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!”

This Jesus Business

I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.

Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.

There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.

Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.

Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!

Napoleon Bonaparte

(Photo credit – Pinterest)

Hands down, the most controversial person who has ever lived is Yeshua ben-Yosef of Natzeret.  If that name is not familiar, he is better known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ.

 In the 21st Century, I would guess that fewer people than ever, over the last few centuries at least, would even think to nominate Jesus as “the most controversial person who has ever lived”.  This is a sure sign of how far the West has slipped its historical and traditional moorings since 1950.

In a German biography of Adolf Hitler (Hitler by Joachim C. Fest, 1973), the author immediately nominates the infamous dead “Fuhrer” as the most controversial and perhaps most impactful person, certainly in German, and, by implication in his manner of presenting his case, in modern if not all history!  He does not conclude that this makes Hitler “great”, but certainly immensely important and extraordinarily singular.  However, as he develops his case, it is clear that the author struggles greatly with avoiding actually calling Hitler “great”, although there is no difficulty in saying he is among the most controversial people of all time.

It is notable that Napoleon, another candidate for historical greatness at least as worthy as Hitler for consideration, did not deign to put himself anywhere on the same plane as the man from Galilee in ancient Israel.

For several centuries, Germany was the leading Christian intellectual nation in the world.  How is it possible, especially in the West, and even moreso in Germany, to supplant the greatest religious founder and leader of all history with a supremely evil tyrant who, instead of seeking to save humanity from itself and all its worst instincts, sought to enslave it and purge it of all the people who did no measure up to his warped version of the “Ubermensch”?

We have reached the point where, for many, Jesus is a sort of fairy-tale, a nostalgic memory of fantasies that used to haunt our less enlightened ancestors with tales of Utopia and a God of infinite love and goodness reaching out to offer us all paradise in the hereafter.  Grown wise and mature, we have either outgrown such things now or learned (as we suppose) that other religious claims are equally valid, or invalid, or perhaps merely all equally fanciful and irrelevant or downright destructive.

Perhaps a greater puzzle is how, in the last hundred years, the major world civilization called the “West”, which once claimed him as its greatest model and inspiration and even its god, could so massively turn its back on him to the point of a majority becoming largely indifferent to him, although perhaps still finding a few nice things to say about him.

Today, large numbers of even reasonably well-educated people (at least “well-educated in the 21st Century sense of having some competence in selective narrow fields of knowledge and skills qualifying them to do certain particular technical tasks in order to make a decent living) even question his actual historical existence.  It is astonishing to more and more often hear ridiculous but seriously believed statements among college and university students, and even some professors, that Jesus Christ is a mythical or, at best, a legendary character who never really lived, or whom we know nothing historically accurate about.  When offered real historical documentary evidence, the response is a shrug about that being made up after the fact.  “What fact, if you don’t believe he actually lived?” begets another shrug and mockery about charlatans seeking to deceive people to enrich themselves.

When told that there are ample reliable sources found among the enemies of the early Christians outside the Bible (which the mockers have almost never read and may never have even seen or encountered in all their years of education, despite its foundational role in Western civilization for two thousand years), this begets another shrug, or perhaps a very mild, “Oh.  I never knew/heard about that before.”  But there is no intent or interest in becoming better informed.

There is no doubt that the West is post-Christian.  It also professes to be non-religious, secular.  But, as this blog has discussed before, being “non-religious” is both an illusion and impossible for humans in the true, etymological sense of what “religion” means – that which binds/ties everything together.  People and cultures all function by “worldview” – a foundational set of faith-statements, a belief system, however intentionally or unintentionally cobbled together.  Call that another name if you prefer, but, it functions as the religion of that person or civilization.

As to Jesus, the mass of 21st-Century Westerners now stands indifferent, agnostic.  A minority still seriously hold him as a special person somehow directing us to God.  Another minority are downright hostile to him because he engendered the institution they most despise – the Church.  The mass moves through life as if who or what he is/was doesn’t matter anymore.

Lost in the cacophony of our age is any idea of the legacy of Jesus which, willing or not, weighs more heavily in the West’s soul than all of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Genghis Khan and any other monsters or genuine “greats” we could add to the list all combined together.

