Small Church with a Big Heart

Campbell River’s Radiant Life Church moves quickly to shelter the homeless

Small is Beautiful, according to a counter-cultural book of the last century. Now a Campbell River church is proving that small is powerful. Radiant Life Church has only 60 members and a part-time pastor. But when the need emerged for an emergency shelter for the north-Vancouver Island city, they quickly stepped into the breach.
With help from the private sector and funding from the provincial government, the congregation has offered Campbell River’s hardest cases semi-private (two bunk beds per) rooms in a custom-modified 40-ft-long steel shipping box. With room for 16, the shelter has never had to turn anyone away.
Living Room Startup
Pastor Art Van Holst heads Radiant Life, which belongs to the Congregationalist Churches of Canada, when he isn’t running a janitorial service. The church started in the living room 15 years ago but five years later moved into CR’s downtown. This brought the congregation into close proximity with the city’s homeless, for whom they were soon doing a soup kitchen on Sundays. Back then the Salvation Army provided the city’s emergency shelter and it still does: with one exception. It decided late last year that it couldn’t operate a “low barrier” shelter anymore, meaning one that took everyone. Those on drugs or alcohol, or who weren’t taking their medication for mental illness, were proving too disruptive to the rest.
God Called, They Answered

A room in the sshelter

A room in the sshelter

Pastor Art Van Holst

Pastor Art Van Holst

“They told us, ‘If someone else will do this, we would like to get out of it,’” said Van Holst. “We had heard rumours and we had decided as a congregation that we would do it. We felt God was calling us in this direction.”
Their timing was perfect, Shadow Lines Transportation Group of Langley had just produced a prototype homeless shelter from a shipping crate it called the Temporary Homeless Relief Shelter, with eight small bedrooms, a bathroom, hot water furnace and battery banks to provide 12 hours’ self-sufficiency.
Various civic and provincial authorities looked closely at the plan, which included volunteer staff from Radiant Life, and well aware of the downtown’s destitute, approved it swiftly. B.C. Housing provided the funding. Home Depot kicked in landscaping.

  1. “It’s been a real blessing, sums up Pastor Van Ho
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U Vic Lecture Attacks Conservative Christian Biblical Scholarship


English prof manages several sleights of hand to target the usual bad guys.

Who knew that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was not really an attack on the Catholic Church but on Bible-believing Protestants? University of Victoria Christopher Douglas unveiled this implausible thesis with a public lecture early in April sponsored by the U Vic’s Centre for the Study of Religion and Society; a packed house of academics apparently bought it hook, line and sinker.

Douglas’s lecture was billed as “The Literary Response to the Conservative Christian Resurgence in America,” and the promotional

Actors Audrey Tatou and Tom Hanks are shown fleeing CHristian assassins in 'The Da Vinci Code'

Actors Audrey Tatou and Tom Hanks are shown fleeing CHristian assassins in ‘The Da Vinci Code’

material implied that U.S. literary stars “Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, Carl Sagan and Dan Brown” would be covered.

Bait and Switch

But Douglas ignored everyone except Brown, who writes thrillers nobody thinks are literature; and ignored all his books except the Da Vinci Code.

Douglas convincingly debunked Brown’s claims that the book was “fact-based” by exposing as false a list of  “truths” the author puts in the mouths of the novel’s two of his academic characters, Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing, disproving them all.

Brown, Douglas says, was taken in by an  earlier book, ostensibly a serious work of scholarship, by two popular writers, Baigent and Leigh, called The Holy Blood, and The Holy Grail, which was actually based on a mid-century fraud by a delusional French con-artist who wanted to make himself out to be a descendent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Both books claim that Jesus was mortal, and produced a daughter via Mary Magdalene; that this was suppressed by Emperor Constantine who wanted a male divinity to unify the Roman empire, and then by the Catholic church. Together they burned all the 80-odd gospels containing the “truth.” Much of the action in the book/movie is provided by The Vatican’s efforts to murder Langdon, which always fail. (the book’s title could have been: The Church That Couldn’t Shoot Straight).

How does Douglas get that the book is actually an attack on Bible Christians? Because the book advances the idea that its alternative “truth” is as good as the “truth” about the origins of Christianity accepted by modern Biblical and historical studies

“The collapse of expert authority,” is Douglas’s name for this phenomeon, which is also to be seen among those doubting, the Jewish Holocaust, that Muslim terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, and conspiracy theorists generally.

