Wednesday, September 20, 2017


One third of the area of my découpage canvas assembled after a trip to northern British Columbia and Haida Gwaii  features examples of spectacular natural beauty as I described in my last post.  This second third will highlight often obscure, little-known places that I will always remember poignantly because they impacted my world view.

Museum of Northern British Columbia, Prince Rupert

 Our visit to the Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert, just up the street from Cow Bay, began in double practicality:  refuge from an incessant deluge of rain, and an activity to stroke off the must-see list.   Lucky for us, another couple showed up for the tour at two, meeting the minimum requirement for a go.  The guide was wonderful.  Not only did she show us bentwood boxes and clothing woven from cedar, she explained how those processes worked.  She oriented us to the Haida world view and emphasized the importance of generosity in Haida society.  In fact, she said, the only reason to acquire wealth in that culture is to give it all away and start again.  A chief holds a potlatch feast for that very purpose.  I kept thinking, The world needs more Haida.  Thanks to her, and to the rain, we began our visit in Haida Gwaii the next day well-grounded in the history and culture of the Haida.

Haida Heritage Centre, Skidigate, Haida Gwaii

Totem carving at HHC
The HHC, as the locals refer to it, is a magnificent longhouse-inspired structure that houses a museum, meeting places, grounds with breathtaking views, and a totem pole carving area.  August 19, the day we visited, marked not only its ninth anniversary, but also a celebration of a solar energy project.  People from government and the community gathered to inaugurate a transition in the centre from diesel power to solar energy.  As impressive as that project is, it’s the small things that usually stick with me.  On this occasion, the form of address speakers used impressed me:  Chiefs, Matriarchs, Women Held in High Esteem, Good People.   Throughout our stay in Haida Gwaii, we heard those phrases:  good people, precious friends.

HHC was also a stop on our last day in Haida Gwaii.  We participated in an intertidal walk facilitated by Parks Canada resource people.  After an hour, this landlubber could find gueyducs poking out of the sand and dungeness crabs burrowed among the grasses on the beach.  I got a look at sea cucumbers and various kinds of anemones. 

The bus bakery
Perfect rainy day hideout!
A few kilometers northeast of Masset on Tow Hill Road, we stopped at this treasure, a bakery housed in an retrofitted school bus.    The perfume of fresh cinnamon buns, muffins, and cookies that wafted through the door on another cold, rainy morning provided instant comfort.  The photos tell the rest of the story.  On the left side of the bus, a few tables and chairs to complement those in the exterior pergola, unusable at the time.  On the right, the preparation area, with gas stove, sink,  counter tops, and shelves for the goodies.  The hospitality is as warm as the baking.  Although we arrived an hour before opening, we were still able to get a day’s supply of coffee, cinnamon buns and cookies to take out,  served up with a smile.

Driftech Mechanical Services, Masset
Our camper van comes through!
By the time we arrived in Houston, BC, for the night, on Day 2, our 1978 camper van was complaining rather loudly about something.  Trouble is, no one could pinpoint the cause of the ailment and it wasn’t telling.  Worried not only about making our ferry booking, but about our visit on Haida Gwaii and getting home after that, we crawled to Prince Rupert, and, once on the island, hobbled around as far north as Masset.  Here, Lawrence at Driftech noticed that the belt on our dead air conditionner continued to turn, causing the racket.  Why not snip the belt, he suggested.  It wasn’t connected to anything else.  Well, a pocket knife did the trick—no more noise, and, even better,  no more worries. 

Shady Rest RV Park and Campground, Houston, BC
Best campground ever—wonderful hosts, and eight separate self-contained bathrooms.  Yes, that’s right—four for women, four for men: toilet, sink, shower, shelves, everything you need in separate units!  The laundry was just as pristine—new machines, no rust, lots of room.  What a find!!

QueenB’s Café, Queen Charlotte Village, Haida Gwaii

Queen B's, Queen Charlotte Village
Hidden in the heart of downtown Queen Charlotte, a stone’s throw from the Visitor Information Bureau, this great café serves up homemade everything.  I had hearty soup and a warm biscuit, perfect for another rainy day.