Jesus remains.  We cannot avoid him.  He will not go away.

Ironically, as the West turns its enlightened back to him, multitudes in the “non-Christian” world are flocking to him – even in Dar al-Islam, even in the murky depths of Red China and North Korea, and even more in the masses of the downtrodden of Africa and Latin America.

Why?  What do these masses of the underclasses see in him that we of the rich and self-sufficient Western uber-class cannot or choose to no longer see?  Jesus identified most profoundly with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the forgotten, those of no account.  He challenged the mighty and powerful of the elites of whatever sort.  The oppressed and hopeless and least esteemed are still those that flock to him, just as it was two thousand years ago.  And, just as it was two thousand years ago, the rich and “wise” despise him, mock him, and seek to kill him/get rid of him.

He is and never has been a respecter of persons, or rank, or ordained order, or of prescribed theologies and ideologies slotting everyone and everything into pre-ordained roles, classes, and status.  His actions and language towards all such were and are not just challenging, but downright revolutionary and inflammatory.  Paradoxically, he never called for violence in facing the persecutors.

He called for the overthrow of all the wrong and injustice by Love!  But such a love as exceeds any innate human capacity to exhibit or sustain on our own strength for any appreciable length of time.  He pledged himself as the one who could impart the power to love in such a way, for he pledged himself to be among us as God himself dwelling among us.

Such language sounds not just outlandish, but insane, at least to most people, even in our believe-whatever-claim-whatever, neo Tower-of-Babel world.

This is far more revolutionary than Hitler’s call to hate and destroy in Mein Kampf.  It is far more revolutionary than anything in Marx’s and Engels’ A Communist Manifesto.  If is beyond the idea of ending suffering by extinguishing desire, or losing oneself in the great personal extinction of Brahman.

This Jesus business is much more serious than any call to save Gaia from our human depredations, as important as that is.  For, without the kind of heart-change and internal paradigm shift Jesus called for and still calls for, humans cannot fully overcome the internal drive to manipulate, dominate, and exploit one another and the rest of the creation which our capacity to reign, rule, control, and change bestows upon us.

The Jesus call invites an end to all the angst about “finding my true self” and “discovering my true identity” by trying on various letters of the alphabet or other symbolic or even real signs and gestures to differentiate myself as a sort of personal, distinctive mini-god in my own version of the universe.

Jesus said – and did! – more controversial things than anyone else ever did or will. Most controversial of all were his claims to resolve all the conflicts in and through himself by calling you and me to find our final and primal identification in and through him!

Bullies, 2 – The Jesus Treatment

(Photo credit: Got Questions)

I grew up in a time and place when bullying was just a part of regular life.  That didn’t make it right or OK.  It was just a fact.  It still is, despite all the good intentions, laudable efforts, and zero-tolerance policies.

For me, living in a “tough” neighbourhood exacerbated the presence and activities of bullies.  I have always have been small in stature, and, when it came to school, I was very early labelled as one of the smart kids.  While this was positive in some respects, it made me a target for the bully-types who resented and even hated “sucks” and “TPs” (Teacher’s Pets).  The last ingredient that fed into my target worthiness was that I came from a religious family. 

For some years at school, I had the protection of a tough and respected big brother.  In my last years of elementary school, big bro had gone to High School and I had to learn to hold my own.  “Fight or Flight” was front and center when confrontations happened.  Regardless of my pint-size, flight was rarely the choice I made.  Normally, sooner or later, the fight would have to happen anyway.

Two things happened: (1) I learned, with some helpful lessons from big brother and a friend who showed me a few self-defensive Judo moves, that I actually could fight.  (2) I learned that most bullies don’t like to be confronted by someone willing to call them out – especially when they’re not backed up by an admiring clique.  I didn’t fight often, but I never lost when I did.  “Reputation” set in and they left me alone.  At age 13 I beat the worst bully in the school, a 16-year-old who had been to reform school, in a very public fight in the school yard.  Thereafter, pint-size and all, and unknown to me, I became a lone alpha, a sort of rogue element.  I had no clique and wanted none, just a few good friends who, like me, just wanted to be left alone.

