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What Can We Do??

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Regarding the Last Blog – The Rant, Feb 13

All your Comments are appreciated.  Truth, in all its multiplicity, thrives on getting out there, from as many who find the words.

Having declared my stand, I can’t just leave it hanging.  I want to answer the very pertinent question:  if we don’t like the way things are going, “what do we do about it?”

It seems almost naive to think there are any options.  I think I’ve grown used to thinking there is no room for action.  That maybe is true.  The old days of protest, while effective in resistance to entering the Vietnam war, seem truly gone.  But I find I can’t sit still about my own country feeling dangerous to me.

The Silence That Fell

Why is this “what can we do?” so difficult to answer?  I think, apart from the tiredness of protest actions, we stopped having easy answers when, in 1995 we experienced the shock and dismay that followed Mike Harris taking over the Ontario Government.  [The collective “we” is used for those who were politically interested and of a liberal/progressive bent].  We were stunned and grew silent.  As Harris’s reforms were unrolled, things grew darker and the distress continued.  No more social housing was the one that rocked our household.  But it went on and on, and that era marked the beginning of some of the most awful poverty in Ontario.  And we didn’t know what to do about it.

Not that everybody rolled up their carpet and crawled away.  I did for some years.  Many others kept working at what they’d started:  to name a few, educators, human rights advocates and policy makers, national and overseas workers bringing water and medicine and information where it was needed, mediators offering options to an adversarial law system, environmental lawyers.  So many kept their hands on the wheel even as their political voices and muscle were stilled.

But the diminishing of the democratic exercise will undermine the best of human enterprise.   And as the present Government insists on its hardline course against crime and its definition of “terror”, lumping environmental protest and crazy lone-wolf attackers all together as “terrorists”, and poverty and homelessness grow: our reason is almost numbed.

Do We Need Some Digital Brainstorming?

I have never had the skills of a political strategist.  My reactions to the wrongs of my energy-years – Vietnam, poverty, First Nations deprivation, refugees, homelessness – has always been visceral.  There always seemed to be someone’s lead I could follow with energy.  Right now, as gut-clenching as my reaction to Bill C51 is, I don’t see a way to react except to write about it.  The reality that so many people, especially those under 50, don’t read newspapers or listen to news means the written word won’t reach them.  I don’t know how to reach into the culture of the young and able.

I have a modest idea. The old method of ‘brain-storming’ a problem had some virtue.  Old style was to invite an interested group to toss out random ideas about how to tackle a problem, write them all down on big visible flip-chart pages – practical, silly, crazy, whatever.  Post them around the room so all could see.  Important to not censor your thoughts before uttering them.  Vital to not criticize other’s ideas, no matter how bizarre.  Rather, let the thoughts fly out and see what might take shape out of the whole lot.

We don’t have a meeting room.  But what if we tried this on the internet??  I propose that we try some digital brainstorming.  No criticizing at first – just let the ideas come.  Let this blog’s Comments pages be filled with ideas, with fragments of an idea, with fanciful images.  If you know where some good democracy-building is going on, name the person, group, activity.

Then we can sort and criticize.  Digital brainstorming.

My husband has pointed out that there is a potential security issue in putting down publicly one’s desire to undermine the government agenda.  Wise to be aware of that.  Means we can’t brainstorm ways of overtaking the lobby of the Peace Tower.  That was a joke.

Think about how inspired the Red Square and neighbourhood pot-banging campaign in Quebec was four years ago in support of student concerns about tuition!  Conservative folk found it ridiculous but ordinary people were engaged and delighted by taking part.  What collective actions could have an Ontario flavour?

My Ideas of the Past Week – silly and serious

Here are fragments that have come to mind in the past 5 days.  Up on the flip chart!!