BC Ferries at Skidigate, Haida Gwaii
Hats off to the employees of BC Ferries at Skidigate, who direct people onto the ship with a smile, as if those vehicles are the only ones they’ve had to place all day.  At this terminal, Elmer had to back in onto the ship deck from the dock—a challenge he was up for.  As the attendants guided him in place, they congratulated him on his expert driving.   There’s a lesson here on the effect having fun at work has on everyone we meet.

Steakhouse on Main, Smithers, BC
We pull in to Smithers around 7 pm.  We’ve been up since the ferry docked us safely again in Prince Rupert at 5 am.  We’ve visited Kitselas canyon, soaked in the primeval energy of the Skeena River bursting out of the gorge, and seized the opportunity a three hour  highway closure created to discover Kleanza Creek and make new friends. We’re tired, and we’re hungry, and we don’t want fast food.  Like most of northern British Columbia, this steakhouse is not pretentious.  It has a buffet bar, plain tables and chairs, and servers with a smile.  It’s full when we get there, still, at 7 pm, a good sign.  People are enjoying the buffet and the regular Friday night prime rib dinner.  I order chicken quesadilla, with salad instead of fries.  My meal is perfect, just what I need.  The salad is crisp, fresh, overflowing with freshly grated carrots, tomato, cucumber, and celery.  Not one rusty or slimy bit of lettuce, like you find in some restaurants where they get their salad greens in giant bags, and no one sorts through it before it his the plate.  The quesadilla has real chicken, just enough cheese,  and no taste of oil.  This plate has been prepared with TLC.  I convey my gratitude to the server, the chefs, anyone who will listen.

Medici’s, Oliver, BC
On the way to my cousin’s vineyard just outside Oliver, we find a wonderful Italian café that serves paninis, homemade sorbetto and gelato, and specialty coffees for any taste.  This renovated church replicates a corner of Italy in a southern British Columbia wine town.  What a delight!

Of course, in all these locations, we have encountered affable, congenial people who graced our days.  They have a prominent place in the découpage and in its cumulative effect.  Stay tuned for Post 3.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


An artist I know works in découpage.  On canvas, she layers cutouts that she covers with a think layer of glue.  She will add a photograph, or part of a photograph, and then extend that image with paint or watercolour.    The work of art she creates is an amalgam of those three techniques, and its effect is dependent on their interplay.

My experience of Haida Gwaii resembles that découpage.  Rather than cutouts, photograph, and painted forms, however, my canvas is the product of in-your-face macro nature,  particular locales, and, of course, inevitably, interactions with people. The reflections that have ensued ground me and challenge me.  Here’s my canas, shared over three posts.

Remember, I am neither an outdoors person nor a travel writer.   I am just a retired person, a teacher, a reader, a musician, a writer.   On those islands, I didn’t fish, scoop up crabs on the beach and cook them over a fire, or make it out to locations where an 1978 camper van couldn’t go.   I bird-watched,  did accessible hikes, and let the sea mesmerize me.  What I did experience during those weeks brought me joy, connection, and truth.  Including the road trip on Yellowhead Highway 16 from Prince George, British Columbia, to Prince Rupert, these are the macro natural highlights for me.

(formerly Fort Kitwanga)
Located between Hazelton and Terrace on Highway 16, Battle Hill National Historic Site entrance looks like a rest stop on the side of the highway.  Be sure to turn in, and if you can manage an impressive set of stairs, go down to explore the path of an ancient trading route as well as the hilltop location of the fort built by the warrior Nekt  as a strategic defensive site to control the local trade.  Your reward is twofold: the longhouse placements etched on the hilltop, and a magnificent view of the Kitwanga river.  On the way back, you will notice a path leading away from the hill.  Follow it right to the end.  The rope that stretches across the path betwen two trees is not a barrier, but an aid to lower yourself down the embankment, through the tree roots, to the river bank and another spectacular view.

As you travel highway 16 from Prince George through Prince Rupert, remember that this is the Highway of Tears, along which more than forty indigenous women have been reported missing or murdered.  I noticed two billboards (only two?) along the 720 km route to remind me of the sorrow along the road I traveled in peace.   The last stretch from Terrace through Prince Rupert ribboned through the mountains along the Skeena River, every kilometer just as breathtaking, even in a light mist.