Contrary to those “bad old days” of the early and mid-sixties, it is not only bullying which is now frowned upon, but, in our inimitable ultra-progressive fashion, anyone who resorts to violence for any reason, even self-defense, must become a project for reform, a misguided soul.  Thus, self-defense is just another form of violence to be lumped in with the bully aggressor’s. 

The wisdom of this day says that the victim should not retaliate or adopt a combat defence, but go to the authorities and report the bully.  The bully/bullies are to be pitied at least as much as the victims.  Rehabilitation is the primary goal for both, regardless of the issue of justice.  Hopefully (and I share the hope), the bully can be redeemed and kept out of the dreadful land of prison, which, it is widely recognized, is too often really just Crime University.  However, victims need to give up the right of self-defense and rely on the protection of the authorities, of the big-brother State rather than the family or local community.  Unfortunately, the State authorities are rarely on site when the aggression occurs, so victims almost always just have to take their lumps, and occasionally much worse.  Learning by experience, most of them never report their woes for fear of reprisal.

God is all for rehabilitation and redemption.  While I am all for rehabilitation and redemption, I also understand the redemptive value of a good left jab and a solid right hook, or a surprise judo chop or flip when the situation requires it.  Sometimes the only language bullies finally understand is the one that answers them more strongly in their own dialect and perhaps gives them serious pause for reflection about where their path is taking them.   Admittedly, there is the danger of the escalating scale of retaliations, but that most often comes in group contexts.

Victims can always choose to grovel and plead with the bullies.  Many do.  The problem is that that response only leads to escalating episodes of the bullying wherein the bully needs to up the ante to get any thrill out of making the hapless victim grovel.  Once again, the victim is highly unlikely to resort to the progressive playbook of running to the authorities to get protection and have the bullies brought into the light for rehabilitation. More often, they run to hide and avoid rather than “squeal”.

Back in the ‘hood of my day, we understood that, in dealing with the bullies, the authorities were mostly useless to change much until something really serious happened.  Until that serious thing happened, we were better off learning to fend for ourselves.  Some accepted the groveling posture and gave in to being used and manipulated.  Some, like me, decided to “take up arms to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Shakespeare once put it.  If you could pull it off, even moderately well, it often meant being left alone, especially if you had a few like-minded companions who would help you now and then.  I was fortunate enough to find such “a few good men”. We called ourselves “the Non-Gang” and refused to participate in anything untoward but watching one another’s backs. The local Bike-Gang President thought this was so original and “clean” that he ordered his toughs and enforcers to leave us strictly alone.

There is one more method.  It has been dubbed the “turn the other cheek” strategy.  Contrary to first impressions, it is not groveling.  Most everyone alive thinks it belongs in idealist la-la land.  Neither is it the same as run-to-the-authorities-and-hope-for-best.

I was once targeted by a new kid in the ‘hood who decided that, to be recognized and accepted, he needed to pick a fight with me because I had an established “reputation”.  I had never met this kid till a couple of weeks before the incident now to be described. 

He stopped me on the way home from school late one spring afternoon and proceeded to do all he could to provoke me into fighting.  I refused.  He insulted me and called me nasty names, and pushed me and taunted me.  I still refused.  He slapped me in the face.  I looked him straight in the eye and I told him I was not afraid of him, despite what he might think, but that I had no quarrel or grudge with him and felt no need to fight him to prove anything.  With a final insulting gesture, he shook his fist in my face, then wheeled and left, calling me more nasty names.  He declared that the next time I saw him he’d punch my face in whether I’d fight him or not.

We had had an audience for this display.  Those who knew me were incredulous of my out-of-character behaviour.  “Why didn’t you fight him?” said one.  “You could beat him with one hand tied behind your back.”

I replied, ‘I probably could, but I have no reason to.”

“Sure you do!  He insulted you and slapped you.”

“You won’t understand, but I’ve been thinking about what Jesus said.”

There were several looks of amazement.  “Jesus?  What’s he got to do with it?”

“Remember when he said, “If your enemy slaps you on one cheek, then turn the other for him to slap too”?  That’s what I was doing.”

