Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kennedy on US political scene.

Robert F Kennedy said in a speech you can see on the truthout website: “80% of Republicans are uninformed Democrats.” He goes on to show how Republicans and Democrats showed no difference in their opinions when they were given accurate information on the question—for instance—of the morality of the war in Iraq. There’s a great deal more to his speech that will energize liberals (small l), something that’s badly needed in North America with two very important elections coming up.

It may not be appropriate to compare Canada’s Conservative Party to the Republican in the USA; it is nevertheless as important for us to be informed about the issues of corporate control of government and the consequences, and to ascertain which party is most likely to keep a check on government-by-lobby. “Where the government controls the corporate world, you have communism. Where the corporate world controls government, you have fascism.” Another quote from Kennedy’s speech. “Democracies have to walk the fine line between the two extremes.”

Kennedy also points out that the USA no longer has an investigative press, and so the population is getting very slanted news reports from Fox and it’s equivalents.

Check out Kennedy’s speech at

Thank you to reader Gordon F. for alerting me to the website.

I urge you to click on the link and here Kennedy’s speech; he’s a fabulous orator.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shekinah Journal #1

Shekinah Autumn
September 23, 2008, 7:00 a.m.

It’s a Shekinah morning. There’s some time yet before the staff at the Retreat Centre meet in the office below our apartment to set priorities for the day. Time to sit on the couch with my laptop and reflect for an hour. Time to pause at the commas and periods and scan the high riverbank opposite with its clumps of yellow poplar, red cranberry bushes and rusty chokecherry shrubs. Autumn is the most magnificent time of year here, colour-wise.

I’ve learned in the last weeks that I love nature, but at a distance more than up close. As we drove the sharp bend before descending into Shekinah late last night, two sleek whitetail deer streaked through the wash of our headlights, close enough for us to see their frightened eyes, far enough away for me to take evasive action. Cars and deer colliding on the roads is a regular occurrence around here.

And then there are the peskiest children of Mother Nature: beaver, squirrels, chipmunks and mice. Along the banks of a ravine that runs behind our apartment, the beaver have found a haven. A spring-fed stream winds its way down the gully to spill itself into the North Saskatchewan, a perfect setup for beaver, who will build dams across this stream as often as we can break them apart (I have yet to be involved in this), denuding the ravine of already-sparse poplar growth.

Yesterday we cleaned out a garage of accumulated bikes and bike parts, camping gear, old records in boxes and the mountains of odds and ends that tend to accumulate in garage-like places where order is not immediately of the essence. And we cleaned up mouse shit. I hate mouse leavings with a passion. But here at Shekinah, there will always be mice; the appropriate response to them, I guess, would be to admit that it is we who are encroaching on their territory, not the other way ‘round. Until that consciousness sets in, however, I will set traps for them. Not the other way ‘round.

The bushes around the retreat centre are tangles of beaver-cut stumps, fallen poplar and the berry and cherry shrubs that thrive on the banks of the Saskatchewan. At this time of year, the high bush cranberries are overripe, and as they burst and give up their juices to the wind, they exude an aroma that you wouldn’t want to harvest as a household fragrance. It’s not skunk, but it suggests skunk. I understand now why my mother called these Schtinkberren. Chokecherries are at their best now though, and I strip a handful of them from a shrub every time I walk down to the Timberlodge, suck off the meat and spit stones like a baseball coach (or a Rhinefeld Mennonite) spits sunflower seed shells. I’m told the chokecherry is a great herbal remedy for, well, whatever ails ya.

Poets and artists of the Romantic Period introduced us to the idea that the natural world isn’t a dirty, hostile place that one does best to avoid. Oh, there’s obviously danger out there; if the poison oak don’t get you, a black bear might. On the other hand, traditional aboriginal spirituality stresses our unity with the natural world, and since Darwin explained to us that we humans are intricately bound up with all living matter on earth, we are more prone to see our connectedness to nature. Not like the pre-enlightenment folk, who believed that the night air carried a foulness that caused illness and death, and that evil spirits roamed the midnight woods.
Life for us now is much quieter than it was in town. Here at Shekinah, a cloudy night renders our surroundings so dark that even following the gravel road down to the meadows is a challenge. The onset of evening darkness is like a signal to all of nature to hush; sound seems to “leave the building” along with the light.

I don’t think I’ll ever master the art of being one with the earth. I curse when a bramble catches my sleeve, I hold a mouse trap at arms length when called upon to dispose of its contents.
High on the bank above us, Shekinah offers a house called “The Hermitage,” a primitive log structure characterized more by what it hasn’t got than what it has. It doesn’t have a bathroom, running water, electricity, gas, and so, of course, lacks pretty much all of the amenities and gadgetry that we associate with comfortable living. Agnes and I helped Lorne clean it yesterday.

Agnes said, “You couldn’t pay me enough to spend a night in this place!”

I said, after noting the rough walls, the crude wood stove, the flies and mouse droppings, “There’s nothing wrong with this place that a can of gasoline and a match wouldn’t fix!”

And yet, The Hermitage is booked as much as any facility on the premises. There are people who want to experience the primitive life, who want to be so close to nature that it pokes it’s fingers through the windows beside their bed as they lie there, gazing at the stars through poplar boughs.

Our apartment, by contrast, has all the good stuff we’ve decided we need. And it manages to allow us a good look at nature’s magnificence through big picture windows while keeping most of that nature outside . . . where it belongs.

