Saturday, March 29, 2008

When I a old - a reflection

When I am Old – a reflection©

By George Epp

An article in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix today related the story of a former executive and dedicated church worker who in recent years has sunk into a form of dementia that has robbed him of his self concept, his behavioural judgment, his conversational ability and severely affected his memory functioning. He’s about my age.

According to his wife, he fixates on three objects obsessively: his wallet, his palm pilot and a T-shirt with Christ on the cross and the statement “Jesus Christ: Rebel with a Cause” emblazoned across the front. The T-shirt was what he wore while doing street work with homeless and destitute people.

After I had read this, I began to wonder what objects I would fixate on, given such a condition.

Did the wallet obsession spring from the fact that his working life had focused on profit/loss, budgeting, money matters, etc.? Did the palm pilot receive his continuous attention now because he had lived to the calendar and the clock, and had always had appointments to honour and deadlines to meet? Did the T-shirt symbolize his sense of duty to his Christ, and the great commission of which he had felt his life to be a part?

Were those three symbols distillations of the core and essence of his life?

On what, then, would I fixate? Would I sit at this keyboard pecking away at keys randomly, no longer able to tell one from the other? Would I carry a book around with me wherever I went, unable to read it but frantic without it? What would it say on my T-shirt? “Volunteer – RJC Centennial?” “Carlsbad and District Habitat for Humanity?” (Those are the only T-shirts I have with slogans on them.)

My sister suffered a major assault on her brain in the form of a cerebral aneurysm on Boxing Day. Since then, she has struggled to regain her mobility and mastery of her thought processes. It’s been hard going. One day I sat with her in the hospital and noticed how she examined the sheet with which she was covered in minute detail. She has always been a can-do kind of person, and I judged that her careful examination of the fabric, the seams, the hemming and the worn condition were connected to the memories of her life residing in her muscles and brain that the onslaught hadn’t been able to erase.

Since then, she has made fantastic progress. Her conversation and the things she notices reflect the tenor of her life, I’m sure, even though we sometimes have a hard time following her conversation. At other times, she seems well . . . and getting better.

If dementia ever overtakes me, I hope I fixate on family pictures more than on my wallet. I hope that I carry books around, not clocks or lottery tickets. I hope I eschew T-shirts all together, and feel most at home in a plain old shirt, with a tie, possibly. I hope I wear pants.

The man’s wife, naturally, was living her days in deepest mourning for the man who was leaving her without . . . leaving her. That’s one of the great sorrows of aging, and always will be.

Friday, March 21, 2008

San Xavier Del Bac, Arizona

Some Good Friday Musing

Good Friday – March 21, 2008

Last night, the “Rosenort” group of Mennonite churches held the second of their joint Passion Week services. It was hosted by Tiefengrund Mennonite Church, whose pastor moderated the service; Eigenheim’s pastor delivered the sermon; Laird’s pastor officiated at the Eucharist celebration and Horse Lake’s pastor assisted in the distribution of the elements.

The theme of Allan’s sermon was the “unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit,” lesson of Christ for his disciples, a very appropriate Good Friday text.

Tonight, I will portray high priest Caiphas in a series of Good Friday monologues called “Were you there?” It seems that my acting career has repeatedly funneled me into the role of the high-priesthood: some twenty-five years ago, I played Annas in Jesus Christ, Superstar in Thompson. I approached that with trepidations as I do this, and here’s why:

Historically, various branches of the Christian community have made much of the gospel reports that “the Jews” were the antagonists in Jesus’ trial and death, and have carried that forward as a banner contributing to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Judas’ betrayal of Christ for a few coins is echoed in the stereotype of the avaricious Jew, portrayed even by Shakespeare in his Shylock. In any case, I don’t like to be a portrayer of stereotypes, particularly those that are as hateful and false as those that generally fall into the category of anti-Semitism.

Here’s what I have to say:

Caiphas: Of course, I was there. It was my duty to take action against this man who defied our traditions and the authority of the temple. It was I who said to the people, ‘it is better that one man die for the people.’ Although language is double-edged, and you may understand that differently from what I did at the time.