  • EVERY TIME you read a newspaper or magazine article that addresses the government’s assault on democratic practice, post the address on your Facebook page so others can read it.
  • Create a t-shirt that says, on the front, “Loose lips sinks civil liberties” and on the back ”Stop Bill C51”.
  • Support charities that advocate for the interests of the people they are serving. At the present time, if a registered charity does so (as did Kairos), its status as a charity, for tax donation purposes, will be removed.  People who donate won’t receive tax deductions for their donations. This can mean that the charity goes under.   I suggest we suck it up and do without the tax receipt.   And encourage those charities that should be advocating to not give up their voices. see http://www.ourwindsor.ca/opinion-story/5340278-charity-law-blocks-progress-on-issues-facing-canadians/
  • Be a vocal supporter of the Supreme Court. Its decisions are protecting our Constitutional freedoms which some legislation seeks to undermine. The Court is helping hold back the erosion of democracy.
  • Hang a little flag outside your house, containing the Canadian flag within it but also a big X across the words “CSIS spying on us”.
  • With friends who like to think, when you’re together, ask them to brainstorm their ideas- wild and woolly or whatever — about what people can do to change the direction of a government they think is wrong. Write them down.  Talk about them.
  • Look up some of the proposals for a modernized electoral system – one that is closer to reflecting the actual population in a riding. Once you have a good one, pepper your MP with requests for him to consider putting it forward as a Private Member’s Bill.
  • Writing letters and e-mails: always a good tactic
  • When people speak of being unsafe and needing CSIS to spy on us, say, “Bill C51 is overkill. Your chance of being killed by a falling brick is a hundred times greater than of being killed by a terrorist”.

So please add your ideas about What We Can Do. Whatever comes to mind…

Post-Script:

A New Blog Just For Action Thinking

This Bigger Circle blog will maintain its original intent and not go expressly political.  The intention remains to explore the places where faith and the world intersect, the experiences of people working out their paths in the world, news and discussion about hopeful directions.  I think it’s of value and don’t want it to die.  Some of you might even consider contributing articles.

BUT.  A new blog with be started, called A Bigger Circle Activ.  It will be informally political, aimed at what we can do about our country moving in a direction that we think is wrong and harmful.  Unfortunately can’t do this until I learn how, but will get busy on it.  May turn up in your Mailbox.

 

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Fresh Breezes Expand Theology: Thomas P. Rausch

Introduction by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Hello readers.  An article was sent to me from a member of my former Sunday Community at the Paulist Centre in Toronto, with a heading:” Theologies We’re Going to Hear About.”

In the document, I learned that Christian theological study is growing in humanity and vision.  Far from absorption with totally abstract questions (famously, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), it’s increasingly focussed outward, looking at the world, people in community, humans and how we are actually made.  How to understand and include all that is alive and true, to grasp what is the nature of God and what is our role in this relationship with God? And are we co-creating the world with God?  Rigorously and logically, students are addressing these questions.  Some of their ideas will enter societies and be taken up. 

This direction is, in my view, truly enlightened: inclusive, respectful and international.  And hopeful.  We know that some religions, notably the Roman Catholic Church, the second largest in the world, (Muslims being the largest), has not – for all its positive contributions – led the way toward a progressive and harmonious world.  How encouraging to realize that in its own study halls, a developing theology grows that suggests a solid basis for something different: a more human amalgam of spirituality, social justice, compassion and respect for religion even among those who don’t engage in any.  About time that we were invited to stop dividing ourselves into warring parts.

Some faiths, primarily Buddhism, have practiced balance of body, spirit, mind, for centuries.  Other major religions, Christianity and Islam, have been more attached to theory, to dogma, to what we must believe within our faith group.  Hinduism has, I think, embodied the mystical and practical within its symbolic mythical view.  All faiths have taught the importance of loving others as one does oneself.  But otherworldliness has tended to dominate what we think religion is about.

Times are changing.  The world needs our attention, so here comes help!!

Two segments of the essay are included below – the beginning and the final section.  To read the whole piece, search in Google: America, The National Catholic Review, February 2, 2015 in MAGAZINE, article by Rausch..

To some readers, the language and Catholicism of the essay may be unappealing or daunting.  The writer can’t help being who he is!  And it’s all quite accessible, really, even for the non-religious.  The whole point is the opening up of traditional thinking in one of the most traditional – and still influential – institutions of learning and teaching.  So give it a try.  The sections of the article, not included below, include Post-colonialism, Feminism, Queer Studies, Eco-Theology, and how these have to be included in “a new conversation”.  Yay!!

 

 

Theology’s New Turn

by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., is the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.

Introduction

The words had a vaguely alien sound: postcolonial, mujerista, queer, eco-theological. But as I sat on our theology department’s hiring committee and read applicants’ dossiers, it was clear that the thinking behind these labels is shaping the work of many who are finishing doctoral studies in theology today and are moving into the schools. Disciplines once considered marginal now dominate the academy.

 

A New Conversation

As the Catholic Church begins to function more and more as a world church, there will be new tensions between the postcolonial churches of the global South and those of the West, the periphery and the center, and with those who feel their inclusion is less than full. The church needs to embrace all God’s children, women and men, gay and straight, the gifted, the wounded and hurting, and those on the margins.