There are two ways to enjoy nature: theoretically, and at an appropriate distance.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

sunday morning musings

How did we end up where we are? ©

I had occasion to talk church history with a member of the Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Waldheim, Saskatchewan recently, primarily on the question of their history as a congregation. She couldn’t help me very much, since she hadn’t paid much attention to the congregation’s historical roots, but she gave me one of those rural community history books that were being produced in the 1980’s all across Saskatchewan, and there a few pages summarized their story.

They began as the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren church (Krimmer: German for “Crimean”), an offshoot of the Mennonite Brethren movement in the area of the Molochna Colony just north of the Black Sea in Ukraine. In the 1870s, a group of about half a dozen families emigrated to the US where they settled in Kansas for a time before some of them decided to move on to the area between the Saskatchewan Rivers at present day Waldheim. Here they worshipped in homes until a “revival” saw their numbers increase and the need for a permanent worship home emerge. The building that grew from that burned down in the late thirties and a new building was erected west of Waldheim, but subsequently moved into town and added to. (This may not be precisely accurate, but I’m not so much interested in the building.)

Time came when the Krimmer churches in Canada merged with the Mennonite Brethren, except that the Salem Group chose not to participate in this merger, joining instead another branch of the MB church called—I think—the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church. In the 1980’s, as I recall, the Salem group joined the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches and parted company with the “Mennonite” name for good.

Salem “Mennonites” are considerably more conservative in their theology than the Zoar Mennonites (Mennonite Church Saskatchewan) and the Mennonite Brethren Church a stone’s throw away. The website for the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible churches has a pdf download available on their tenets regarding controversial issues: Not surprisingly the stand on abortion is “conception marks the beginning of a human life;” on homosexuality: “it’s a sin but homosexuals can find redemption;” on gender roles: “God gave the tasks of eldership and pastoring to men, but women have important other roles in the church,” etc.

Waldheim could well form a useful case study for the branching that occurred in the Anabaptist world in the last half of the 19th Century. The last names of people in at least the three branches of Anabaptism represented in Waldheim are often the same, and so I wonder how it came to be that I am attending this branch and not that. If my ancestors had lived a few houses over in the Ukrainian colonies, would I be a conservative of the Kleingemeinde or Krimmer branch? Are my more-liberal, less-literal Bible interpretations a matter of choice, or are thy consequences of historical accidents?

I’ll think about this in church this morning as Allan delivers his sermon and the Gideons bring greetings to the congregation, and as we sing hymns, some from Hymnal: a worship book and some from Sing the Journey. And I’ll remember what Robert Frost said so eloquently:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim . . .

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back . . .

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Election Coming

Me at White Sands, 2007

So October 14th will be the big day. An election that we don’t need and shouldn’t be holding, particularly since the law (to hold elections every four years) enacted by the same government that is calling this one is being flagrantly broken.

Coincidentally, the US presidential vote will take place just weeks after ours. The Republican ticket now includes a woman who is a self-described “hockey mom” and a “pit bull with lipstick,” and a man whose campaign organizers seem to believe that he deserves to be elected because he suffered much as a POW. Meanwhile, the Democratic ticket features a relatively inexperienced presidential candidate who has had some shaky moments in the campaign but represents the best hope for change in a discredited political establishment.

For me, of course, names like Harper, Dion, Layton, May or Duceppe won’t be on the ballot, let alone McCain or Obama. I have to decide whether or not to vote for incumbent Maurice Vellacott or one of his opponents. To help me choose, he’s placed another brochure in my mailbox featuring a get-tough-on-criminals message with the conclusion: “The Conservative Government is standing on the side of law-abiding families and taxpayers. Prison perks have to end.” Vellacott wants to see an end to tattoo practitioners serving prisoners, the closing of smoking rooms and a withdrawal of the right to vote.

It’s the typical conservative response to trouble: meet deviance with force; punish harshly; “they asked for it.” It was Bush and Cheney’s response to 911, and caused them to jump swiftly to choices that were seen in retrospect to be foolish in the extreme.

The problem with this mindset is that, logical as it may seem, it’s ineffective. According to Vellacott, prisons are about “accountability, public safety and punishment.” Prisoners are locked up to pay a debt to society. The problem is that after sentences have been served and the debt paid, we are left with the hardened and broken husks of human beings, incapable of reintegrating, partly because they have been treated like animals in the prison system. This is not doing a favour to “law-abiding families and taxpayers.” This is substituting harsh retribution for a more considered approach to crime and punishment.

Conservatives tend to leave rehabilitation and reconciliation out of their dialogue. That’s why Bush’s foreign policies have failed so utterly, and that’s why another four years of the Harper Conservatives will continue to push our justice system and our foreign policy closer to the retributive model, a model of the past, not the future. Our military budget line will rise faster than our foreign aid line.

In a time when care of the environment, particularly, is front and centre on the global agenda, we can’t afford to be led by the conservative mindset. The Harper record is clear: “Do no more than you have to to keep the tree huggers off your front porch.” Harper appears far more interested in Arctic sovereignty than in Arctic conservation and—as he let out in a recent news conference—that has much to do with the oil that may lie under the Arctic waters.

With any luck, Americans will shake off the Bush legacy, and will refuse to be swayed into thinking once more that their security lies with the pit bulls. With any luck, we Canadians will recognize that conservative thinking in our country is taking us steps backwards when we need to go creatively forward.

Prison-perks is a non-issue in comparison to the global hurdles we face.

We need an MP who recognizes this.