Fascism, 3

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

No state currently assumes a Fascist identity by being run by a Fascist or National Socialist (the official name of the Nazi Party in Germany) Party. Nevertheless, there are perhaps as many as a dozen de facto Fascist states in the world in 2022, depending on how rigorously we want to apply our criteria.

First and foremost, there is Putin’s Russia. The brief summer of hope following Gorbachev’s tenure in the crumbling Soviet Union rapidly slid into near anarchy, and was only redeemed by the advent of the Strong Man of charisma, Vladimir Putin, backed by an underworld oligarchy willing to invest enormous amounts to propel him into and keep him in power. 

The invasion of Ukraine now underway is the “great unmasking” on the world stage of Putin Russia as the predatory fascist eagle.  Fascist states in Europe have had an historical fascination with the eagle in all its emblematic forms.  It is the quintessential bird of prey, king of the sky.  Mussolini’s Italy turned to the Roman eagle and the consular “fasces” for symbolism.  Hitler’s Third Reich adopted its own near-Aztec form of the great bird.  Russia has long had a two-headed eagle as a national icon – facing east (Asia) and west (Europe) at the same time.

As noted in a previous post, Fascism is adaptable to the particular milieu in which its proponents operate. It has taken on a distinct Russian tinge by adopting Russia’s historic self-identification as the lords and guardians of all Slavdom. The collapse of the Soviet Empire has never been truly accepted by Mr. Putin and the hardliners who held sway there.  They are on a quest to reassert Panslavism, bit by bit. Hitler’s playbook of making piece by piece claims while disavowing the true agenda of total annexation has so far worked well to lull the materialist and comfort-addicted West into somnolence, just as Hitler knew it would for the Western democracies in the 1930s until it was nearly to late to recover.

Only yesterday did I finally hear a prominent European leader openly call Putin a “Fascist Dictator”.

Let us compare President Putin’s remade Russia with Signor Mussolini’s eight Native Characteristics of Fascism:

  1. Strong nationalism/Sense of special national mission: Ask Ukraine and Russia’s other nervous neighbours. Russia has historically seen itself for centuries as “The Third Rome” and the anointed (imperial) protector (Lord) of all Slavs.
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority = Putin as a life-term President.  Main method of eliminating tiresome and really challenging opponents – assassination. We are witnessing in live-stream the arrest of masses of Russian opponents of Putin demonstrating their outrage to Russia’s blatant aggression.  Over the years there have been a number of (not-so) mysterious deaths of key opposition leaders since Mr. Putin took over the Kremlin permanently. We are still waiting for his “Fuhrer”-style moniker, though.
  3. Police State, arbitrary justice: those who defy the regimes have little chance of getting off once taken before a kangaroo court. The KGB (of which Putin was once the Director) has re-emerged with new (and greatly feared) initials – the FSB for internal affairs and the GRU for foreign spying.
  4. Centrally controlled economy: There is a translucent façade of Capitalism covering massive corruption and underworld collusion with enormous kickbacks to the government and many top insiders. The West has known about this for decades and done nothing to stop the enormous exportation of robbed state funds to money-laundering bank accounts and property investments. Only with the Ukraine crisis is there talk of freezing these proceeds of massive crime at the expense of the long-suffering Russian people.  Putin is as personally rich as any Tsar ever was, and his henchmen and their families are as rich as any of the old Tsarist princelings and archdukes.
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways): once more, ask Russia’s neighbours.  NATO is the Big Bad Wolf, but ask internal dissident religious groups, or independent writers and thinkers, or militants on the LGBTQ2+ spectrum about the scorn and abuse directed their way.
  6. Militarism: the whole world can see this one on massive and horrific display. Even the nuclear sabre is being rattled to intimidate the soft-bellied West.
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, however defined: see above, and doubtless more to come.
  8. The elimination of individual rights and constitutional protections of the lives and property of both non-citizens and citizens who forfeit the tolerance of the government for any reason: As noted.

Nominal opposition groups are closely watched. They are allowed to continue on sufferance for show. Elections are completely rigged.

(References – https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-putin’s-russia-fascist/

Our second extant case is the People’s Republic of (Red) China, an ally of Putin’s. Still nominally a Communist state, the reality is that China stopped being such an entity thirty years ago.  Instead, it has moved remorselessly into an operating Fascist system, while still seeking to fool the rest of the world and its own people that it can continue to plausibly claim to be a great Socialist “People’s Democracy”. While there is still a tightly run state system of social programs and benefits, Nazi Germany also did all that very well for citizens in good graces with the government.

Key economic sectors are still run by close government supervision and sometimes very heavy direct government funding – just like Mussolini’s “Corporate State” and Nazi Germany’s closely monitored supervision of Germany’s major corporations. But the management and oversight are contracted out to carefully licenced entrepreneurs whose job is to corner markets and channel huge profit-shares back to the State. The parallels to Hitlerian Germany and Il Duce’s Italy are startling.

Chairman-President Xi has become less and less accountable to any controlling body and more and more independent in control and power to decide on his own what will be done and by whom. “Red” China has become more and more like a model Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler would recognize as kin.

Reference: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-china-fascist-state/

Taiwan is on China’s radar, and the course of events in Ukraine will be closely watched to see the extent of the West’s will to resist flagrant aggression with open war.  Taiwan has made it clear that if attacked it will fight.  The West (and Japan, South Korea, and Australia) will be sorely tried when this happens, just as they are now being greatly tested in Europe.

China’s historical national identity is that of the “Middle Kingdom” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” (its Emperors were “Sons of Heaven”) – in Western theological terms, “the elect of God”. More prosaically, China sees itself as the natural overlord of Asia. Over the centuries, China has periodically attempted to assert this assumed sovereign right.  Although overrun by outside barbarians several times, China has always absorbed its conquerors and re-emerged culturally stronger than ever.

Since the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the only real check on Chinese expansionism has been the presence of the United States in Japan, South Korea, and South-East Asia – notably Taiwan and the Philippines.  With China’s emergence as the #2 World Superpower, some sort of showdown over South-East Asia will come.

China plays a wily long game, counting on the gradual wearying of Western (US) resolve to pay the price to sustain democratic regimes so far from their home shores. The transformation of the Chinese state-run economy and political scene from any real form of Marxism to a unique form of Fascism geared to their culture has been carefully managed to reinforce the nation’s long-term goals of obtaining regional hegemony and global dominance.

Fascism is always a dangerous ideology, remarkably flexible so as to play into the specific environments where its ambitious power-seekers hope to win control.  For this reason, vigilance is required in detecting it for what it is, and for knowing when it is not really there despite wannabe imitators who are just dabbling with particular parts of its appealing racial and supremacist dogmas. Wisdom is found in knowing the major typical characteristics of the system and watching for their coalescing around a charismatic populist demagogue with a tight coterie of fanatical followers who have a talent for stirring up unrest among the disaffected and disenchanted segments of the population, especially when those segments become a major force because of bad and weak government and oppressive circumstances.

To see the patterns, read and study the history of the pre-World War 2 twentieth century.

Fascism, 2

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government [Plato is one great thinker who thought this – VJM] except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”

Sir Winston S. Churchill, 11 November, 1947, speaking at a Remembrance Day ceremony two years after the end of WW2.

(Photo Credit – The Well Project)

If any statesman of the last one hundred years understood something about how democracy, and especially the British model of democracy through a Parliamentary system (are you listening Canada?), must function in order to remain healthy and viable, it was Sir Winston Churchill.  Churchill also won the right to be considered one of the greatest Statesman in world history by inspiring the Allies, under the name of “the United Nations” – a term he coined, by the way – to forge a great international alliance and adopt a winning strategy to bring down the greatest menace to freedom ever faced, the Axis Alliance of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial (Military Fascist) Japan in World War 2 (1939-45).  The three major “Axis” powers, as they called themselves, were the original and greatest “Axis of Evil”.

The farther removed we become from the horrors of war and tyranny faced by our forebears, the easier it is to forget how those times really were and the more possible to whitewash, romanticize, and idealize the great Dictators. History amply demonstrates that forgetting its lessons usually takes about two generations.  War, denounced in its immediate aftermath as horrific and sloganized as “never again”, once more becomes palatable and somehow noble and heroic the farther we get from it, at least to those who love the idea of settling accounts by swift, decisive, and “necessary” violence.

For any who think romanticization of the “great nobility” of heroic deeds of daring-do is passé in our age of instant spectatorship of live-stream murder and mayhem and even real-time massacre, think again.  How do ISIS and crime gangs recruit? Why are military strike-forces always full-up? Why are mercenaries so readily available to para-national super-organizations?

If you have a taste for such reading, and want to see what goes on in a young-man’s head before, during, and after taking up arms even for a truly noble cause, read about young Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage, considered the finest true-to-life war novel about a young recruit, certainly of the 19th Century, and perhaps of all time.

Likewise, it is just as easy to forget the great, risky, temporary sacrifices the free nations made to achieve their victory over the Fascist Dictatorships between 1939 and 1945. That is really not so long ago. For six years Canada and Great Britain, which were in the war from start to finish, sacrificed the most fundamental things of a democracy, rights such as habeas corpus. Many other basic liberties and human rights were also suspended with eyes wide open. They were returned after it was all over.