Bogus scholarship

But it can also be found among Evangelical Christians, says Douglas, when they argue  that the New Testament consists of eyewitness accounts that can be traced right back to the apostles. Mainstream, legitimate Biblical scholarship insists that the Gospels were written one or two generations later.  But like Brown, Baigent, and the “9-11 truthists,” Evangelicals “mimic” legitimate scholars, with bogus scholarship to make their claims.


Douglas did a good job debunking Brown. But his thesis seems to require Brown  attack his own pretensions to scholarship in order to surreptitiously attack the scholarship of Evangelical Christians. It’s impossible to swallow. By the end of Brown’s novel he exonerated the Catholic Church of any conspiracy, according to Douglas, who admits that many readers will miss this and close the book believing in the Vatican conspiracy to suppress the “truth” about Jesus’s mortality and his offspring.

In the end, this lecture attacks Evangelical Protestant scholarship’s efforts to authenticate the Gospels. He offers no evidence at all that these efforts are invalid or fail in the face of mainstream scholarship. The real attack on conservative Christians comes not from Brown, but Douglas.






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Christian news for Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island’s New Christian News Source

Once there was Christian Info and once there was Sunday, providing Christian news on Vancouver Island. Then Vancouver Island’s evangelical Christians who wanted news about their faith were reduced to reading a supplement to a Mainland paper. It went belly-up a year or two ago, one of many victims of the recession plus the Internet.
Then Light Magazine came along, with a little bit of news. But it has just withdrawn from the Island/
So I am leaping into the breech with a web-only newsmagazine. The Vancouver Island Christian. My target will be small “o” orthodox Christians—Catholics and evangelical Protestants mostly.
I am no saint. I am a sinner, but I have been covering Christianity for 35 years, in Victoria since 1986, and I am a Christian of the Catholic variety. Can a Catholic, and a sinner (they are synonymous) cover news in a way satisfactory to evangelicals? Well, nobody complained when I did just that for Sunday and Christian Info for years, and was then picked up by national evangelical papers. Sunday’s board was ready to make me their editor when they elected instead to sell to the Mainland bunch.
So here it is: I affirm there is one God, one Faith, one Baptism. That Christ is God, that he died for our sins and rose again. We used to all think our disagreements were more important than our agreements—important enough to kill each other in horrible ways. Now more people are thinking what we agree on—Catholics and evangelical Protestants—is more important. So I believe.
Read and decide. I think what other Christians are doing ought to be a great interest to us all. Mostly the news will be good, it will be inspiring. Sometimes it will be distressing and discouraging. It’s a broken world, a broken church and we are all broken within it. But it’s also God’s world, God’s church and we are God’s people.
Today I am working on stories about Circles of Support and Accountability, which are volunteer support groups for sex offenders set up by the Mennonites and sustained by Christian voluntarism—but now threatened by government cutbacks.
And on a Campbell River church that set an impressive emergency shelter using a metal storage box.

In the meantime here’s a pro-life story on 40 Days for Life with a strong Vancouver Island element which I did for www.

40 Days for Life street level prayer vigil keeps gaining momentum
Baptists are swelling a Lenten campaign that saves lives, opens hearts and closes clinics
Two pro-life people were standing outside Victoria, British Columbia’s boutique abortion clinic when a tough looking woman with bleach-blond hair stalked towards them, followed by an equally rough looking boyfriend. As participants in the 40 Days for Life international lenten prayer vigil, they braced themselves for abuse. However, the woman said, “Good for you for being here. I had an abortion and it was the worst decision I ever made.” –

See more at:

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Some just war thinking needed on Ukraine