Spirit Square
·  Spirit Square, Queen Charlotte Village, Haida Gwaii

This peaceful spot on the bank of the inlet next to the Visitor Information Office provides a gathering place and a rest stop for travelers and locals alike.


Agate Beach, Haida Gwaii

Agates on the beach
Follow Old Masset Road east to Agate Beach.   Stroll the beach to select your collection of smooth stones nestled in the sand.  Admire the workmanship of the sea over infinite tidal surges.  In the provincial park, find a campsite overlooking the sea, and wake to its roar.  Sit on the felled logs strewn along the beach to watch the eagles and the waves, to read and write, or just to be.  

Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

When you’re finished at Agate Beach, it’s just a short jaunt to the Tow Hill trail head.  A boardwalk makes the trail wheelchair accessible to the first viewing platform.  It continues up through the tidal bore and on to the summit, which offers a spectacular view of Rose Spit, and, in the distance, a few islands in the Alaskan panhandle.   A rarity in our time on the islands, more than five consecutive hours of sunshine allowed us to soak in all the heaven of Agate Beach and Tow Hill.

Kitselas Canyon at Gitau

It took two tries and a visitor information worker in Terrace to find this treasure about twenty kilometres east of Terrace, and even then we almost missed it.  Look for the Gitau sign to turn north, and then take the gravel road when it appears down to the canyon and the national historic site under construction.  The four longhouses of the Gitselasu (People of the Canyon) and totem poles are beautiful.  Enjoy the outstanding accoustics of that bowl-like area.
A trailhead near the maintenance building leads through the forest.  If you persevere right to the end, you will get to examine a mounted Haida canoe,  and study four totem poles.  A boardwalk on the left leads down some stairs to the lookout overlooking the canyon and the turbulent Skeena River.  So worth it.

Kleanza Creek Provincial Park

It took two drive-pasts and a vehicle rollover that stopped traffic on the 16 for more than three hours to get us to this hidden treasure.  Although this provincial park was mentioned in the literature, its vistas and design are, in my view, vastly underrated.    An innocuous sign announces its presence about a kilometre west of Gitau, on the south side of the highway.  Campsites dot the gravel road, as you drive in; nothing unusual or even particularly beautiful in a land that normalizes stunning vistas.  I wasn’t prepared, however, further down the gravel road,  for the extraordinary opportunity of the the day visitor site.  The creek spews out of a forested gorge a  Picnic tables line the bank, and a bench is tucked into a corner in front of a tree on the edge of the creek.  Imagine hours on that bench, to read, dream, and contemplate.
nd gurgles parallel to the road, but hidden behind the high banks.

These places are one third of the cut-out base layer of the découpage, to be covered over with a think layer of reflection.  The photographed image is my self, and the painted lines the resultant extension of that self.    The next post applies to the base the snippets of unforgettable experiences in unique locations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The Fraser River’s inexorable and, today, measured, flow to the sea mesmerizes me.  Across the opposite bank, the Cariboo Mountains oversee its progress, and a small white glacier surveils the area.  The surface of the water is glass, to this unpracticed eye; the forest along the riverbank finds its twin in the stillness.  Were I more of a student of nature, I would know whether the almost imperceptible blemishes on the surface that betray the serene river are fish (and what kind) or insects or even undercurrents.  The reality is I think of the bumps as eggwhite clumps that might mar a smooth sponge cake.

This vantage point materializes quite by accident.  Only when I scan the campground map to locate our site do I realize that our campsite belongs to the row that abuts the Fraser.  The foliage on our assigned site obscures the river.  Five campsites down, however, that’s not the case.  Huge bonus:  the site is empty, lonely, now that the gentleman who had been sitting on the picnic table has left.  Now, it’s my turn.  I stand, transfixed, in disbelief at my good fortune.  Nothing else needs my time.  I can stay here as long as I like.  For today, and a few precious weeks to come, I have pulled the plug on my life.  I’ve powered off—

·  obligations.  Creative ideas, reports, phone calls, plans, liturgies, meal prep, shopping, cleaning, sorting, laundry—relegated to irrelevance.  For now, I enjoy just being.