We truly have little idea of what giving up such basic rights means, Canada’s little blip with “The War Measures Act” in 1970 under PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau (father of our present PM) notwithstanding. As WW2 got under way, there was serious debate about needing to so severely curtail people’s personal liberties, including severely limiting access to the most basic consumer goods considered necessities by most homemakers. To compare the limitations the world has faced over the last two years with those years demonstrates a frightful historical ignorance, as does comparing both our Mssrs. Trudeaus’ “authoritarianism” with what Canadians accepted and got through under Mackenzie-King and the Liberals of those days.

To deem a convergence of difficult factors beyond any one government or combination of governments’ ability to control into a super-sinister global conspiracy to rope us all into socialist conformity like obedient soviet proletarians is a desperately far reach. With our culture’s deep aversion to viewing the times we live in through the intensely clarifying lens of history, we drift into seeing Hitler’s moustache on persons in power who have not one hundredth of that demonic genius’ malevolence.  We are watching live real-life performances of Berchtold Brecht’s Theatre of the Absurd.

None of this does any of us proud.

Friends, hurling anathemas upon the current crop of perceived “agents of the Devil” is not a road to reaching the great majority of “the lost”. Breaking a whole slew of laws and seriously impinging on the rights and liberties of our neighbours is not going to dispose them to listen to your voices, or to lead anyone to believe that this is the way to amend a hobbling and wobbling but still legally functioning and elected democratic government in a nation built on usually sagacious, even if often self-interested compromise.

As Dickens wrote, “These are the [sort of times] that try men’s [human] souls”.  What comes out of us through the wine-press of testing proves more than anything else what we have truly put our trust in.

Free, democratic societies cannot operate without restrictions on the rights and liberties their citizens enjoy. Our World War ancestors knew this and, very largely, accepted it and lived through it. Rights come with equally important responsibilities.  They have limits, such as where they impinge on other people’s equally important rights and liberties.

The Fascists of old knew how to play the game to the hilt. They were intimidation demonstrators par excellence. They were coup d’état opportunistic specialists.  Democracy was what they hated, and its subversion by every means till people were fed up trying was their methodology. That is how Mussolini took Italy with only 30% of popular support.  That is how Hitler wheedled his way into the Chancellery in January 1933 with only 32% of Germany’s popular vote.

The neo-Fascists we see coming out of the closet today are reading from the same hymn-book. Use fear and misinformation to whip up discontent and conviction that the system cannot work, until it really does quit working. While a great many listening in to them are hearing the song they want to hear, they miss the Horst Wessel Liede (the Nazi Party anthem) thrumming in the background.

As the living witnesses to all the terrible things done in World War 2 and the Gulag (and its facsimiles in China and North Korea even today) pass on, it becomes more possible to deny much of the evil and to excuse what the enemies of freedom and democracy did as legitimate efforts to “set things right”.  In Mein Kampf Hitler boldly described what he intended to do and how. He also said flat-out that the basic technique to win the public to your goals was by retelling the Big Lie over and over again, louder and louder. He commissioned the all-time greatest propagandist, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, to drum the message home by every means available. Goebbels took Hitler’s demonically inspired methodology and perfected it. He is still much studied to this day, with adaptations to our latest technological refinements for getting the story out there.

One can admire the undeniable efficiency and straightforward solutions to serious issues achieved by dictatorships. In a lamentable and staggeringly foolish pronouncement, our own present Prime Minister once expressed admiration for Red China’s efficient methods of becoming a leading super-power.

By downplaying or simply denying the dark evil that emerges so quickly and at last destroys everyone’s right to everything, and up-playing the superficial resolution of chronic problems such as unemployment and abject poverty of whole underclasses, admirers of authoritarian rule can plausibly propose to address the sense of disenfranchisement of disillusioned sectors of the population. Ultimately, you just disenfranchise everyone (except the right people who belong to your limited ideological religion) and you (nominally) eliminate inequality! Voilà “National Socialism” – everyone socialized to be the right cog in the right slot of national glory!

Neither the Right nor the Left has a monopoly on undemocratic dehumanization and demonization of its adversaries.  If you are of the Right, the demons-in-human-form are any number of possible undesirables – those blasted Commies/Socialists/Jews/inferior races/immigrants, etc, etc. If you are of the Left, those demons are those Neanderthal throwbacks to the Dark Ages a.k.a. as “Religious Fanatics” (usually Christian here in the West)/pro-Lifers (preferably disparaged as “Anti-Choice”/Creationists (caricaturized as mindless Bible-thumpers who are anti-science/”Climate-Deniers” (a term which is nonsensical, everyone knows we live in a climate of some sort and that, over time, climates change)/ and, the newest one, Anti-Vaxxers – who are supposedly just another version of any of the above, etc., etc.

Screamers and Yellers of both Right and Left are guilty of the same offences and of equally undermining democracy.  Pushed to their logical ends (as Mr. Spock would have it), both roads end up in the darkness of tyranny and slaughter of all who stand in their way. As Spock tells us, “It is illogical to say that an illegal occupation by the forces of the Right is better or worse than an equally illegal occupation by the forces of the Left.”

Even anarchy has its Left and Right. The usual characterization of anarchism is as the most “out-in-left-field” application of Marxism. But, for six years before he took power, Hitler’s Brown-Shirts were masters of creating anarchy as a road to their ultimate goal. Their main street-fighting opponents were the Communist Black-Shirts who savoured the anarchy as much as their foes.

The incipient and thus far rather mild-mannered anarchy invading our streets is not even remotely like a Kropotkin book about the anarchy ideal. All versions of anarchy seen in history operate first by disregard for the law. This is justified by appealing to ”a higher law” (choose your religious or ideological filter for the text) which overrules the “bad law” foisted on the victimized ordinary folks. The anarchic saviours are the agents of the people who know better (the all-but-invisible wire-pullers firing out the propaganda and doing the e-transfers).

Fascism and Communism, like other ideological systems, morph according to the ground they grow in. The Marxist ideal of Communism morphed into Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union, then moved into murderous Stalinism – a very long stretch from anything either Marx or Engels had imagined.  In China it became Maoism, which was really a sort of ideological hunchback of Notre-Dame as far as its being Communist.

The original Fascism in Mussolini’s Italy appeared with new shades when adopted in the other European Fascist small-fry such as Spain under Franco, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, and Bulgaria.  Thus, Fascism can, does, and will present itself with many faces, just as it did “back in (great) grandpa’s day” (my parents’ day), wearing the national colours of its chosen targets, but sporting black and brown when doing its real business.

Failure to look and see and hear and understand bodes very ill for the trembling Western liberal democracies, some of which are under serious strain as we speak.  It would seem that unless there is some significant awakening to the signs of what Churchill called The Gathering Storm (the title of the first volume of his monumental and Nobel Prize-Winning six-volume history of the Second World War), we, like the West of the 1930s Churchill describes with such resonant clarity, may be sleep-walking on top of a Vesuvius which will spew deadly ash and lava from and to both the Right and Left.

TO BE CONTINUED

Fascism, 1

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

On January 6, 2021, in our (Canada’s) great southern neighbour, the now notorious “Capitol Riot”, or attempted coup, as many now view it, shook the democratic world.  As is well known, it is currently under investigation in the US Congress and a number of criminal trials.  One of the frequent terms used in connection with those events is “Fascism”. Many upholders of constitutional government have taken the view that the January 6 uprising was an attempted Fascist coup.

Are there Fascist elements at work in the present political scene in America?  Most assuredly.  Are there Fascist elements seeking to make inroads in other Western nations?  Certainly.  Do we have Fascists in Canada?  Of course!  But in every case, let us tread carefully before we assume we are headed for concentration camps!

In most cases, active Fascists will not openly adopt labels that too readily identify that that is who they really are.  It is becoming increasingly clear that many ordinary and well-meaning citizens are sympathetic to elements of Fascist thinking and tactics for gaining influence and even political power.  Nevertheless, I would suggest that most Western nation citizens really know next to nothing about what Fascism actually is in the flesh.

There is a real danger in too readily throwing this inflammatory political term around to label all kinds of disparate movements, groups, and provocative behaviours. There is enough frustration and anger abroad among the populace to create fertile ground for the spread of real Fascism to be a real concern, and many groups and causes have begun to latch on to Fascist-appearing ideological strains and tactics to make themselves heard. Careless, angry language just obscures the truth.

All of this is contributing to the palpable growth of the “Right vs. Left” divide in many countries as large numbers of people, especially among the less-financially secure parts of the population, feel increasingly forgotten, ignored, disenfranchised, and scorned by the actions and neglect of the sitting governments and regulators whom they perceive to be elitist while claiming to have the progressive enlightenment needed to guide (coerce?) everyone into the new society they envision.

The use of loaded language by these leaders in demeaning and minimizing the concerns, feelings, and convictions of the “ordinary folks” they seem to have less and less ability or desire to relate to does nothing to improve this sense of a yawning “great social divide” and downright disenfranchisement.  For example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pejoratively calling people who disagree with his government “anti-vaccers”, “unpatriotic Canadians” and that their opinions and views are “unacceptable” and “un-Canadian” only pours gasoline on the smouldering fires of anger and resentment.  He regularly alienates a significant segment of the population who often don’t support his party (the Liberals) and agenda. He demeans them as second-class, morally and intellectually inferior citizens.