An eminent Canadian historian, J.L. Granatstein, has weighed in on Ukraine and the Crimea, building from the situation there a general case for realpolitique—a foreign policy that is almost entirely cold-blooded and self-serving.
Coincidentally, a friend played me an audio of a British historian arguing that Josef Stalin was a criminal of immense proportions, rendering preposterous any claims America, Canada and Britain may make about being on the morally right side in the Second World War—because Stalin was our ally.
Granatstein appears never to have heard of Christian just war doctrine; the nameless Brit—sorry, I’ve got middle aged memory problems—has heard, but he believes Stalin’s crimes disqualify him from any consideration under just war doctrine.
But just war doctrine really lays out the moral basis for all foreign policy, so it is worth consideration.
First: Granatstein: he says Canada’s foreign policy should above all be about defending Canada and strengthening it: he actually breaks this down into four categories but they sum up to self-interest. Second, Canada should promote democracy and freedom world wide.
I have no problem with the first. Christian just war doctrine says the same: a nation is not only entitled to defend itself: it is the moral duty of the government to defend the country. (and that is why the nameless Brit is wrong: Stalin was a mass murderer, it is true, and a criminal on a huge scale. But in leading the Soviet Union in a war against Nazi Germany, he was in the moral right; allying with him casts no moral taint on the West).
As for Granatstein’s second dictum: it is too limited, and, besides, looks politically correct. Are democracy and freedom the only selfless objectives we should promote? How about simply protecting other countries from invasion or attack. Poland in WW2 was not a democracy but we rightfully went to war to defend it.
Christian Just War doctrine says we should go to war to protect ourselves, to protect our allies and to restore a just peace ( as in forcing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait after it was too late to defend Kuwait, it being already conquered).
Just war doctrine also insists that the war’s objectives be proportional to the costs. Do we destroy a country for trade violations? No. Do we enter a war that we cannot win? No.
The doctrine also applies to means. Just ends don’t justify unjust means. It is here that Canada, Britain and the U.S., transgressed in WW2: we killed civilians as a matter of policy, especially with area bombing by our air forces. Maybe we saved lives in the end by doing so—that is the only defence possible for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Arguably more soldiers and more Japanese civilians would have died if the Allies had pursued the war conventionally by invading Japan. But this only raises the question: why had Japan to be invaded and occupied at all? Vengeance is the real answer, and it is not to be found in just war teaching.
As for the question of the day: Ukraine. Many of the people in Crimea are Russians who want to be part Russians. I say, let them if they can fairly demonstrate it. Putin is not Hitler. Russia is no industrial superpower as Nazi Germany was becoming: it is a basket case. We don’t have to stop him in Crimea today lest we have to stop him tomorrow in Warsaw. I could see Canada involved in an alliance to defend Ukraine but not Crimea, not if the Crimeans want no part of Ukraine. Our interest there is in protecting the rights of Ukrainians and Crimeans, just as we would want our own rights protected from foreign interference. But I don’t believe at this point the interests of the mob that currently rules Ukraine are Canada’s interests.

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Gregory Hartnell goes on trial for telling the truth

So Gregory Hartnell, local Catholic curmudgeon, finally goes on trial on Monday for telling the truth about Father “Fondling” Phil Jacobs’ clergy abuse trial. Actually, Gregory reported on the preliminary hearing, which is a crime in this country if the judge says it is, and it’s not a crime if the judge doesn’t.
More and more judges grant what’s called a publication ban on preliminary hearings, and, in any sex abuse trial involving minors, there is an automatic ban on the names of the alleged victims, which is to say, the accusors.
Full disclosure, I violated the second ban in the Jacobs trial, so claimed a policeman with the prosecutorial team, by blogging that two of the accusors shared a certain characteristic X, without naming either. Sorry, the ban is still in place. If I told you X, I would have to kill you, or you might be able to identify them, especially if you knew who was in the altar boy age group at the parochial school Jacobs was associated with. And then the world would cave in. or not.
So I amended my blog, removed X and was questioned by police building the case against Hartnell, but not (to date) subpoenaed to testify against him. Maybe Gregory was also asked to remove his reportage on the prelim, and maybe he refused, being an obstinate sort.
I’d like to testify for him. Here’s what I’d say.
First, the courts in Victoria demonstrate a systemic disregard for the public, and the public’s rights and interests in seeing justice done. I see the growing trend to grant publication bans at prelims as an example. But so is the ban on publishing the minor’s names in sexual cases, which seems defensible at first glance.
Before I get to that, though, there’s this: the publication ban was announced almost casually and barely audibly by the judge at the beginning of each day of trial, until I complained about it on my blog, and then, perhaps coincidentally, she thereafter reannounced it through the day (people were coming in and out, after a, who could nto have heard the first announcement) and put a notice on the door every day too.
Though small, the courtroom was an acoustic disaster. Amazingly, a sound system linked the witness to the court reporter—but to nobody else. The lawyers, witnesses and judge talked to each other, and if we in the public gallery heard them, it is by chance not intent. The courtrooms’ design and the trial’s conduct betray, therefore, a lack of respect for the public and an ignorance of our role.
Here’s the thing: the public is in the court room to ensure justice is done. Witnesses have been known to lie. Officers of the court have been known to collude in the miscarriage of justice. The public is there to prevent that, not to satisfy an illicit appetite for crime. If the alleged victims in the Jacobs case (he was convicted on their testimony, which I believe) had been lying, this might well have been exposed by the public via journalistic reports, but only if the accusors’ identities were known.
Suppose one of the accusors were somewhere else on the day of the alleged assault. Or suppose one of the accusors had made similar allegations against someone else, which had then been disproved. How would these very relevant facts become known to the court without publication of the accusors’ names?
The absurdity of the publication ban is apparent in that any member of the public can attend the trial: he can tell people; he just can’t publish the names in the electronic or print media. Ditto anything from the prelim. This is nonsense.
The very premise for the ban is at least questionable. It is to protect the victims from the stigma of sexual victimization. Think about that for more than a second. What contributes more to stigmatization than the idea the names of victims must be kept secret? Are they supposed to be ashamed of being victims? Yes, says the publication ban.
The publication ban protects the guilty: most sexual abuse of minors is perpetrated by family members: the perps and other family members who did not protect the victims have their identities concealed by the publication ban. But the more that victims reveal themselves, the less stigma, and the more deterrence against further depredation.
I’m with Greg on this one.