They were speechless.  As I moved on with the shocked close friend with whom I had been walking, I explained to him that I was trying to be a better Christian.

Jesus seems to ignore our current wisdom about “how to deal with bullies”.  Jesus’ way seems to say that, on the one hand, you don’t stand up to them with force, and on the other he leaves out running to the authorities for protection.  Neither does he recommend or condone groveling. 

I suppose I could have groveled or said I’d report the kid to the school principal, but that was not how I was built. I was taught at home never to grovel. That was not how we resolved things.  At the time, having decided to actually try putting that particular verse of the New Testament into practice, I felt like a fool in a shark-tank. 

Fear had not blocked me from fighting, but momentary conviction.  I had resolved to try an experiment in doing something radical which Jesus had taught and seeing how it turned out.  In fact, I’d been thinking about it for quite some time before this event happened.  When the kid accosted me, it immediately entered my mind that this was the time to put it into practice.

For several weeks after, I suffered acutely from doubt about my conviction as having been secretly motivated by fear.  I hoped I wouldn’t meet the kid in the street to have this business renewed.  I also knew that my friends had talked about it and I wondered if they now secretly despised me, but no one accused me of fear and no bullies resurfaced to try to renew the effort to turn me into a victim.

Then one Saturday I was walking home from visiting s friend and I saw the new kid coming towards me.  I decided not to avoid him.  I resolved that if he tried to pick a fight this time, the experiment had failed and I would give him a hiding he would not forget.  To my surprise, as he drew near, he broke into a wide smile and came up to me in a most friendly fashion.  He then proceeded to apologize for his previous provocation and asked if I would forgive him.  I answered, “Of course!  What changed your mind?”

He looked sheepish, “Well, some of the guys around here told me how stupid I’d been in trying to pick a fight with you and said I had no idea how lucky I was not to got my butt kicked.  So, I just want to ask if we can be friends, OK?”  He offered his hand, and I shook it, saying, “No hard feelings, OK?”

“For sure!” he said.  “And if you ever need someone to back you up, just come and ask, OK?”  

We both went about our business.  We remained on friendly terms thereafter.

Obviously, any lessons that are found here are not universal truths.  Situations vary, and so will the necessary answers and actions, depending on the context and characters involved.

“Back in the day”, when the odds were too uneven, I was not beneath running.  I was fast and elusive enough to escape. Even now I prefer to avoid bullies.  Back then, when the odds were reasonably even, I usually confronted them.  After all, it would come to that sooner or later.  Confrontation usually meant calling a bluff, but it might, on occasion, mean actually resorting to battle.  On the occasion described above, I found that the Jesus method resulted in short-term anguish that later turned into long-term gain. 

I never won the 16-year-old’s friendship by humiliating him in public.  Some bullies will wait for another chance when they have back-up to even the score.  On that note, months later this guy threatened me with a switch-blade, but he had a more sensible friend with him who talked him out of using it on me by tugging him away and telling him, “It’s not worth it,” whatever “it” might be.

From some people, taking a stand won their respect and even admiration, but not friendship.  Looking back on it, I can see that some of those people were now afraid of me and what I might do to them.  But I had no desire at all to cross the line from victim to being a bully myself.

The Jesus way, was, overall, the most difficult one, but the one that changed something destructive into something positive and even downright good – not just for me and my new friend, but for my other friends who eventually saw and understood what had happened.

I am very far from a “saint”.  But one time back then, something amazing happened because of a saying of Jesus being planted in my heart, and a resolve and strength I didn’t know I could carry through on actually working out for me.

Elephant Hunting

(Photo credit: Dreamstime)

Elephants are among the world’s most fascinating creatures.  Regardless of where they are born, most children will recognize their pictures from toddlerhood on.  As the largest of living land animals (5-7 tons in weight full-grown), they impress everyone by their immense size, strength, and power.  They are also quite intelligent.  Their memories are proverbial.  They have a powerful sense of community among themselves and cooperate in family and clan groups lifelong. 