·  complexity.  Issues of social justice, politics, spirituality, connections with friends—on the back burner in this Limited Internet Service environment.   For now, I focus on those around me at any given moment.

·  convention.  To travel for three weeks in our 1978 camper van, I left anything good at home.  For now, my wardrobe choices can withstand rain, mud, wrinkles, stains, cold, heat, neglect, prolonged activity or indolence; maybe not scrutiny or a « must have » list, though.

·  sweating my appearance.  For now, I’m okay with hair that’s endured rain, hoods, hats, a few nights’ sleep, little brushing, zero washing.  Instead, when I look at the photos and want to wince, I’ll focus on the freedom and the adventure.
Restored, from being "off" and showered.

In an unexpected paradox, powering off has enabled me to charge up.  As we drive the scenic highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert, eyes wide in awe and mouth open in astonishment at the remarkable landscape, I remember that, in my old clothes, in an old vehicle, with my true self and my better half, I am content.  What happens when I reboot my life?   The calm and simplicity of my unplugged weeks will, I hope, continue to grace my days.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


In the corner of my eye,  I see a sixtyish mustached gentleman moving toward the van.  I surmise that he will ask my husband if he can help.   The hood of our campervan is up, and Elmer’s head is in the motor.   He’s checking the water pump, and anything else that might be contributing to a sound he doesn’t like.  No time like the present, in the Safeway parking lot in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, before we take the ferry to Haida Gwaii the next day.   Despite the driving rain, the football fan sports a beige ball cap, and a quilted sleeveless beige vest over a plaid flannel shirt and beige pants.   

"Someone here a Rider fan?  What happened in the BC game on Sunday?" I hear him ask my husband.    So it’s not about mechanics at all.  He must have seen our license plate and taken a shot.  Saskatchewan equals Rider Nation, right?  It’s axiomatic.

In a reflex response, my husband replies, "No idea.  My wife is the Rider fan.  She would know."

I roll down the window.   He reiterates, "Did the Riders lose?  I haven’t been able to find out."  I wonder how it’s possible not to know what happened, if you want to know, in the Internet age, four days after the game. 

"No.  In fact, they trounced the Lions 41 – 8!"  I feel thrilled to be able to say it.

"You mean they won?"  He can’t seem to get his head around the concept.

"Yes.  Ed Gainey had four interceptions."

He laughs, his eyes dance, and he claps his hands together.  He turns to leave.  After all, he’s getting soaked.   "I’ll tell my buddy," he adds, as he strolls off.  "You made my day."  Anytime.  That was easy.

Until just the next morning, that was a quaint story to file away for the next round of small talk over beer and wine at a neighborhood fire.  Two and a half hours before departure for Haida Gwaii, we arrive at the BC Ferries terminal.  It’s early, and the attendant has lots of time.  He’s feeling chatty, too.  When he finds out we’re from Saskatchewan, he brings up the game.  "The Lions just didn’t come ready to play," he mourns.

"Well," I say to console him a little, "it was revenge for the Riders.  The Lions devoured them the week before."

He nods.  "I couldn’t watch," he comments, looking dazedly into his computer.  I know the feeling.  "They’re really up and down. Some days they’re ready to play, and others, not."

"That’s why the Riders are 3 – 4.  Same problem," I add.  He hands us our photo IDs and boarding passes.  Time for us to move on. We smile and wave.

I shake my head.  Football is an instant conversation starter.  An instant relationship forger.  My knowledge of the game has taken me through parent-teacher interviews, awkward introductions in professional circles, and chats, with men, notably, when I have found myself next to a man I don’t know well around a formal dinner or a lawn chair circle at yard gathering.  I imagine it must be the same for hockey aficionados.  Can’t say.  I know enough about other sports only to comment intelligently and to ask questions, not to draw any kind of informed conclusion.