At the time of this writing Ottawa, the national capital of Canada, which is 30 minutes drive from my home, is experiencing a “Freedom Demonstration” of individuals and groups identifying with disenfranchisement and disentitlement.  The participants are from every region of the country, originally led by truckers who have felt persecuted by certain policies supposedly designed to reduce COVID exposure at their expense. From their perspective, all kinds of other, potentially much more effective measures have been either lifted or never implemented. Many of them subscribe to a conspiratorial suspicion of a hidden agenda being connived at by big Corporations (Pharma, etc.) and deceitful politicians and their regulatory toadies. To their mind, the fact that no representative of the government or regulatory officials has deigned to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns or even speak to them confirms their convictions.  Throughout the two-year COVID crisis, this has remained a constant.

While I do not subscribe to these notions, I believe I understand where they come from.

The demonstrators have effectively subverted their own cause by letting extremist fringe elements take over the demonstrations and dialogue, allowing the manifestation of Swastikas, Confederate flags, and defacing of national monuments and private property.

We need to understand some basics about Fascism before we can sort out what we are really witnessing. We need to quit being run by our emotional responses to the extreme tactics and verbiage of the rival factions saying horrible things about the other side while being totally closed to any kind of discussion.

Standard dictionary definitions of Fascism are not very helpful in determining if we really dealing with a serious return of Fascism.

Real, ideological Fascism is the only major socio-political-economic ideology to emerge in the 20th Century. It was born at the end of the First World War. It flourished in the 1920s but especially the 1930s, which were years of upheaval and tumult ensuing from the calamitous aftermath of “the Great War” (1914-18).  It thrived in countries where the people felt betrayed by what had happened in and as a result of the war. To many at the time, Fascism seemed far more effective in dealing with the terrible economic collapse of the Great Depression and social and political chaos in the Western nations. The only alternative seemed to be Communism, which had been revealed in Russia to have been completely brutal.

The first country to be taken over by Fascism was Italy, in October 1922, when Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party orchestrated a daring coup.  The Fascists did not represent anything like a majority of the population, but, endorsed by the King and with little coherent opposition to stop his para-military militia from marching on and occupying Rome, “Musso” soon had taken control of the machinery of government. He set about converting Italy from a nominal liberal democracy teetering on the brink of becoming Communist to an authoritarian state with only one authorized political party and movement.

Mussolini’s success inspired other groups and parties to undertake similar coups, some successful, some not so much.  When the 1930s rolled in with the terrible effects of the Great Depression sweeping the world and even further undermining faith in liberal democracy as a system capable of answering the desperate needs of masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken citizens, the Fascist model assumed enormous appeal.  For some years, Italy suffered less than most countries, and the Fascist system seemed to help explain why.  A strong, centralized, nationalistic government led by a single supreme leader (“Il Duce”) did not need to deal with rival political forces to take measures to provide people with basic necessities and launch new assistance and employment programs.

The 1930s saw Fascism move into government in several more European states, such as Romania, Hungary, and Austria.  But its greatest victory was on January 30, 1933 in Deutschland – Germany – with a peculiar brand of Fascist ideology called Nazism (National Socialism).

Here are some generally accepted characteristics of Fascism as it has been seen in history:

  1. Strong nationalism with a sense of the nation’s special mission in the world;
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority.  Dictatorship is the usual format coupled with a single party State. The Dictator often takes a title other than “President” to denote his/her unique position above all others, e.g. Italy – Il Duce, Germany – Der Führer, Spain – El Caudillo;
  3. Police state: arbitrary “justice”, with regular violations of human rights;
  4. Centrally controlled economy, although still nominally Capitalist and Private Corporate;
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways); other forms of discrimination as well – oppression of homosexuals (the LGBTQ+ “spectrum” was not recognized) and repression of women’s rights being among the most flagrant;
  6. Militarism;
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, frequently sending them to special facilities (concentration/re-education/labour-penal camps). The Nazi Third Reich also practiced wholesale extermination;
  8. Removal of individual rights and constitutional protections.

Most of these characteristics are found together when Fascism gains control.  Others are subsets of these, such as censorship and tight control of media and education.

The discussion of Fascism current today in the social and mainstream media usually ignores and is largely ignorant of the real, historical experience of Fascism.  This is deplorable when these examples are still within living memory of our oldest citizens, many of whom are survivors of the terror of having lived under real fascist governments and persecution.

It is even worse when the political and academic leadership of nations and major influential institutions so blithely and flippantly trot out and resort to name-calling, using labels such as “neo-Nazi, Fascist, extreme rightist”, or various forms of “—-phobe”, etc., to demonize their opponents who dare question the rationale of controversial decisions and measures, including some taken to silence adversaries and unwelcome opinions.

Personal denigration and demonization of opponents has, historically, been the typical tactic of both extreme right and left when preparing to push for oppressive measures to silence opposition.  We need to remember that the lowest form of “argument” is personal attack on an opponent. Labelling and name-calling really demonstrate the blatant poverty and weakness of the attacker’s case, not its rightness.

Sadly, here in Canada and in much of the West, vicious personal attack has now become the usual way of dismissing opponents who are or, until recently, would have been considered in the moderate middle, and who are voicing objections to views and measures which, in a true democracy, should be subject to free and open debate.   

TO BE CONTINUED

Difference Makers, 3 – George Brown

One of the least remembered Canadian “Fathers of Confederation” is a man named George Brown.  For English Canadians, the “main man” in the formation of the “Dominion of Canada” – the original name for this enormous country occupying the northern half of Turtle Island – was and remains Sir John A. Macdonald.

Despite a recently diminished esteem, Macdonald remains a fixture in Canadian History.  His reputation has been tarnished under the onslaught of denunciations for the government’s historic abuse, neglect, and disregard for Indigenous rights.  There is certainly more than enough guilt to go round in that sorry tale, and Macdonald deserves his share for his cavalier dismissal of the concerns of the Indigenous peoples and the Métis during the years of his service as Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Before the unification of the original four provinces of British North America into Canada in 1867, Macdonald was not much of a believer in federal union.  He was too concerned with gaining and holding power in the old United Province of Canada.  This was an artificial “shot-gun” marriage of the French province of Lower Canada (Quebec) and the English province of Upper Canada (Ontario).  This Union had a dual purpose of (1) calming the currents of rebellion against the Empire to prevent the two Canadas from rushing into the arms of the Great Republic to the south and (2) assimilating those pertinacious French-Canadians into the ever-expanding British sea as the population grew.

British Governor-General Lord Durham’s scheme half worked, for a time.  By opening the door to limited representative democracy in British North America, he obviated most of the rebellious tendencies, giving opposition Reform groups access to political influence and, eventually, power.  But those stubborn French Canadians learned how to play the game and would simply not become English! 

It was in this environment that Macdonald cut his rather unscrupulous political teeth, learning to wheel and deal and compromise with Upper Canadian (Canada West) and Lower Canadian (Canada East) players of the political game of ever-changing alliances of convenience.  From 1848 on, John A. was almost always an important office-holder no matter what combo held the reins.  Eventually his opportunistic faction demonstrated its flexible principles by calling itself the “Liberal-Conservative Party of Upper Canada”.  Their name indicated their openness to any program that could give them power by adjusting to whatever the majority of voters (propertied males) in Ontario fancied at the moment.  Those standing on a program of strong principles could be readily labelled as fanatics of one stripe or another whose ravings were dangerous to law, order, and good government.

Enter a young Scot named George Brown.  The Browns immigrated to Toronto, Canada West in 1843.  The United Province was three years old.

Brown came with both business and journalistic experience.  He quickly established an unaffiliated Reform newspaper called the Banner.  Its main base was among Presbyterians, but Brown, while remaining a staunch Presbyterian all his life, quickly saw that to have real influence he must set up a secular press organ that could become representative of the wider Reform principles for all of Canada West.  The Toronto Globe was born in 1844.  It survives to this day as the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier news publications, still highly respected.  (How remarkable this is in our age of digital journalism the reader can judge.)

Reform was in Brown’s blood.  His faith principles informed his journalism.  The Globe rapidly outstripped all its competitors in Canada West, and Brown became a man who could not be ignored.  In addition, he was non-partisan in his zeal to hold politicians’ feet to the fire, whether they were “Liberal-Conservative” like Macdonald or nominally Reform, like George Hincks, another prominent Upper Canadian.

Eventually Brown felt compelled to “put his money where his mouth (pen) was” and run for office.  He won on his second attempt in 1854.  He was Independent Reform, but the Reformers gradually turned to him for inspiration and leadership.

Meanwhile, bad blood on a personal level had grown up between Macdonald and Brown when Brown had uncovered corruption and abuse at work in the Kingston Penitentiary, which was in Macdonald’s constituency.  The warden and his son were Macdonald’s supporters and friends and were convicted.  Macdonald attempted to have this quashed and denounced Brown for falsifying evidence.  An independent inquiry vindicated Brown’s investigation.  Macdonald attempted to have Brown censured in the legislature for falsifying the inquiry’s findings.  When Brown produced irrefutable documentary proof, Macdonald was completely humiliated.  The grudge would endure long. 

To Macdonald, Brown was “a covenanting old gentleman” (although Brown was younger than he) whom fun had forgotten, while Brown regularly and publicly denounced Macdonald as a man without scruple or principle.

For Macdonald, politics was his life and his legal practice a sideshow he spent little time on.  For Brown, his zeal and passion were all for making Canada, his adopted home, a better place according to his understanding of bringing Biblical principles to bear on law, society and government.

In that respect, he stood squarely in line with the legacy of William Wilberforce, whom we discussed in a previous post.  Brown took the plight of refugee slaves arriving in Canada to heart.  As his success grew, he used his new-found wealth to develop a settlement for these new arrivals.  He set up schools and businesses to employ them.  The objective was to enable them to live as free, independent citizens of Canada.  The effort was noble, but had only moderate success before Brown could no longer support it due to financial troubles.