There are signs that a new, broader and much needed conversation has begun under Pope Francis. He has spoken several times of the jurisdictional status of episcopal conferences. He mentioned this again in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” saying that their status, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not been sufficiently elaborated and citing at several points the concerns of the bishops of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Also unprecedented was the survey on contraception, same-sex unions, cohabitation, marriage and divorce sent by Rome to all the bishops of the world in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family this October.

In July the International Theological Commission released a study, “The Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.” Reflecting on the “sense of the faith” both of the individual believer and of the whole church, the study called attention to “the role played by the laity with regard to the development of the moral teaching of the Church,” commenting that the “magisterium needs means by which to consult the faithful” (Nos. 73-74). Even more remarkable, it responded affirmatively to the question of whether separated Christians should be understood as participating in and contributing to the sensus fidelium in some manner (No. 86), suggesting that the Catholic Church might learn something from other churches.

How is the sensus fidei formed? The study recognizes that it cannot be reduced to an expression of popular opinion. The study points to active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church as fundamental, in addition to listening to the word of God, openness to reason and adherence to the magisterium. A deeper appreciation for the sensus fidei means that the church is becoming a true communion, not a structure of the teachers and the taught (No. 4).

 

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Beauty in Extremis: A Poem About Grace and Loss

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This is a kind of eulogy for a woman named Barbara: not a full expression about what I think her life offers for reflection, but an effort to bring to you a glimpse of a remarkable person, as much as I knew her. It’s also about how two people were enriched by a friendship that developed in the extreme conditions during years leading up to Barbara’s death. Barbara carried the gene for Huntington’s Disease and the illness became active when she was in her early thirties. When her tremors were becoming severe, she entered another phase of life, leaving behind what she had known up until then. She tried to live independently. She made use of various drop-ins and shelters, and became a favourite of the St. Peter’s (now First Interfaith) Out of the Cold in downtown Toronto. For some years she could manage to move about the City, eventually with a walker, using the TTC. A time came when she couldn’t do that, and she was hospitalized in a long-term care facility – which she hated. She successfully ‘escaped’ a few times, in a wheelchair that she would ride down a busy street, bent for action. She had friends among street people. She was kind and generous with them, sharing whatever she had. (Over ten years since she was among them, some Out of the Cold guests remembered her when she was mentioned at this season’s opening dinner.)

I visited her somewhat irregularly, though I was able to arrange and accompany her on wheelchair-ambulance trips to Out of the Cold so she could meet friends. However, as she was increasingly less able to move and communicate, other visitors to her room were uncommon.

That’s when Robin, an Out of the Cold volunteer, made a decision and began to visit Barbara on a regular basis. For the past eight or nine years, Robin maintained that commitment, one that took her weekly to a hospital across the City from where she lived. She and Barbara became friends. Robin grieves for her at this time.

This poem is written about Barbara and Robin, and about the extraordinary circumstances of their relationship.

Barbara

PART 1

Not an easy person
but a beautiful one
Not a favourite of her caregivers
unless you noticed
how tenderly they cared for her.
Not a peaceful face –
she well knew anger.
But when she could smile?
Light then shone.

Body immobilized, her eyes looked out;
fierce, intelligent,
with skin smooth as a child’s.
If you were looking for more?
Long-suffering, determination, endurance,
wrapped in a powerful life-force
without self-pity:
Here was the loveliness of Barb.

I believe in a loving holy spirit,
In us, between us, beyond us.
There is no God who would inflict
such cruel cruel punishment.
It was not punishment.
It was disease.
The scourge of earthlings.

All she could do was live it.

Except, amidst its ravages
she accomplished the extraordinary.
With resources destroyed,
only herself on offer,
she engaged in a great friendship.
She gave and received love

The love of a similarly determined woman
who journeyed in perseverance
to her hospital bedside.
No motive, no agency, no agenda,
other than deep sympathy
for someone so afflicted,
who in a wild and crazy way
had a blazing hold on life.

Robin brought humour, diversion,
a breath of the outside,
textures and scents
and soothing attentiveness.
Week by week, year by year,
They participated in trust and respect
that grew until the end.

Part 2

Barbara held to herself, undisclosed,
decades of embrace within a previous world,
She had been Mother, wife, sister, cousin, friend.

As she was rendered silent
Did she visit her children in dreams?

She also shared another narrower world
with those of her blood and bone:
A membership whose mark was the gene
that had taken her mother
her sister,
and that was advancing
in her second child.

Depths of anguish without comfort –
was this as great a burden
as a body abandoning her?