Football, though, especially in Saskatchewan, and, it seems, throughout Canada, connects people, gives them a starting point to break the ice, and, just maybe, time and opportunity dovetailing, the confidence to explore somewhat more delicate subjects. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017


What did I have to lose?  So I took the quiz, just for fun.  Not one of those Facebook quizzes to see if you can spell (I’m a crackerjack speller, but then, I’ve known that since forever, especially since Grade 11 when my English Composition teacher said he would give a quarter to any student who could spell acquiesce, but then defaulted after I spelled it correctly, an action that still seems to retain some angst), or to find out what your hemispheric dominance is, or what your last name might be in another life, how much history or literature you might know, or what historical character you most ressemble.

This quiz wore legitimacy.  Sponsored by the New York Times, no less, the two-part Gail Collins quiz purported to assess what a person knew about the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.  On Part I, I scored 15 / 16.  I missed the question on the Ben Carson "listening tour": 

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson embarked on a “listening tour” around the country.  A high point came in Miami, where Carson …

1.            Took a week off to go to the beach.
2.            Got stuck in a housing project elevator.
3.            Kept pointing out that he never claimed to know anything about the federal government.

I chose three.  Wrong.  He got stuck in a housing project elevator.  Oh, the ignominities of political life.

The tally came with a comment:  You may be thinking too much about this.  (By the  way, I scored 16 / 17 on part 2 of the same quiz.  The comment there was, You know more than he does.  Well, that doesn’t take much, does it?  The bar is so low, it’s an insult.)

Seriously?  Of course I’m thinking too much about this.  To help the cause of journalism, pivotal in these dark times, I’ve subscribed to the Globe and Mail (Toronto), the New York Times, and the Washington Post.  I read Truthdig and Mother Jones.  I even gobble reports on the French election.  Le Pen, I know something about; Macron is a newbie, so I learn what I can about him, and update my knowledge of his rival.  Is the Macron victory a glimmer of hope? 

Now, days after the Comey dismissal, I still can’t understand how anyone can be played to the degree Trump continues to play his supporters.  I can’t understand how almost all of the Republican Congress can lie, shove all but the wealthiest Americans under the bus, and then self-congratulate.  How can this happen?

I have always believed that the lessons of autocracy, that insidious dissembler in its rise and in its consequences, had been learned after World War II, that the spilled blood of heroes had been shed to preserve a way of life and to teach enduring lessons.  How can a governing party be so cavalier in its dismissal of their sacrifice?  

Maybe they are busy ignoring.  As Margaret Atwood says in The Handmaid’s Tale,  "Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." (66)  As she recalls fond memories associated with hotel rooms of her past life, Offred, the heroine of that prescient work, realizes that she "wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen . . . Careless.  I was careless, in those rooms." (60 – 61).   You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, in other words.  She didn’t realize what a treasure her former life was until everything changed.    As the society around her was being transformed, she didn’t pay attention.  She "lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print, . . . in the gaps between the stories." (67)  The events didn’t concern her in particular, so why be concerned?  She learned, though, that one command can deliver the coup the grâce to a privileged way of life whose  underpinnings have become brittle.

So, let’s not be careless with our privileged life, with truth, facts, and democracy itself.  Let’s not live in the gaps between the stories.  We have to know too much, no matter how stressful that might be.   We are strong.  We can manage the stress.  We have the inner grit to live with awareness and to act.   Atwood’s advice, back in 1985, is appropriate today:  Nolite te bastardescarborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.”

Friday, May 5, 2017


This evening, I was asked to speak about ministry at our parish's Family Worship Night.  I felt honoured.  This is the text of that talk.

Good evening.  I’m honored to be asked to speak about ministry.   Why me?  Well, I’ve been a part of music ministry in this parish for more than forty years.  In the last year, I’ve  also become involved in social justice and refugee sponsorship.  So, I’ve been here a long time.  How long?  So long, I’ve been called the "church lady". 

The first time was at the Co-op.  As I chatted with the parent of a student, her four-year-old son interjected with, "Hey Mom, that’s the church lady."  The second time, though, was in Hawaii.  Yes, Hawaii.  My husband and I had just entered the gate to Diamond Head.  As we made our way to the trail head, I heard someone yell from a car window nearby.  I learned a long time ago to ignore loud sounds from car windows.  Moments later, though, a van crept up alongside us as we walked.  This time, the driver, head out of the window, yelled, "Hey, church lady, there’s someone in here that knows you and they want to give you a ride!"  Turns out that relatives of our parishioners had seen me during liturgies they had attended in our parish with their family!