Brown always stood against injustice and discrimination, as he understood it.  His causes were many, and he took them up with the pen and the wallet.  He had his blind spots, and perhaps the biggest one was his antipathy for what he termed “French-Canadianism”, which he twinned with “Papism”.  To understand this, without in any way agreeing with his notions, we need to recall that Protestant-Catholic hostility was still pretty hot back then.  In Canada, it did not take violent form, but it had a strong influence in politics and society.  As we reach the apogee of this story’s trajectory, this needs to be borne in mind.

All the main players on the stage of Canadian unification in the period leading up to and beyond 1867 were part of this dynamic.  French-Canadian politicians were Roman Catholic.  Almost all Anglo-Canadians were Protestant, mostly Presbyterian or Anglican.  There were some Irish Catholics in play too, for example the ex-Fenian Thomas Darcy McGee from Montreal.

It is spring, 1864.  After a two-year absence from the political scene Brown has returned to Parliament, which is sitting in Quebec City.  He has quickly been chosen leader of the “Pure Grits” – the Reformers who have taken up the new program of Federal Union for Canada.  It is the alternative proposal (Brown’s and the Globe’s)to the perpetually stalemated United Province where nothing ever gets done because of rival interests for Canada East and West always blocking one another. 

Through the Globe and now in Parliament, Brown has been relentlessly flogging three propositions as the only way forward: (1) representation by population, (2) Federal Government with each province having its own Assembly for its own affairs and a federal government for joint affairs, and (3) expansion of Canada into Rupert’s Land, the vast domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company stretching across the West to British Columbia. 

For Macdonald, these propositions are theoretical pipe-dreams, but even John A. is beginning to see that the old system is paralyzed.

The newly-elected Parliament has a shaky administration led by Macdonald for Canada West and Taché for Canada East.  Brown proposes a committee to study the idea of Federal Union.  Miraculously, against Macdonald’s opposition, it is approved.  Brown drafts all the leaders of all the parties into it.  Five weeks later, its report is almost unanimously in favour.  Macdonald’s is one of only three dissenting voices.

Just after the report is submitted, the shaky coalition collapses.  It looks like another futile election will produce nothing new.  Canada will go on spinning its wheels unless something amazing happens, but this seems impossible given the entrenched interests and obvious animosities of the parties and leaders.  Time is pressing to forestall American expansionism as the Civil War winds down.

Alone in his hotel room, Brown prays.  He has an epiphany.  He later relates it as a flash of insight and inspiration which does not originate from his own will.  It was “Providence” – an old-fashioned euphemism for God intervening.

That evening in mid-June 1864, George senses that a once-in-a-lifetime moment has come.  It is time to set aside personal hostility and old grudges for the greater good, for the country, for the future of all British North America.  He doesn’t call together advisors whom he knows will try to argue him out of his conviction.  He calls in a member of Macdonald’s party he respects and asks him to tell Mr. Macdonald that he wants to offer him a way forward.  He tells him he must bring M. Cartier of Canada East into it from the get-go to make it work.  Brown already knows, respects, and likes Cartier, contrary to his supposed firm dislike of French Catholics.  Cartier likes Brown.  Thet became fast friends for life.  Throughout the sleepless night, the messages go back and forth until the two rivals finally meet and agree to work together.  They exchange their first handshake in fifteen years.

In “The Great Coalition” of 1864, Brown stakes his whole prestige and career on forming an alliance with his nemesis and working under his Premiership in order to break the impasse and change the constitution of Canada to a Federal State.

At the time, this incredible act was labelled “miraculous”, “incredible”, and even “heroic”.  Some members of the House were in tears when it was announced with the effect of a lightning bolt.  The huzzahs and applause were thunderous!  “It was pandemonium!” said one report.  One diminutive French-Canadian member rushed across the floor of the House in tears and leapt onto the huge, stately figure of Brown (well over six feet) to hug him and kiss him on both cheeks! 

The new Canadian government soon learned that three Atlantic provinces were to meet in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in September for a very similar purpose – to form a Maritime Federation.  The Canadians invited themselves.  At Charlottetown, a union of all the British North American provinces was proposed and accepted in principle.  A second conference in Quebec in October hammered out many details.  Brown played a masterful role in laying out the financial background of how it could all work.

In 1867, four provinces initiate the new nation.  In 1870, it becomes five.  In 1871, it becomes six.  In 1873 it becomes seven.  In 1905, two more make the nation nine provinces.  In 1949, Newfoundland joins to make it ten.

Once committed to the great project he had long remained so sceptical about, John A. Macdonald spear-headed it very ably and overcame all the obstacles.  He deservedly became its first Prime Minister.  He and a host of other “Fathers” were knighted by Queen Victoria in 1867.

George Brown retired from politics in 1867, his task done.  He was shamefully left off the list of new knights.  He has largely been forgotten.  But it is fair to say that without his momentous, inspired and daring move (his party could have disowned him as a traitor rather than follow him), Confederation would have been long delayed and perhaps would never have occurred.  The Stars and Stripes might have been flying across the West and much else right now.

George Brown of the Globe remains one of the key difference-makers in Canadian history.  Besides laying the cornerstone of Federal Union, Brown left an enormous legacy in journalism which endures to this day.  He also founded the Liberal Party of Canada, which governs Canada right now and has ruled Canada for 90 of the 154 ½ years since July 1, 1867.

Further reading:

Marquis, Vincent.  A Truly Loyal Subject: an Account of the Life of George Brown and the

Founding of Canada.  Copyright: 1997, 2006, 2017, 2020.  Available through Amazon in print and Kindle e-book editions.

For other sources, both primary and secondary, consult the lists at the back of A Truly Loyal Subject

Truth and Reconciliation

Canada is a strange country these days, even going by the “weirder and weirder” contortions most Western nations perform to “correct” their history in our revisionist mania in the recording and (re)writing of our history.  Before the last 70 years, the Roman formula for recording history was followed for centuries all across Europe and its offspring across Terra Gaia.  This formula stated quite simply, “History is written by the victors,” like a corollary to another of their pithy adages, “To the victors go the spoils.”

Sympathy for the losers?  Certainly not!  Victims’ rights?  Victims have no rights; they lost!  They can submit or die.  As one of the great Roman historians sardonically expressed his final assessment of the genocide of the Carthaginians, “They [we] created a desert and called it peace.”

The typical 21st-Century perspective on Euro-imperialism and colonialism is that the Europeans were (and largely remain) evil and guilty of enormous crimes all across the world.  We anachronistically judge our Euro ancestors for not having known better, as we now do, than to use their 300-year-long global military and economic hegemony to subdue most of the rest of the world’s population to their empires.  Those Euro conquerors called themselves “Christian states”.  Their imperial and colonial conquests were patently violent and totally contrary to the dictates of Jesus’ teaching about compassion and love.  By rights, they should have had the wisdom and will to act contrary to the thrust of history’s imperial ideology from the time of Sargon 1 of Akkad to Wilhelm II of Germany. 

“The white man’s burden” to civilize the world according to the mixture of Christian and Enlightenment ideology the 19th Century imperial European states had concocted was a delusional rationalization to cover blatant exploitation.  Sadly, thousands of utterly sincere missionaries aided and abetted in the effort.  By the grace of Providence, some good even crept into some of what happened.

A thousand “if only” scenarios raise their heads.  Passing to the Great Beyond, many of those imperialist ancestors may well have stood quaking before Jesus in great repentance and bitter remorse for failing so miserably to represent Him and His Kingdom and inflicting untold misery on vast multitudes of people they had taken little account of as also being fully and equally made in His image and called to be His sisters and brothers.  Fortunately, He is merciful and all-wise.  “There but for the grace of God…” as the saying goes.

In our new enlightenment about the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, we accept our (as the children and heirs of their actions) guilt and shame.  We profess the need and duty to somehow compensate the descendants of the victims, somehow find a road to reconciliation.  Here in Canada this means most especially finding resolution with our indigenous peoples while not forgetting the descendants of Africans transported as slaves from their homes.

We cannot undo what was done.  A million ongoing acknowledgements of Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal, and even ecclesiastical) and private entities and individuals that we are on unceded indigenous territory will not be enough.  Countless billions of dollars of compensation cannot restore what was taken, stolen, wrecked and ruined by both deliberate and unheeding seizures, removals, kidnappings of children to assimilate them, and occupations of lands once promised in perpetuity.  Some lands can probably be at least partially restored, but far too much is simply not restorable – having become the sites of major cities and towns, or having been ravaged beyond repair by industrial and commercial exploitation.

And enormous swaths of territory have been overrun and occupied by “settlers” and their descendants who now regard these lands as their home.  To dispossess these millions is unthinkable and undoable.

Vocabulary is a two-edged sword.  It is certainly offensive to our indigenous brothers and sisters to continue to call them “Indians” (although some of them still call themselves that in conversations among themselves, or with more trusted non-indigenous friends, as I have seen firsthand among my own indigenous friends).  No one of any discernment would call Métis “half-breeds” any more.  Neither is “Eskimo” an acceptable term for Inuit (although some Inuit still call themselves that!)  Such terms are rightfully banished from proper communication. 

