoners who are grossly mistreated under archaic concepts of punishment deemed outmoded, ineffective and cruel 150 years ago. Governing prison ideology has no room for restorative justice--which is at the heart of our Judeo-Christian faith.

Here's Jesus' good news (gospel) to humanity in a phrase: "God is love."

And here's Part of the beloved disciple John's first letter as translated by Presbyterian theologian Eugene Peterson: "This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. ... If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality."

If we truly want to live God's reality, if we truly want to find ways to bring about the kingdom, to make Christ present to people in our communities, we need face-to-face conversations with our Aboriginal brothers and 'sisters. We need conversations about how to restore broken people to the fullness of life in community, not inhuman existence in prison cells.

Or, as Paul wrote to the Celtic church in Turkey: "If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived."

David Harris is the Record's publisher and editor.
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Title Annotation:FOR THE RECORD
Author:Harris, David
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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