This church lady’s message this evening is about stepping up.  It’s a message in five parts.

1.             Yes, you can.
You already have everything you need to get involved right now.  You don’t need special training or a particular skill of some kind.  All you need is to say, like Samuel, "Here I am."  Just show up, like you have tonight. 

2.             Think small.
You are already giving witness by being here tonight.  One action.  One decision.  You don’t have to sign away your life or be in the public eye.  You can smile and say hello to people you meet, honoring the God that is in them when you do that.  You can attend church, and give witness that time for God is a priority.  You can sing from the congregation or as part of a leader group, mow the grass, water plants,  contribute to the Food Bank, help with the MACC community meals.  Or all of the above, if you wish. 

3.             Expect some bumps.
I wish I could tell you that stepping out of your own world to lend a hand will be a smooth ride.  But that hasn’t been my experience.  When bumps occur,  step back.  Ask yourself: Do people have a point?  Could I change something?  What can I learn from this?  When you’ve extracted the take-away, chalk up the experience and keep on doing.     Service is not just something nice we can do.  It’s our duty as Christians.

4.             Yes, you must.
It’s not like stepping up is a choice, you know.  Service is a duty.  Yes, a duty.  Why?  Because we are baptized Christians.  Because we are citizens of Canada.  Because we have privilege.   Every chance she had, my mother said to me, growing up:  From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  Those lines from Luke are worth hearing again: From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  So, Yvette, she would say, "God gave you life, food, safety,  two languages, education, books, music, and love, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?"  The bar was set high and getting higher all the time.  I’m so grateful to her for instilling in me the obligation to step up, because, and this is #5,

5.             It’s worth it.
Ministry has been transformational.  I am a different person because I do ministry.  Think of it—me, a person with a small amount of musical knowledge and, according to my teachers, not much ability, got to do music with  professionals (my husband, Elmer, Len Gadica, Len Varga, Paul Winichuk, Rob Dzubas).  As a result, my own musical capability increased exponentially.  I learned so much.  Every day, the dedication and tireless efforts of people I get to work with in social justice and refugee sponsorship inspire me and keep me hopeful.   I like to think I may have made a difference over the years.  Really, though, I have learned so incredibly much more than I have given.

To conclude, let me say: The world needs you, every single one of you.  Be what you want to see in the world.  After all, as the Jewish saying goes, “If not us, who?  If not now, when?” 

And remember,

Yes, you can.
Think small.
Expect some bumps.
Yes, you must.
It’s worth it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


I still can’t figure out how Christians can support politicians that empower the alt-right—the likes of Donald Trump and Kellie Leitch.  Some Christian supporters of such candidates rationalize their allegiance to those who strategize the use of hate for political gain by pointing out some positive traits they might display, or advantageous policy proposals they might put forward.   So, it seems that queasy supporters do recognize the apparent paradox, and feel a need to address it.  Still, for me, bullying, vulgarity, threats, and exclusion, reveal people for who they are in their core.  As a result,  those actions will always trump any platform they might espouse, no matter how positive.  I would not be able to escape the feeling of being played.

How can people profess to be Christians and support actions so contrary to the Gospel?  I can’t believe that, when Jesus exhorted his disciples to go and tell all nations, he wanted to impose any culture (turned out it was Western) on unsuspecting peoples, collect conversions like trophies, burn resisters at the stake, set up theocracies, shun people with different beliefs, humiliate,  shame, abuse, or violate people to subjugate them.  

The man who was all about love could not sanction such acts. I have always believed that Jesus intended instead to have his disciples say to all who would listen:  You are loved.  You are a child of God.  You are good.  You are important.  Don’t worry.  Smile.  Know in your heart’s core that you are valued.  Now, go, spread joy, free the imprisoned, feed the hungry, find shelter for the homeless, welcome the stranger, share resources with everyone, use only what you need, be kind.  Love.

Turn the other cheek, Jesus said, forgive, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  What does that say about eight executions in Arkansas planned for a ten-day period coming up in April?

The Gospel mandates us to feed the hungry.  What does that say about US budget proposals to cut funding to Meals on Wheels so that the rich can have tax breaks?