On the other side, I do not find the term “Settler” to refer to “everyone else” now living on Turtle Island (an indigenous name for North America) at all helpful.  If “Indian” is a loaded pejorative on the one side, “Settler” is equally loaded and pejorative on the other.  I am not a settler.  My ancestors came to Canada over 350 years ago.  I too am now “indigenous” to Canada, although I will not use that term out of respect for my First Nations neighbours.

“Neighbours”.  As a wise local Algonquin Elder says, we will go much farther in accepting and being reconciled to one another as neighbours now, rather than continuing to perpetuate the old wounds with unnecessarily divisive language.

This is also deep spiritual wisdom.  It accords with both Indigenous and Christian spirituality.  We are all children of the Great Spirit, wherever we were born and our ancestors came from.  It is as true for the newest immigrant as for the aboriginal person whose first ancestors crossed from Asia to Turtle Island ten, twenty, or thirty thousand years ago – also as immigrants, even if very long ago.  To recognize one another as neighbours is the language of respect and equality, not of division and animosity.  Neighbours can have their differences, but they have to learn to get along and live together.

Being a neighbour means having an ongoing relationship with mutually recognized rights, privileges, duties, and obligations.  It means communicating and negotiating, setting out parameters by mutual agreement.  It means resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, deceit, aggression, intimidation, or exploitation – on both sides.  Not all the aggression, violence, and intimidation in recent years has been from the “Settlers”.  Justification of it through calling on the old wrongs of history is no better or higher than, let’s say, a “Settler” reverting to the old Roman principles referred to at the beginning of this discussion.  As Jesus said with universal application to all the children of the Great Spirit, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

Two hundred or so years ago, our “settler” ancestors lost sight of all that, although these kinds of notions had not been entirely absent when Canada was New France and Acadia.

It is well past the time for us to begin to truly remember how to learn to live together.  Reconciliation is many-sided.  It includes at least the following aspects:

  1. Reconciliation in our own hearts and minds with our own part in the wrongs of the past and the present;
  2. Reconciliation of Indigenous with one another for wrongs done to one another, and a real desire to make amends as can be done;
  3. Reconciliation of Euro neighbours with one another for wrongs done to one another here in Turtle Island;
  4. Reconciliation of Euro-neighbours with more recent arrivals whom they have wronged in a variety of ways;
  5. Reconciliation of Indigenous and Euro-people first by accepting one another as neighbours and then as partners in caring for Turtle Island;
  6. Inclusion of all other neighbours in #5.

Perhaps #6 appears as if it should be part of #5, but the most recently arrived neighbours do not carry the guilt and shame of the earlier Euro-immigrants.  That is why they are separated.

There is very much more about this subject that has been said and will be said than these few comments.  The interested reader can seek out a rapidly growing body of Canadian input of all kinds from a wide variety of reputable sources – academic, institutional, judicial, governmental, ecclesiastical, Indigenous.

The greatest wish we can have for this process of reconciliation is that it will bring true Shalom[i] to the northern half of Turtle Island now called Canada.


[i] Shalom is a Hebrew word usually translated as “peace”.  It means a great deal more – as the kind of peace coming from God in His intention for all things being set in order according to his Good Will.  As in the Christmas story “Peace on earth to people of good will” – Shalom on earth…

Difference Makers, 2: The Greatest Englishman of the 19th Century

If asked who the greatest citizen of your homeland is or was for a given century or period, how would you pick such a person?  Would you automatically exclude some people on the basis of gender, political affiliation, or religious affiliation, for example?  Would certain sorts of life-time achievements place some individuals at the head of your list of candidates?  Would such indicative achievements be in politics, social and economic reform, generation of wealth and economic growth, or artistic and entertainment inspiration?

I suspect that few Englishmen alive today, let alone over the last century, would (have) pick(ed) the person selected by the leading figures of British society and life at the end of the nineteenth century for greatest English/British person of their century.  It is likely that many 21st Century British would barely recognize his name, let alone why he was so honoured, both at the time of his death in 1833 and why he was still so remembered and honoured half a century and more later.  Here in Canada and elsewhere in the West, outside of some narrow circles this man’s recognition factor would be close to zero.  We have made ourselves abysmally parochial despite our ready access to vast quantities of (mis)information which is 99+% of no consequence in making better people of ourselves.

Here is my question for you: “Have you ever heard of William Wilberforce?”  If so, I commend your historical knowledge.  Next question: “What do you know about his legacy and why he was once and still is considered by some to be the greatest Englishman/British citizen of his time and possible ever?”  Greater than Sir Winston Churchill, recognized as the greatest statesman in the world during the 20th Century?  Greater than revered Queen Victoria, his contemporary for a short time?  Greater than Queen Elizabeth II, our reigning monarch and current “Good Queen Bess”, and the longest reigning monarch in British history?  There are no lack of potential “Great Ones” to put on the candidates’ list.

After all the votes are in, it would most likely come down to Wilberforce and Churchill.  It would be a tight race.  Both of them had an impact far beyond the British Isles, as well as one that has far outlasted their lifetimes. 

Churchill himself called Wilberforce a much greater man than he, and perhaps the greatest Parliamentarian and finest Parliamentary orator in British history.  As vain as he could be at times, Churchill did not think he should even be on the same podium with Wilberforce.  Other great orators of Wilberforce’s own time, including men such as Burke and Fox and the inimitable William Pitt himself, conceded the honours to Wilberforce, who was called “the man with the golden tongue” by his peers.  Even his numerous enemies were spellbound by his “golden tongue and angelic voice”.  Coming from Churchill, the incarnation of the British bulldog spirit and last truly great master of the spoken English word, naming Wilberforce as his Master in the House [of Commons] is high praise indeed.

Historically literate people around the world are likely to know that Wilberforce played some role in ending African slavery globally, and more specifically the African slave trade in the British Empire and, by extension, around the world.  If you know that, you are half-way there.

The second half of his legacy is, to most of us, more obscure if not entirely unknown.  To understand it, you would need to look pretty closely at British society (and, by extension, the society of Britain’s vast empire) in about 1790 and then look as closely again a hundred years later.  Most of us would rather yawn, but, even superficially, the changes would be (and indeed were) staggering.

The observations we are looking for do not concern Britain’s status as a world super-power or economic prowess.  From end to end of those hundred years, Britain was the acknowledged world super-power and a financial and economic powerhouse.  What we are really looking for is a sea-change, a paradigm shift, in society itself – its general tenor and temperament.  The other notable point is that the United Kingdom was the only major European nation not to undergo violent socio-political revolution or upheaval during all that tumultuous period.  By comparison, France, Britain’s traditional main competitor until Germany knocked it off the pedestal in 1870-71, underwent violent upheavals and governmental and social mayhem in 1789-1815, 1830, 1848-53, and 1870-71.  Germany was not a united nation until 1871, and only became so through three aggressive wars.  Ditto for Italy, 1849-70.

Halévy, a prominent French historian of the 19th Century, fascinated and puzzled by this phenomenon, set out to determine why.  After meticulous research and minute analysis, he boiled it down to the great good fortune of the British to forge a moral and ethical revolution coupled with a gradual social and political revolution that forestalled many of the worst grievances of the underclasses.  He attributed much of the inspiration and leadership for this extraordinary and singular development to a group of British reformers known as the Clapham Sect, whose acknowledged founder and leader was William Wilberforce.  Their foes acidly mocked them as “the Saints” and dubbed them a hypocritical “set of Evangelical fanatics” supposedly in the pocket of the up-and-coming nouveau-riche industrialists and financiers.

As to that charge, there has never been any credible evidence to substantiate it.  Some of them, Wilberforce among them, were wealthy, and a few very wealthy.  But, to a man (and woman) they were what was termed in those days “liberal to a fault” with their money.  Wilberforce never gave away less than half his annual income, and in his bachelor years, his charity sometimes hit the 80-90% bracket.  His best friend and far wealthier Henry Thornton imitated his example. Their profligate generosity was imitated by most of the others.

“The Saints” denied that they were any kind of “sect”.  They accepted with humour the title “Saints”, knowing full well their own and the others’ numerous faults.  As to saintliness, they worked very hard to find and do what they believed to be God’s will.  They were not above being angry and failing to act equitably at times.  But they were also not above asking forgiveness and publicly admitting their wrongs. 

They remained within the Anglican Communion, with a few exceptions who were mostly Quakers.  All were anti-slavery and committed to reforming British society and civil life from the ground up.  This meant raising the poor and oppressed out of the worst aspects of their desperate circumstances.  Thus, their program was two-fold. 

Many of them were more heavily involved with the slavery issue because it remained the most publicly visible part of their mission through four decades of constant campaigning.  But all were committed to the general goal and vision of transforming British society from “base and brutish” to one where normal life was carried on with courtesy and an understanding of and considerable commitment to what moral living entails.

It would be a very long tale to recount how such a lofty goal could be approached, let alone, by and large, achieved to a point far beyond any level the numerous scoffers (like the vituperous William Cobbett) ever conceived could happen.  We speak of the 19th Century as “Victorian” in tone and tenor, in Britain and its Empire, and even, to some extent, in the USA and some European states.  Extending a degree of “righteousness” to civil life across the Empire was already a huge achievement.  The Empire encompassed one quarter of the world and its population.