Elephants mate for life and mourn their dead.  They have poor eyesight, but, as their appendages suggest, they have an incredibly delicate sense of smell and acutely good hearing.  Despite their great size, there are quite crafty and can move in almost complete silence, even becoming all but invisible to predators (humans mainly) in their chosen terrain.  They have been known to become the hunters themselves rather than remain the hunted when sufficiently provoked.

As a child, one of the books which most impressed me was written by an English big-game hunter and guide whose name I cannot recall.  The book described his adventures in Africa and India in pre-World-One days when such activities and subjects were not despised as they are now.  One of the tales in that book concerned a large bull elephant which had gone rogue after his family and clan had been totally killed off by poachers and trophy-hunters.  This male was reputedly legendary for his wiliness and hatred of hunters of every description.  He had killed a number of them, rather than falling victim to them. He had become a menace to the local populace, wreaking havoc upon their villages.

The local governor asked for a professional big-game hunter to be sent to deal with the beast.  Enter the renowned British hunter.

The beast had a limp which could be seen by a heavier print of its left front foot, and a broken left tusk.  It bore the scars of many battles, with other elephants, big cats, and human predators. Following the distinctive track, the hunter and his gun-bearer had no difficulty seeing where it had gone into its forest lair on one of the well-used elephant trails. 

Elephants can blend into forest almost seamlessly, camouflaged by their grey-brown colour and the propensity to mistake their legs for tree-trunks when glimpsed through the foliage.  Suddenly, the rogue surged upon them bellowing and in full battle-array.  The hunter fired both barrels of his .577 calibre gun.  The elephant was still coming.  Blinded by rage, it headed for his bearer.  The hunter managed to scramble up a large tree, adrenalin carrying him quickly aloft among its huge limbs.

The unfortunate native was caught in the elephant’s line of sight.  The elephant knocked him down, then picked up his limp form in its trunk and began slamming him against the nearest tree-trunk.  It then slammed him to the ground and sat on the now dead man, grinding his body into the earth till there was little but bloody pulp left.  The bull then found the hunter’s scent and came to the base of his tree of refuge.  He began pushing on it with all his might.  Fortunately for the hunter, the tree was of such size and solid roots that the massive beast’s best efforts were of no avail.  The wounded elephant brooded at the base of the tree till the next morning, then made off. The hunter survived to tell the tale.

Only poachers now hunt elephants, unless a local cull is necessary.  The great beasts are protected.  African elephants are symbolic of so much that has changed and is threatened in the 21st Century.  Like so many things, it is a question whether they can survive anywhere but in protected areas and zoological parks. 

Let us apply the lesson to two of our society’s rogue “elephants”, both in and outside the room. Presently, it seems the rogue elephant everyone wants to slay is climate change.  it is now “out” so no longer hidden in plain sight.

This is the beast the climate activist hunters have set most clearly in their sights.  We are told and lectured and cajoled constantly of its ravages, past, present, and future.  But almost all activists are still missing the more massive rogue elephant hiding in plain sight among the great trees of our global village’s habitat.

Elephants only charge when forced out into the open.  It is hard to charge inside the forest. Out in the open is also when we see them most clearly, no longer so well camouflaged by their great ability to hide or blend into the gullies and wadis of the veldt.  But the signs of this even more treacherous rogue are everywhere, in all nations, regardless of their technological prowess and economic sophistication.

Its huge trail markers can be found in mountainous landfills and enormous floating islands in the ocean.  All creatures great and small, from bacteria to whales, ingest this dung, willy-nilly, invisibly, despite best efforts avoid it.  There is very little indication that real efforts are being considered to hunt down this beast, despite all the fine rhetoric about protecting and preserving and reversing the destruction of Gaia’s environment.

One of the most insidious and silent footprints of the more deadly rogue is found, at this moment, among the wealthiest tribes on the planet.  It is the rapidly growing infertility among the hunters, who have almost completely missed the track of the rogue.  If the hunters cease to propagate, as the rapid decline of their birth-rates suggest they will, the first rogue will die a natural death – at least as far as its being driven mad by the human elements of its destructiveness – the notorious artificial human carbon footprint.