A tiny miracle allowed these worlds
to meet
four days before the end.
Robin and Barbara’s eldest son
met at the hospital

Hence, funeral rites
could, days later, bring into the same room
The saddened people of the decades
of Barbara’s ‘before’ life,
and
those journeying with her
in the seventeen years lost to family.
Tears and stories
opened minds and hearts
to each other.

Consolation? A small mending
of so much that was broken?
Why not see it in that light?
Yet, not to forget the young son
whose long journey has only begun.

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An Age With a View

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I’ve just entered my 75th year. This has had the subtle effect of narrowing the number of issues that leap out and grab my attention – in the media and in the discussions flitting to-and-fro in the cyber world. I love laughing and nonsense as much as anybody, but in the realm of focused caring, there isn’t enough time left to waste it on things that don’t grab my heart. If blessed with several more decades of reading and thinking, I believe these will remain the matters that engage me. They’re what I think people call their passions.

I have to add that exceeding all other, my primary passion – fundamental and inexorable – is my family which now includes a wonderful small person named Theo. That will henceforth go without saying.

I’ll also add that at this stage of life, having time to notice, I’m stunned by the amount of beauty that I encounter in an ordinary day. The people in the Mall, or on the street. The sky! And bare tree branches stark against the sky. Children’s faces and how they move; vegetables set out in long rows in a supermarket. So much to see. These images mitigate the sadness implicit in the passions that remain stirred and unresolved.

So What, in the World, Seems to Matter Most?

In no particular order:

  • The resistance to First Nations in achieving their rights and maintaining their lands
  • Paucity of proper palliative care (including top-notch pain control) for all in the difficult stages of terminal illness
  • The impact of stress and trauma on the growth of healthy open-minded self-loving children
  • Pre-fascism tendencies in our country – how to spot, reveal and halt the growth of
  • Lack of awareness of the uses of Mediation: it works.
  • Lack of decent housing for all

Why Have These Matters Not Been Dealt With Effectively?

These issues should not be with us still. We’ve known for a long time what is wrong. There has to be investment in taking the steps we know need to be taken. Yet, we elect governments that remain reluctant to spend money on making these situations better. It’s not that there’s no money. It’s the skewed views we’ve developed as a culture about the allocation of the resources.   The poor, the sick, the dying, are way down on the list of what we’ve decided should be done with our collective surplus.

So What The Heck Can We Do?

Look again at tax money. It’s what we share of our bounty, however modest, to accumulate in sufficient measure to cover the collective essentials (infrastructure, healthcare, research, etc.) AND to invest in human betterment. The economy will thrive ultimately without a populace suffering for want of collective caring. And people will not develop sufficient caring with governments that we keep letting off the hook in terms of social well-being.

I’m suggesting that we resist the drift to despising government and tax spending.

Mistrust of the “government” or the “state” to spend tax money wisely has spread like a virus – as if private enterprise takes care of everything in a progressive well-maintained way. Walking around Brooklyn, N.Y., one sees some magnificent testimony to private money well spent. But there are also blocks of boarded up buildings that are falling down, shabby amusement areas, ugly infill that will grow ever uglier: example after example of private money deciding to cut its losses for better profit. Mistakes are inevitable, by whomever does the investing and spending of money.

One View of Public and Private Money

The government is accountable to the people – private money isn’t. Denigrating of whatever is undertaken by government is a faulty direction – an infection caught from the turn to the right in many countries. Without good trustworthy people in government, who will look out for the public good?

We’re disappointed in our Parliament? Isn’t that at least something we the people have some say in? Of course there are individuals in government corrupted by power, money, privilege, ambition, whatever. But the purpose of government is not private gain – it is public good. The purpose of business is private gain.

We Are Intended To Have A Say

That’s why I’m naming these Passions – I believe I have some capacity to contribute to the debates encouraged by the trustworthy people in government.

I think many of us listen, learn, comment on, discuss, write letters, cheer on those who are standing on the front lines. More could do that. We could even go out and join an Idle No More walk when it hits town (even if Harper has not shown the courtesy of greeting them at their Parliament Hill destination). We’re not helpless. Thinking we are is not healthy.

Simplistic? Sure. Government won’t solve everything. Can’t just throw money at problems. Absolutely true. But withholding money is just as foolish. Good thinking, good theory, has to be wedded to the experience of those on the ground. Many wise and knowledgeable minds have to meet with the people who live the problems, from the inside. Humans pay for the bad decisions and intentions of the past. Much skilled mediation is required to deal with the conflicts inherent in whatever is happening right now. Good decisions can still be made – there are many ways to arrive at better decisions. Much social science has informed us of ways to do that.