We who enjoy the benefits of liberal democratic and parliamentary government today largely take it for granted.  The expectation that morality should play an important part in public and private life is a gift of this quiet revolution.  (Sadly, this expectation is now eroding rapidly.)  The “Saints” set their sights on changing the expectations of what being a statesman should mean.  They eventually successfully moved the bar of acceptable behaviour among “men of state” and “gentlemen” from forming rival cliques of unscrupulous opportunists to one of becoming people of personal integrity and probity.  Political life changed from a road to gain advantage for oneself and others willing to “scratch one another’s backs” in the game to an ideal of “public service for the general welfare of the commonwealth”.

The whole notion of “being a proper gentleman” which we find in the literature of the era (from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, where it was often mocked) emerged from the campaign of Wilberforce and the Saints, supported by King George III and Sir William Pitt, Jr.  This quiet “revolution in manners”, as Wilberforce described it, was waged relentlessly for thirty years by targeted legislation, by Royal Proclamation regarding the unabashed licentiousness of the nobility bringing shame upon all those purporting to lead the nation and teach the underclasses to respect “their betters”, and by educational reform and innovation, including the beginnings of publicly funded education.  Wilberforce reinforced this campaign with one of the all-time best-selling English books ever.  Its shortened title is A Practical View.  It appeared in 1797 and was an immediate surprise sell-out.  It remained a best-seller into the mid-19th Century as a sort of manual on how to live, think, and work as a Christian gentleman.

 Even the Church of England came within the reform purview.  Numbers of the Lords-Bishops were brought into the campaign to create a clergy that was not just time-serving and living by patronage (Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice anyone?), but truly living as examples and conscientiously pastoring their parishes.  Absentee holding of benefices was abolished.

Even as Wilberforce aged and retired, the next generation of committed reformers took up the torch to finish the job against slavery and further political and social reforms, often against serious opposition.  (Wilberforce had written in A Practical View that it was the duty of a Christian politician to further social reform.)  Wilberforce had never endorsed the notion of “equalizing” society, but the forces he unleashed and ideas he inspired naturally crossed the boundaries to aim at the full liberation of the labouring classes from the shackles of poverty, debt-slavery, oppressive social laws, and disenfranchisement.  Many of the earliest Labour leaders were back-door disciples of the principles first expounded by the Claphamites, applying them to the generalization of full rights for all males and, eventually, women.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert played a part in reinforcing rather than creating the impetus already well under way to remake the face and reform the soul of the United Kingdom.

The one who broke the dam was William Wilberforce, greatest Englishman of the 19th Century.

Difference Makers, 1: a Beautiful, Humble Life

(Photo/Video credit – YouTube)

In December, 1920, in a small town in Quebec, Canada, Napoléon Trotier and Rose-Anna Gauthier had their first child, a daughter.  They named her Denise.  She was the oldest of fourteen children who were born into the family, twelve of whom survived into adulthood. 

Such a numerous progeny was large, if not too unusual, even in the very Roman-Catholic Québec of those years.  Church teaching extolled having many children as a duty to God, and in Québec, the only thoroughly French-speaking and heavily Catholic province of Canada, the culture’s defenders and ideologues preached la revanche du berceau (the revenge of the cradle) as the antidote to the heavy British immigration into the Dominion.

Girls were expected to grow up to be faithful mothers and wives, in their turn making good the next generation’s commitment to keep the flame of faith and la culture canadienne burning brightly.  There were not many other paths open to them.  Anything else was secondary and to be let go once a husband was found.

As the eldest Trotier girl, Denise learned to do her part in the home, to help with the chores and caring for her increasingly numerous younger siblings.  She went to school and did well and found solace in the teachings of the Faith there and at church.  Saying her prayers at home was not a chore to her, and neither was going to mass, taking the sacraments, or observing the feast-days.

As she became a young woman, the expectation grew that she would find her way out of the house as soon as practical.  That meant either finding a job, perhaps in a store or some other business, or becoming a teacher of young children, and finally getting married. Nursing was another possibility, but most hospitals were Church-operated in the Quebec of the 1930s.  That meant that the nurses were usually nuns, members of one of the Nursing Orders.  So too with teaching in the Catholic schools.  Nuns were preferred, because they would not marry and leave their jobs, which almost invariably happened with young “non-religious” (as in not belonging to an order of nuns) women.

At sixteen years of age, Denise could legally leave home to be on her own, or get a job and bring the money to help support the family.  With the Depression making life hard, she was expected to do so.  She faced a difficult decision.

At sixteen, marriage and establishing her own family held no immediate appeal, even if some her friends went that route so early in life.  She had spent her whole life thus far experiencing the hard lot of that condition.  She had never had time for romance, nor any inclination to any particular boy.  She had no illusions about where that led.

In those days, the religious life was preached as a higher calling, and those who “had a vocation” were placed in an exalted position, at least according to the social priorities of the Roman Catholic population of the day, and even moreso in Quebec.  Since her youngest years, she had loved the Church and felt the mystery of the spiritual life it pointed to.  She wanted to know Jesus and experience more of His love and God’s presence. 

Every Roman-Catholic French-Canadian family hoped at least one child would enter the religious life.  Such an event lent them significant social prestige and might incline God to bless them extra.  Nevertheless, her parents (especially her father) were not overjoyed when she informed them of her desire to enter the order of Les Soeurs Missionnaires du Christ-Roi (the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King).  They knew of her predilection in that direction, but Napoléon had hoped it would be delayed till later while she worked in a paid occupation for a few years.

Denise had visited the Order’s convent in Québec City in 1936.  She was accepted to begin her novitiate that year.  She devoted herself to Christ and learned to know His love in her life.  She was instructed beyond her Secondary education and given training for putting that love into practice through charitable outreach work, as the Order’s name signified.  She learned to play piano and organ, to read music and understand musical theory.  She had a beautiful voice and was encouraged to play and sing in services, then to become a teacher of music.  Her contributions were valued and she trained many others.  Her humble heart and evident love for God began to touch many.

Canada entered World War 2 on Sept. 10, 1939.  Les Soeurs du Christ-Roi were not a cloistered Order shut off from the world.  Many of them were trained to become nursing sisters, so as to better meet the needs of those most immediately affected by the devastation of the war.  Nursing outreach became one of their principal missions.  Sister Denise added nursing to her musical and teaching skills.

The war formally ended on Sept. 2, 1945 with the signing of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.    The American occupation regime under General Douglas MacArthur reopened Japan to Western influence.  MacArthur gave Japan a liberal-democratic, Parliamentary democracy with guarantees of religious and civil liberty.

Soeur Denise was sent to Japan as a nurse to help meet some of the worst medical and physical conditions in southern Japan, where there was a significant Christian and Roman Catholic population.  The needs of these people were desperate, as they had long been persecuted and oppressed by the Imperial regime as being suspected of disloyalty to the emperor, who had been considered a living god until MacArthur decreed an end to any such pretentions.  Over the centuries since the 1500s when Catholic missionaries had made rapid inroads into Japan, hundreds, perhaps thousands, had been martyred.  Christians had been relegated to only the most menial positions in Japanese society.

Arriving in 1947, Soeur Denise and the group she came with were first given a year-long immersion crash course in Japanese and navigating Japanese culture, then sent to a variety of assignments.  The teachers were Japanese Christians as well as doctors and nurses.  Soeur Denise learned quickly and emerged from her training fluent in Japanese, which she can still speak to this day.  She also saw first-hand the terrible devastation American bombing had wrought and the dreadful poverty and social disruption the war had cost.

Her first assignment was to a remote leper colony deep in southern Honshu, the main island.  Her polyvalent training and fluency in Japanese made her able to work well in that remote context.  She served there for twenty years.  She not only learned how to care for lepers, but was part of opening and teaching in schools there for the children of the lepers.  Her teaching and musical skills later took her elsewhere in Japan.

Few things were harder than watching the wasting away of a human life as the bodies of the disease’s victims literally disintegrated.  Medications and supplies were in short supply for a long time.  Gradually, as the sufferers died and the disease was contained, the leper communities were scaled back and eventually closed.

Soeur Denise returned to Canada a number of times over her long service as a missionary nurse and teacher in Japan.  On such visits, she renewed her contacts with family and did activities to encourage support for the mission.  On one such visit, she deeply impressed the young woman of twelve who became my life-partner.  Ever afterwards, my spouse has seen her aunt as a model of God’s love alive in the world.  I soon learned to see her the same way.  Soeur Denise returned to Canada for good after nearly forty years “in the field”.  

She is now over 101 years old, still very alert and full of light and life and love.  She is not one to make much of what she did for God.  She gives all the credit to Jesus, saying it was all through the love of “le bon Jésus” as she calls her Saviour with deep personal affection.

It is rare to meet someone who, immediately and without any self-awareness that she has this affect, so clearly exudes the light of God’s presence and the gentleness and sweetness of the love of Jesus, to whom she is utterly devoted.  When she speaks of Him, it is as one speaks of the most intimate relationship possible, yet there is absolutely nothing erotic at all involved.  It has struck me as one of the purest examples of the living Spirit of Jesus in someone’s life I have ever encountered.  It has been the same every time I have been blessed to spend time in her presence.

There is no doubt that Soeur Denise has touched many ordinary people for the better during more than a century of life.  I am very blessed to have been one of them. 

For more understanding: http://www.missionnairescr.org/

The Ghosts of Christmas, 2

“Without Jesus, there is no Christmas.  It’s some other celebration, but it isn’t Christmas…. in the name of false respect for those who are not Christian, Christmas is being stripped of its true nature.”