The Gospel mandates us to welcome the stranger.  What does that say about bans on refugees in the US and, in Canada, proposals by a candidate for the leadership of a political party for screening procedures to see if they adhere to what some would claim are Canadian values?

The Gospel mandates us to take care of the widow and orphan.  What does that say about tax cuts that line the pockets of the super-rich?

The Gospel compels us to befriend the outcast as Jesus did in healing the lepers, eating with the tax collectors, talking with women at the well, and praising the generosity of the Samaritans.  What does that say about legislators who deny rights to people based on their race, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation ? 

The Gospel reminds us that Jesus berates the Pharisees for focusing on the letter of the law.  What does that say about those who would interpret each word of the Bible literally?

The Gospel commands us to love our ennemies.  What does that say about people who send threatening messages  peppered with abusive language through social media, profane civic leaders, bully those who disagree, or shout "Lock  ’er up" ?

When I hear people at rallies, in Canada as well as in the US, yell out, "Lock ‘er up!",   I visualize Jesus present to hear those cries.  I want to wrap that Jesus  in my arms, the one with the wide eyes, aghast in disbelief, the head that nods  from side to side, and the silent tears that well up at the corner of the eyes, glisten for a few moments, and then spill over, to carve a mournful path down his cheek.  I want to pat his back gently, and say,  "It must be so hard to watch everything you stood for distorted and misused.  No wonder you’re heartbroken."  Then, as I am transported to Judea under Herod, to a courtyard outside the palace of the Roman governor, Pilate, and to another angry crowd, this one shouting, "Crucify him!", I realize the heartbreak swells from an even deeper place.

I’d like to add, "I’m sorry," but that seems inadequate, an abdication of responsibility.  It’s so easy to blame others for challenges we face.  It’s easy to find a scapegoat.  It’s so tempting to hoard resources for ourselves, figuring that if we share, there won’t be enough for us.  But then we are working from the stance of scarcity, and all we will get back is more scarcity, more of not enough. 

The Gospel calls us to give our coat to a person who doesn’t have one, and our shirt too, if needed,  to work from a stance of abundance, with confidence that there’s enough for everyone.  Generosity begets abundance.

It must be said: The Gospel and the alt-right view of the world are mutually exclusive; they cannot co-exist.     Fr. James Martin tweeted on March 28:  "Trump’s 'care' for the environment  is the opposite of Catholic social teaching."     Sr. Helen Prejean on March 26, said, on Twitter:  "Pro-life Christians don’t plan 8 executions in a week."   Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times exposes the paradox  in "Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan . . .", and Henry A. Giroux examines the culture of cruelty in his March 22 Truthout article.   Although these authors have already expressed the dichotomy of Christian support for the alt-right with stark clarity and eloquence, I must speak up as well and add my piece.  I simply can’t get my head around how Christians could support Donald Trump or his clones.  

As Bert Pitzel, Social Justice Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Regina said, "What do you do when a person’s mind is unknowingly but stubbornly holding on to harmful ways of thinking, unable to change itself to be what the world really needs it to be?"   I have a long way to go yet to have any kind of answer to that question.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


The pages of my journal bear witness to where some of my time has been invested during my six-week absence from these pages.  I've been reading and reflecting.  A lot.  Today, as I continue to read, I've come across a sobering list of fourteen traits of fascist societies by the Italian writer Umberto Eco.  Chris Hedges cites that list in his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2006), that I started to read just this morning.  Eco's entire article is available from the New York Review of Books.  It is dated 1995--more than twenty years ago, truly a presager of trends we see playing out in so many countries today.  I share the list here, quoted from Eco's article.

"But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counter-revolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but it was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia.
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.
As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements. The most influential theoretical source of the theories of the new Italian right, Julius Evola, merged the Holy Grail with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, alchemy with the Holy Roman and Germanic Empire. The very fact that the Italian right, in order to show its open-mindedness, recently broadened its syllabus to include works by De Maistre, Guenon, and Gramsci, is a blatant proof of syncretism.
If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled as New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge—that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon Blood and Earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.
9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.
10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.
11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was “I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples”—“maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show."