Perhaps the reader of my parable has now deduced that the Great Rogue is the universal sterilization of the human race (and many other species) by the (not-so) slow poison of plasticization.  As the present major narrative puts low value on human reproduction, its seems more important to chase the decoy rogue of climate change, which no one is really sure we can slay no matter how big the weapon we fire at it.

“Climate-deniers” are much ridiculed and despised, but the truth is that greatest “climate truth-tellers”, cannot or will not see and confess that (1) climate change is a fact on earth regardless of the presence of humans, and all the geological and climatological evidence demonstrates this has been so for billions of years, (2) the worst offender nations and individuals on the human side are not interested or willing to do anything about it, (3) the agenda is as much about punishment and retribution upon the wealthy nations and their frivolous denizens who still have a conscience that can be manipulated, and (4) the anointed enlightened can continue to enjoy most of the perks of being on top of the heap while the rest bear the burden and the cost of doing the marginal best they can be made to do, while achieving little real result on climate change for all the enormous energy and cost expended.  All the screaming, marching, ranting, and yelling will not change any of this.

Meanwhile, the Great Rogue continues to roam freely, barely irritated by the pop-guns aimed at it.  Soon, geologically speaking, the hunters will extinguish themselves as they cease having little-uns anyway.

Bullies, 1

(Photo credit: Resilient Educator)

Every school board in Canada, public or private, has a well-defined policy regarding bullies and bullying.  Whether written in English, French, or one of the indigenous languages, they all say pretty much the same thing.  They all declare a no-tolerance approach (so far so good), and an “everyone is equal in every way” ideology that must be actively affirmed.

Here in Canada, those who dare to quarrel with such fine principles, regardless of their reasons, are quickly shamed and shouted down.  So much for open democratic discourse.  (Hmm – isn’t shouting down people you disagree with and don’t like a form of, ahem, bullying!!)

Perhaps one might still propose that the concept of full equality in everything does not hold up scientifically.  For example, we cannot simply decree that someone who is four-foot ten is physically equal to the giant who is seven feet tall, or other heights in between.  But that does not justify declaring the seven-footer a bully because he is so imposing in size that even upon entering a room some people feel intimidated.  For that matter, some midgets might so label the 4-10er if they are only 3ft.-8 inches.

What about the gap between the genius with an IQ of 180 and the less intellectually gifted person with an IQ of eighty?  Can we realistically legislate equality in school evaluations and in prospects for certain sorts of careers and activities?  Or, am I discriminated against and oppressed because, no matter how much I practice and strive to master the piano, I will never play a fraction as well as Glenn Gould?  Not being a genius financier or entrepreneur, how can I possibly claim equality of outcomes in wealth with Musk or Buffet or Bezos as my right?  

The craze to assert total equality regardless of the limitations of how the real-world works is delusional, regardless of how much regulation and legislation the ideological visionaries insist upon.  They themselves demonstrate the principle of innate inequality, being the elite of rationality and scientific social engineering by which they deem themselves qualified to enlighten the rest of us by their superior training, intellect, and insight and, dare we say, greater opportunity (often stemming from an inside track within their own specialized circles).

However, there is no doubt that true bullying should not be tolerated and everyone must be recognized as equally human and worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law.  As long as the law is not – as Clarence Darrow so eloquently put it a century ago “an ass”.

We must ask what truly constitutes bullying or should be encompassed in redressing the actual oppressive and unjust kinds of inequality which exist.  It does nothing to resolve such issues to say, in progressive “Woke”-speak, that the bully is barely if at all really responsible for his/her propensity to torment the victim.  It is similar to the line that criminals are first victims before they are criminals and so must not be victimized by punitive laws and penalties for their socially unacceptable misdeeds and predatory behaviours.  Following that track, the school bully is a victim him-herself before ever entering full-blown bullyhood.  After all, they have been socialized into bullyhood rather than having chosen it. 