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Being a university professor is no excuse for stupidity

Lorne Dawson, a professor from my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, says Chiheb Esseghaier, the  Muslim would-be bomber of the New York train, sounds just like a “strident anti-abortion activist coming from a Christian perspective.”

Oh yeah, I guess that’s why we anti-abortion activists are blowing up clinics in Nigeria, why there are 50,000 soldiers and police standing guard at abortion mills in Sochi, and facing the death sentence for killing marathoners in Boston.

No wait, those are all Muslims, not pro-life Christians at all. The closest we can come in  Canada to strident anti-abortion activism would be Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, both doing jail time for trying to persuade women with words and sometimes small presents to not have abortions. But perhaps to Dawson all people with strong convictions look alike. People without convictions, meanwhile, are killing 100,000 Canadian babies each year but at least they are killing them softly, in the muted, respectful voices of the medical profession.

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Pulling the plug–more things to think about

Here is an article I wrote a few weeks ago about brain death and especially related to pregnant women and the issue of organ harvesting. The inference is that the transplant establishment has a vested interest in the brain death diagnosis, since it facilitates the optimum transplant conditions: a functioning body with organs intact in a hospital and ready for harvest three minutes after life support is withdrawn.
this appeared at the

LA and Dallas take opposite stances on brain death—but who is right?

In Oakland, California the McMath family is fighting the medical establishment to keep their 13-year-old daughter Jahi alive, despite the diagnosis of brain death. In Dallas, the parents and husband of Marlize Munoz are fighting in the courts to force hospital authorities to let her die. Texas law requires pregnant women be kept alive till the unborn baby is viable.
The two cases exemplify the moral muddiness surrounding the concept of brain death, which divides the medical profession as well as theologians.
“Brain death is a lie,” says Dr. Paul A. Byrne, a pioneer in neonatal treatment who heads the Life Guardian Foundation. He reports from Oakland, where Jahi has been released to her family’s care, with respirator: “She has a beating heart. Her organs all work. Nothing is happening to her that would happen to a corpse.”
The Soul is not the Brain
Byrne holds to the Christian belief that the soul and personhood is indivisibly linked to every cell of a person and not just the brain. But his opposition to brain death diagnoses is based on his professional experience. “The criteria for brain death is so muddled, it’s unlike anything else in the medicine. It’s just a fiction to get an organ while it is still functioning.”
The issue isn’t so clearcut for all Christians or even Catholics. The National Catholic Register surveyed five Catholic, impeccably pro-life, ethicists on the Jahi case. Two were for keeping her alive (including Dr. Byrne); two said life supports should be removed. Wrote Father Michael Orsi of Ave Maria University in Florida: “Since the brain stem, which controls the involuntary muscle system, is dead, her heart will stop once she is removed from the ventilator. To keep a body alive is to deny the natural dying process and to delay the inevitable.” The fifth expert, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., advised solomonically, “a person or family could choose to end life support with moral justification. However, Catholic moral teaching would also support the extraordinary efforts required to keep the child alive.”
Alarming recoveries
The article also references Pope John Paul II’s apparently approving statement on organ transplants and brain death in an August 2000, but Byrne says people in general, including the Pope, would be less approving if they knew how shaky brain death was as science. It also proves to be dead wrong, as shows with 14 unsettling and recent case histories of “brain dead” people regaining consciousness seconds away from being harvested for organs.
Though 14 look may look insignificant next to the 25,600 annual brain deaths estimated by the U.S. Department of Health Human Services, how many might move from the bigger stack to the smaller if transplant surgeons were not in such a rush?
More Reading
“California Hospital Tries to Murder Young Girl – Claims She’s Already Dead Despite Beating Heart,” The Trumpet Online, Dec.31, 2013.

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