In my opinion, the end sometimes justifies the means, and sometimes you have to use the mob to get done what has to be done. When we interrogated Jesus, he was uncooperative, and in my opinion, inexcusably blasphemous. Such behaviour simply can’t be tolerated.

I tried to find credible witnesses whose stories would serve to indict him, but that wasn’t easy. So I appealed to the crowds adherence to their traditions. I played them like a violin, and soon they were shouting—as I had hoped they would—‘crucify him!’

I am portraying a man whose principles have been left behind in pursuit of power. That’s evident in his speech. Was Caiphas really a man without principles, or did Jesus’ actions in the Passover atmosphere of Jerusalem represent such a grave risk to the temple-worshipping citizens that the priesthood was at its wit’s end? Was Caiphas an ogre trying to stamp out dissent as ruthlessly as necessary? Or was he a man who felt the burden of office weighing so heavily upon him that he felt it necessary to take stern action, wrong-headed as it may have been? Did the mob that formed around the event reach such a level of hysteria that once begun, the result of the episode became inevitable?

So here’s a Good Friday question for you. If you had to portray Caiphas, what would you have him say? If you were the Roman soldier, how would you have him describe the chain of events that characterized Jesus’ last hours? If you were Jesus’ mother, Mary, how would you have her describe her experience at the foot of the cross?

I wish you all a happy Easter.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Your taxes and war

Cuauhtemoc, Mexico - Flora in the MCC yard.

Paying for war: a personal "Op-ed"©

George Epp

Income tax time! Any day now I’ll have to get down to it: install the software, find and fill in the required numbers and email it to the federal government with a cheque. They’ll keep most of it and send the rest to the Wall government in Saskatchewan. Between the two it’ll get spent on a variety of worthwhile things: airports and seaports, health care and education, roads and parks, foreign aid and welfare. Some of my money will also be spent to ferry soldiers to and from Afghanistan, to equip them with weapons, even to fly some of them home in body bags. This last lot will definitely happen without my consent.

My protest against spending money on military infrastructure feels like an exercise in futility, however. Some people deduct the military 8% or so from their tax submission and forward that amount to a trust account with Conscience Canada . Others simply send a note of protest with their income tax form. In any case, any money withheld will have to be paid sooner or later, and that with interest.

My guess is that the majority of Canadians would not approve of a peace tax fund (an option to divert—upon request—the military portion of an individual’s taxes to foreign aid or some other “benevolent” purpose.) Furthermore, nothing hinders the government from adding up all those amounts so diverted—and compensating the military budget from general revenues.

At the core of my intolerance for the military is a far more fundamental question than whether or not we are spending too much or too little on it. For me, military apparatus and action come as close to being a demonic manifestation as anything on earth, a phenomenon that surpasses organized crime, theft, murder, treason, etc. as a fountain of harm and evil. Wars’ destruction doesn’t need to be detailed here, even if one could, but despite the devastation, it seems unfathomable to me that it has been allowed to persist in a modern world, where its barbarity should, by now, have opened our eyes.

We have war because we are militarized. As long as weapons manufacturers and traders are allowed to manufacture and market their wares (while people are hunted down like wolves for possessing marijuana!) there is little hope that the option of war will cease to figure in the arsenals of petty tyrants, dictators, religious zealots or terrorist organizations, not to mention some developed countries that ought to know better.

Unfortunately, the campaign for general disarmament ground to a halt with the end of the “cold war.” That was a big mistake, but understandable, like being in a small boat in a bad storm and allowing relief to wash over you when pulled out of the sea by a ship’s crew. So much relief, in fact, that you forget that the storm and the ship’s passengers are still in mortal danger. We should have struck while the iron was hot, and insisted that a new understanding of militarization was as necessary as it ever was.

Give this some thought when you submit your tax forms to the government.

The goal for the disarmament lobby should be the elimination of all projectile, explosive, biological and chemical weapons worldwide. The manufacture and trade in these should be an offense, at least as serious as the growing and trade of heroine. But although it seems obvious to me, mutual and widespread disarmament has the potential to “civilize” the world, much of my culture fails to see it like that.

I’m not ready to compromise on this. Are you?