The narrative says, “Perhaps the parents bare no blame either, or, if so, little.  For they too are victims of their own parents (etc. ad infinitum) and of the uncouth and unenlightened vestiges of the “old days” when intolerance and prejudice and racism were so openly manifested.  Everyone unfortunate enough to be born “back then” (whenever that was) is/was strongly inclined to be insensitive, judgmental (because of the old-time religion still afflicting the masses in those days), rough, and definitely more susceptible to become a bully.” (But there is no reciprocal judgmentalism in categorizing the laggards in fully accepting the latest and best forms of progressivism as “Neanderthals” and “Nazis” and “Fascists”?)

The pejorative use of “back then” and “back in the day” points to the (bad old) times when the Church still mattered, religion still had a toe-hold in the schools, and the Bible still got quoted as a source of helpful insight and even moral instruction.  It was still actually read by a large minority of the population, and many of its stories were at least vaguely familiar to a large segment of the Canadian (and Western) populace.

Assuredly, “back then” there was indeed racism lurking in the corner and sometimes staring you in the face.  Assuredly, there were still a lot of inequities and injustices in many aspects of the social, economic, and political life of Canadian and Western civilization.  Even now, for all our trying to escape this cycle, we still seem to harbor the same sort of issues lurking in our own corners.  But, circularly reasoned, “that must be because we are still victims of the eternal regression of wrongful parenting and superstitious indoctrination.”

Does anyone else hear Hamlet’s mutter to himself about Ophelia, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” – to be at all convinced by this very unhelpful narrative?

The post-war WW2 evolution of Canada and the West has seen huge strides forward from many of the worst aspects of such inequities, (inequity is a much more useful term than inequality, by the way), but there is still doubtless much yet to do.  We have had fifty years of cumulative effort to undo many of the targeted wrongs and dig up their roots in order to remake many facets of our culture and society.  We have opened the doors to all kinds of corrective legislation and consequent programs to insert unheard of and novel rights into our constitutional and legal framework.  We have never seen so much guilt and shaming and accusing.  But we are still bound by our chains.

It is morally incumbent on us to do our best to right historic wrongs, unmask genuine malice and racism, and provide protection and redress to oppressed minorities and threatened individuals suffering from genuine persecution, torment, and intimidation.  What there is an issue with is the almost complete denial of individual choice and responsibility of the individuals and groups concerned.  At bottom, that means all of us.  For we have all bought into the “I’m not responsible” ideology wherein “the Devil made me do it” as Flip Wilson used to so comically say (except that 60% of us apparently no longer believe in the Devil).  One of the outcomes of that is a denial of the ability of the victims to do anything for themselves to confront the bullies because only the almighty state and its authorized agents can save them.  In fact, if you dare to stand up to a bully and pull it off, you may yourself even end up standing trial or facing a punitive tribunal.

I do not mean to ignore the sense of complete powerlessness and even of terror which often paralyses the victims of oppression when they are face to face with their oppressors.  That too is reality.  But that terror does not preclude or deny the victim’s possibility of acting on their own behalf to confront, expose, or, if possible, escape the bully.  Obviously, many victims have no opportunity or power to actively confront their bully and escape their situation; but many who could make such a choice choose to remain where they are from fear, denial, wishful thinking about some miraculous turn-around, or plain old bad advice from some trusted source.

At the macro level, it is completely unhelpful to automatically label groups in Western culture and society oppressors, intimidators, bullies, and abusers of others.  Recent extreme declarations such as “All whites/Euro-settler-descendants are automatically racists and oppressors whether they believe it or not, whether they have ever acted that way or not” serve no purpose but to heap guilt and shame on everyone.  This is really reverse-racism, no better than the white supremacists saying “all _______ are born _______ (insert your adjective of choice)”. Eventually, people just go deaf to this kind of hyperbole.

Euro-Canadians (“Settlers” in our current lingo regarding Canada’s indigenous issues) and Christians both stand out as the great historic bully-villains in the now received narrative in Canadian cultural life.  There is no denying the abuses and wrongs committed over several centuries by Europeans against other ethnicities.  Since Europeans and their almost wholly white descendants also happened to claim to be Christians in overwhelming majority, it is only natural to couple the two in the progressive narrative (ironically, also usually framed by Euro-settler descendants who now know better and can therefore mostly excuse themselves from the guilt and shame since they know better).

We shall continue to explore how all this connects to the issue of “Bullies” in our next instalment.