Pope Francis, Dec. 27, 2017

(Photo credit: harmony-hill.org)

Imagine, as a first-generation Palestinian Jewish disciple of Yeshua in the First Century CE, being sent to India.  You are the Apostle Thomas (“Doubting Thomas” Didymus – the Twin).  Imagine the total newness and perplexity of such a mission, having to learn multiple unknown languages (the gift of tongues would be so useful!) and adjusting to a very alien culture, totally foreign to his own.  Imagine being alone (or perhaps with a few trusted companions, like the Apostle Paul travelled) in the midst of all that.

For the early disciples, things were much more difficult than anything we face here in the post-Christian West where the name of Jesus still has significant recognition.  The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness many western believers have are the result of centuries of holding a privileged position in society and a preponderance of cultural influence for over a millennium.  Now that is largely gone and we don’t know how to cope.  We’ve forgotten how to begin again.

The truth is that the only doors that have closed to Western Christians are those they have closed themselves.  No laws in Europe (perhaps Russia is an exception for Protestants and Catholics), Canada, or the USA have yet been made restricting Christians from accessing any profession, pursuing any career they choose, or engaging in any social activity or program.  Our courts and constitutions still guarantee freedom of conscience (religion), expression (speech), and mobility (the right to go and live anywhere within our borders without restriction).  There are some hindrances in some areas, such as belonging to some organizations or the ability to publicly express some views, but this is not persecution.  Not even all Christians agree on certain contentious issues.

Real oppression and persecution look like what happened to the Christians under Rome before Constantine, or what we see today in China and North Korea, and some Islamic countries. 

Real persecution looks like what happened to Jews and, to a much lesser degree, Christians in Nazi Germany after January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor.   Jews were barred from public life, from many professions and occupations, from economic life, and from citizenship.  These measures were ramped up over several years as the Nazis tested the waters of public response.  Eventually, persecution and oppression warped into full-blown mass extermination.

The Nazis went after many other groups too – Communists, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and eventually any other political organization but their own.  Trade Unions were abolished early on.  The Nazis created a State Protestant Church called the German Christians. 

The mass of Christian adherents stood meekly by in fear or, in many cases, silent consent as the other groups were brought under the hammer.  As Confessing Church Pastor Martin Niemöller put it:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. 

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.   

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.                       

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Christians have always faced the choice to conform, to fit in to the prevailing culture and ethos, or to accept that belonging to Christ’s family, His ekklesia – the community and assembly of those called out of “the world” to be witnesses to God’s establishment of a new and different kind of Kingdom in the very midst of the Kosmos (the whole existing system of the broken creation) – means having different goals, different values, and a fundamentally different mission.  The Christians of the West have been immersed for long generations in a system that sought somehow to marry the new with the old.  Most believers sought to continue to fully enjoy and benefit from the comforts and pleasures of the system that declares “Caesar is Lord” while having the guarantee of God’s acceptance and His promise of eternal salvation from declaring that “Jesus is Lord”. 

I suspect that this mindset still very largely applies to the vast majority of Jesus-followers in the West.  Most of us never even think about it as we carry on our daily lives.

After all, historically most of our leaders have modelled this flawed and compromised model, and this told ordinary folks that they could too.  This regime was called “Christendom”.  Formally, Christ was recognized as “King of kings and Lord of lords” through doctrine and ceremonial while the religious, political, social, and economic leaders carried on business as usual, applying for God’s pardon after doing what they wanted or believed they were compelled to do.

Power is quite possibly the most potent intoxicant and addictive experience most people ever taste.  Even in small doses, it is deadly.  Basic physical drives (thirst, hunger, sex, need for shelter) always return once sated, but excesses stemming from them can be tamed by determined self-control and self-discipline.  They are straight-up kinds of things and not subtle.  Power is a far more serpentine force, subtly disguised in all sorts of devious permutations.  It lurks as a potential motive in almost all human interactions and relationships and lies beneath almost every conflict at every level of social intercourse, from family, to commerce, to government.  Even churches find themselves with often bitter internal politics, almost always based on disputes over control of who does what.

It is therefore no surprise at all to find the temptation of power very quickly raising its venomous serpent’s head from the very first moment of history in the Garden of Eden.  It landed even among Jesus’ most intimate group of first disciples.  Even there, when He was still physically walking among them, we find observations such as “As they walked along the road, they fell into arguing among themselves about who among them was the greatest.”  On their last long walk to Jerusalem before Jesus was crucified, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, sidled up to Jesus to apply for the two best seats at the table – on His right and left hands – at the great Feast celebrating the inauguration of Messiah’s rulership over the whole world.  The others voiced their indignance in no uncertain terms!

Yeshua continually rebukes the disciples (and via them, us) for their (our) obsession with gaining greater position and recognition – greater power! – in the coming Kingdom of God.  He is sometimes very direct and sometimes more subtle.  He says that to be great in God’s Kingdom requires being the servant of all.  He says that rather than seeking to lord it over one another and outsiders and imitating the “rulers of this age”, we must have the same attitude and posture as a little child.  He tells us that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.  Finally, the day before he dies, he strips down to his undergarments and does the work of a slave, going to each of them with a basin of water and a towel to wash and dry their dirty feet.  He had to shame them to wake them up!  I suspect that we need the same wake-up call!

Jesus knew full well that his followers would still fail repeatedly at servant-leadership.  He knows that we still fail miserably at it most of the time.  The allure of power, the allure of Caesarian salvation through worldly political, military, and economic control and manipulation, is the most basic of all humanity’s hamartia (the Greek word usually translated as “sin”, which means “missing the mark, not measuring up”).  It was the original siren-song hissed by Satan to Eve and Adam (who stood by and listened but said nothing): “[If you eat that fruit] you most certainly won’t die!  You will become like God Himself [get ultimate power if you taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil].”

Given all this, the whole 1600-year misadventure of Christendom, from 312 CE (Constantine’s Edict of Milan) to 1914 CE (the outbreak of World War One) is no surprise.  It was an enormous blunder of monumental proportion, but no surprise. 

The Apostles still quarrelled even as they went out to carry out “the Great Commission” after Jesus’ ascension in or around the year 33-34 CE.  Peter quarreled with the elders in Jerusalem after he visited Cornelius’ (totally Gentile) household in Caesarea and launched the Gospel among the Gentiles.  Paul had a huge public spat with Peter in Antioch as Peter backtracked on what he had done in Caesarea.  Paul rebuked Barnabas over Barnabas’ nephew Mark’s abandonment of their mission in Galatia.  They parted ways for years thereafter.  Paul had innumerable difficulties with jealous rivals as he did his work among the new Gentile congregations.  The Corinthian church was torn apart by ugly factional quarrels over which of the various leaders was greatest.

Christians in Canada and the USA today have much to be thankful for!  To waste our time and energy lamenting the decline of Christmas and the Church’s influence totally misses the real point.  Seeking to regain lost power and prestige in politics and social agendas is also chasing a phantom, a “ghost of Christmas past”.  Such quests are doomed to fail.  It is good to know history and learn from it, but folly to try to recover it and repeat it.  This scheme failed all through 1600 years of Christendom. Today it remains a ghost-trail in seeking how the Kingdom of Jesus will come just as it was all through those many centuries.

The priority is and always has been, “The Kingdom of God is at hand/right here/among you now!  Metanoeite – (Turn around!  Repent!) and believe (trust in) the good news!”  Live as if it’s true now, today, with all the impact that will have in how you do life each day.

“If you seek to save your life [live it the way the “present age” says leads to success} you will lose it.  But if you lose [give] your life for My sake, you will find [really discover] it.”

Yeshua/Jesus.

The Ghosts of Christmas, 1 (with Apologies to Charles Dickens)

(Photo credit: cinemafaith.com)

I love what Christmas represents at its best.  I confess to nostalgia at this time of year, but not just nostalgia about when times were simpler and Christmas was still really and recognizably about the birth of Jesus Christ and all he means in Bethlehem two thousand plus years ago. 

Since Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec in 1608, Canada has been a land of many immigrants and continual cultural change.  Originally, this principally meant a mixing of three streams – the original aboriginal stream, the French settler stream, and the British settler mixture of English, Scottish, and Irish dating from 1763 (much earlier in Newfoundland and 1713 in the Maritimes).  All these streams are still immensely important in understanding who Canadians are and how Canada became what it is.

Since the early 1900s there has been a vast influx of many other ethnicities.  Until the 1970s and 1980s, the major contributories to this fourth stream were mostly of European origin.  There has always been a trickle of others along the way, but since roughly 1980 the non-European factor has become a great tide.

To turn away from and try to stem that tide would be folly.  Nor would I or most “Old Canadians” wish to.  It would also be to deny a vital, enriching part of who and what we now are and are becoming. 

For the most part, our First Nations graciously and generously received the early settlers from France and made room for them.  The coming of the English after the Seven Years War of 1756-63 (La Conquête to French-Canadians) radically changed the whole dynamic. 

Whenever possible, New France had largely dealt with the indigenous as both partners and allies.  The French sent missionaries and established schools and hospitals from which the indigenous were invited to benefit.  Things were not perfect, but there was a level of mutual respect.  Even the enemy Haudenosaunee (Iroquois to the Europeans) mostly knew what was what with the Canadiens habitants and the officers of New France.  Eventually, they made peace based on mutual acceptance and earned respect.

Following the bitter British Imperial Civil War known as the American Revolution (1775-83) came the arrival of a major influx of American-British refugees known in our history as “the Loyalists”.  Unfortunately, the arrogance and presumption of these settlers and their descendants too often repaid indigenous (and Canadien when it came to commerce and business) kindness and generosity with disdain, theft, usurpation, duplicity, and exploitation. This is not to whitewash abuses of the indigenous committed in Quebec as the spirit of assimilation began to set in there too. Today, the national and provincial governments, along with some of the worst offending institutions, are only now beginning to ‘fess up and make some serious moves to try to heal the terrible wounds and scars on the national soul.

The culture of Canada is no longer rooted in a formal Christian identity inherited from the European nations.  One symptom of this is an accelerating shift away from the ethos of an at least nominally Christ-centred Christmas season.  This is in no way the “fault” of the “Fourth Wave” of non-Euro ethnicities who have come and continue to come with all their own traditions. 

It is not a denial of the richness of this new cultural input to mourn the neglect and what strikes “Old Canadians” such as yours truly as a deliberate abandonment of the Christian heritage of this much-blessed nation.  I repeat: the neglect is not the fault of immigrants.  In fact, it is not even their desire on the basis of some sort of right to equality. 

It is a choice of the Euro-element to turn away from and shame its own ancient heritage in favour of a more “progressive”, secular one based on pseudo-Enlightenment values.  There is an assumption by the elite movers and shakers now ensconced in the seats of greatest cultural and educational power that ditching the Judeo-Christian ethos that so greatly influenced the original “Dominion of Canada” founded in 1867 has been essential to a complete makeover of Canada’s national identity.  That elite believes that their agenda must still be militantly pursued as an unfinished task as long as any of the old culture’s vestiges cling to the national psyche.  The open animosity to specifically Christian institutions and heritage contributions and the rewriting of our legal traditions and history to exclude them as of any importance blatantly demonstrate this.

The general population is likely little concerned about this culture-shift and the militant secularization and redefinition of Canada it signals.  Even most still-professing Christians have, like the proverbial frog in the pot, grown accustomed to this trend, and seldom discuss the issue, let alone what might be done to counter it.  It seems to them as inevitable and perhaps, somehow, for the best, or at least God’s will. 

At any rate, Christ has virtually disappeared or been consciously erased from both the public and domestic life of this country.  Strangely, the country’s national motto is still unchanged and remains inscribed over the main entrance of our Parliament Building, at least for the moment.  It reads: “He [the Messiah] shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 72, verse 8) To the Fathers of Confederation in 1867, this declared (in their still Christianized interpretation) God’s dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and later the Artic) Oceans, and “the river” was the St. Lawrence – the highway into the very heart of the country.  The English version of the national anthem still has the line “God keep our land” – with allowance that “God” can mean whatever you like.  (The French version is unchanged from its original lyrics written in the late 19th Century, and it is blatantly religious!)

The post-Christian cultural revolution in the West I have been describing in its Canadian context is the same which has swept Europe, the United States, and Western outliers such as Australia and New Zealand.  Many of the European states have a barely breathing remembrance of Christendom, despite the appearance of oddities such as political parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats”.  Churches are largely museums and cultural artefacts, even those still kept open for religious functions among the remnant of Christians.  Such ceremonies are seen as living lessons in sociology and anthropology by their State benefactors.

In the USA, desperate manifestations such as the Far-Right’s mixture of radicalized Evangelicalism with demagogic populism only further prove how far things have gone.  The mixing of Christ’s name with very unchristian elements of demeaning sexism (anti-women’s rights ideologies), racism, and fear-driven exclusivism sometimes crossing the boundary into outright hatred betray the Christianity such demagogues and mega-Church leaders claim to champion.  People claiming to be motivated by love of Christ in fact exchange their allegiance to the Prince of Peace and Redeemer of all humanity for that of an imagined national identity which supposedly is rooted in God’s choice of that nation as His last best word as “the new Chosen People” who are destined to shine His light or the “light of liberty” to the rest of the world!

Last time I checked the Book of Books, there was already a Chosen People and they have not been replaced by any other.

Which brings us to the Ghosts of Christmas.  Mr. Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, named three ghosts (spirits) of Christmas – past, present, and future. 

First, I understand the futility of seeking to resurrect some past “Spirit of Christmas” as I like to remember it from my childhood and youth. 

Second, I will not pretend to have fully and clearly delineated the Spirit of Christmas Present, although I believe my observations above are largely just. 

As to the Spirit of Christmas future here in the West, and particularly in Canada, I see two possible paths.  The first is that the last whisps of the birth of the Christ-child fade into the category of myth as the radical cultural revisers hope it will.  What Christmas would signify would be massively insipid, cloying sentiment about being nice and kind and inclusive for at least a few days in the year, with a portion of romanticized surrealism about the ability of the human leopard to save itself by overcoming the innumerable spots of its general selfish behaviour and its cruelty and unconcern for the well-being of almost everyone else.

Hmm… come to think of it, we have pretty much reached that juncture now.  Watch some of the usual entertainment products for this time of year as per Hallmark and Netflix, et al.

It is not wrong to watch “nice” shows and listen to the continual rehashing of Santa, Frosty, White Christmas, Silver Bells, etc. etc. as the “usual suspect” Christmas songs are pumped out in the temples of commerce and mind-numbing emissions across our media.  It’s as if we expect to manufacture the appropriate Christmas spirit by shear volume of repetition without mentioning the name of the One the word CHRISTmas points to.  As an old friend put it so well some years ago, “We live with what we permit.”

The second possible Christmas future is a miracle that begins with the followers of Jesus.  I imagine this remnant as having their eyes opened and hearts quickened to break the spell of the fable about their powerlessness to do anything of any effect in our modern Western Babylon. 

Questions abound: How can this happen?  What would it require?  What would it cost?  How would it change lives?  What would it mean for relationships – personal, social, financial, and political?

More to come. 

Little Things Make Big Things

“The Devil’s in the details.”

– Popular saying.

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.

For want of a horse, a rider was lost.

For want of a rider, a battle was lost.

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost.”

Old proverb

Sub-atomic particles beget atomic particles; atomic particles beget atoms; atoms beget molecules; molecules beget elements; elements beget substances, substances beget organic material, which beget organisms, which beget living things.  So we are taught and given to reduce reality.

The progression from micro to macro seems universal.  Anything great can be reduced to its most basic parts by the expenditure of energy, but only energy directed and controlled could produce anything organized to begin with.  The mystery is why it should; what makes anything take that direction in a universe that functions as a quantum infinity?

The tiniest missing factor would leave it all dead and cold – but it is not.  What is defies all odds.  All the science and math we can concoct says it should not be, but here it is.  Here we are.

When we bring it into the realm of the living, we find an incredibly improbable development – DNA.  The universal Code of Life, the key to everything that moves and lives and reproduces itself and eventually becomes a conscious being even capable of knowing itself and its own existence.  By themselves, its molecules have no power or magic, but linked to one another in endless varieties and combinations they create almost endless variations of amazing and wondrous living organisms, and even intelligent beings.

Yet, take any molecule out of it and you destroy the power of the whole.  Take any molecule on its own, and it is a dead, static thing.  Take any atom from the molecule, and it destroys the element.  Take a particle from the atom, and the atom is gone, or perhaps made something else.

Universal Principle: all big things are an assembly of innumerable little things.

All great things are the product of a myriad of small things.

From galaxies to protozoa this holds true. 

In human affairs, it is no different. 

The king is nothing without the masses of peasants and subjects.

The dictator is nothing without the masses of adherents and zombified followers.

The mega-billionaire is nothing without the poor workers in their hundreds of thousands doing the work (s)he profits from.

And a human being does not exist without the union of a single sperm cell with a single egg cell. 

None of this explains any of the mystery of why it all is in the first place, and why the great ALL is brought into being by the seemingly random outcomes of illimitable coincidences.

And yet here we are.

We remain anchored to the conviction that it appears to have a meaning and purpose, despite all our fancy footwork and brain-work to reduce it to the Book of Ecclesiastes saying, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

For it to have a meaning, do I have to know it all, to see it all, to understand it all?

You think it has a meaning because everyone is searching for it, so it is universal among us self-aware beings to innately know it is meaningful and we are built to discover what it means. 

Maybe it’s enough for me to find that meaning in love – love of special people, things, places – a sense of belonging and bonding to create something together – even if it’s only among us and for the lifetimes we share.  Every generation seeks that and does that.

But what if that is really a small part, an atom or molecule, of the great story of meaning that is bound up in the great Whole, what we are meant to portray – the Story of Love and Bonding and Creating?

The Ultimate Story.  The Story of Meaning.  The Story bound up in warp and woof to the One, the Originator who once upon a time spoke, saying, “Let there BE. . .”

And it all came to be.

But then it went a-wandering and lost its way – like we so often feel about it all in our souls, that we got lost somewhere along the way.

That we need to be found and brought home, home to the center where it all began.

Home to where the First Speaker is, to where the First Lover calls for the Lost to come back.

Here we are.  If we have ears, let us hear.  The Voice is still calling, still yearning for the Lost, us, and all the errant bits and pieces, atoms and molecules, to turn around and come back where love and hearth and home abide for all and always.

This season we call Christmas echoes our yearning.  It still carries the call of the Voice.  It answers our sense of having lost the deepest and most precious part of who and what we are meant to be.  In the form of a newborn-baby in a none-too-tidy stable manger, the smallest and least form of humanity that could be used to challenge our idols of greatness, power, and significance, the Voice and very being of the One reaches down to say, “Come home!  I love you and I miss you terribly!”