A Wrong Turning

I think a fundamental principle has been messed with. We seem to not recognize that the public is all of us.

The primacy of greed, called good business, has somehow become more acceptable than finding humane reasonable solution to problems. We’ve lost our confidence about that. But is the trend inevitable? The drift to allowing ‘good business’ to become the measure of proper action has gone far enough.

I think greed has to be named and shamed and recognized as contrary to the public good.

So What Are We To Do?

Recognize the wrong thinking when we spot it in ourselves and our compatriots.

Otherwise, if one has any passions at all, there’s no formula for how to pursue them fruitfully. We use what energy, talents, skills, inclination, opportunities we’ve still got. Neither Pollyanna nor Cassandra (prophesying doom), we do our best. This probably sounds just like a 74-year-old lady. But I’m hanging in – like most of us.

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We’re All In The Same Boat, and…

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We’re All In The Same Boat, artist Roy Thomas (1984)

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Yes, we’re all in it together, in the boat.

But we each have to learn how to paddle.  Our selves.

This blog tries to identify the paradox and dig into the truth of each side of it.

The Earth: Shared Home

Wherever we live on this Planet Earth, we deal with the reality of being bound to it.  We draw in the same layer of oxygen.  Gravity holds us to the ground.  We’re mostly made of water, and all the waters of earth interconnect.  We now know about the importance to living beings of healing the parts of the earth that we’ve harmed.  We’ve learned that our collective actions have impacts and that our personal well-being is affected by the ill health of our land.

Yet beyond the physical realities of sharing a planet with billions of other people, we share being members of the same species.   We each have to deal with maintaining our own bodily health.  We’re learning we must care for our brains, by avoiding injury but also by respecting the impact of stresses and deprivations as we deal with living.  We’re learning how to sharpen the use of the brain.  In part of that organ is a responsive lobe that stirs basic emotions, fear being fundamental.  Fear triggers survival responses, but handling fear and anger must be learned.  So with much the same basic equipment, all humans face the possibilities of tragedy, pain, and sorrow as well as friendship, laughter, and love.

We have so much in common, but differing circumstances form us, with such various results.  Physical and intellectual attributes, the quality of nurturing received, the available teaching, connections we made or failed to make with other humans, stable or erratic care, resources available to us including food: along these critical dimensions no one grows up in the exact same way as another.

And so while we’re in a universal boat, sailing together on the same earth, we each have to acquire the means of navigating our personal circumstances.  Together, yet necessarily apart.

A Fundamental Paradox

This paradox has always existed.  Not always recognized, nonetheless we are part of a shared attachment to the rest of the world.  Yet, we are entirely individual in our particular foothold on the ground on which we stand.

How do we live with this paradox?  Do we emphasize our connection?  Do we emphasize our individuality?  Do we seek to find a way of living that balances the two?

First Nations Wisdom

The belief system of the First Nations in Canada grew – as did all cultures – out of the experience of its members, daily and through the seasons and the years.  Each young man and woman had to meet the challenges of growing into adulthood.  There were rituals controlled by the elders, requiring courage and stamina, that brought them into maturity.   At the same time, each was part of a society – a clan – that held a collective vision of how they were meant to live – sharing and taking care of one another and the nature that supported them.

Fine artists from the First Nations in Canada represent this duality to us, drawing from the world view of the tribe.  “We’re All in the Same Boat”, painted by Roy Thomas, draws from his Ahnisnabae culture absorbed from his grandparents in the Thunder Bay area, to represent a universal truth.

Joseph Boyden quotes and then comments on Roy Thomas’ view:

“ ‘When I use my paintbrush I understand that I am not the only one doing the painting, even though my name goes on the finished work.’  In these few words, Roy captures the spirit of the Ahnisnabae. ..We are all inter-related.  We are all connected.   We are all one family together in the same boat.” (See ref. below)

An Encounter With the Communal Vision

Early on in opening our Church to the outreach that is now known as Out of the Cold, our mixed group of volunteers had to learn how to interact with groups of distinct Others, acting in ways not familiar to us.  Specifically on one of the first nights, how First Nations men preferred to deal with bedding down in a strange location.  We were trying to maintain order as 90 or more people prepared to sleep on mattresses in the Parish Hall, about twelve Ahnisnabae men among them.  After dinner and some efforts at socializing, it was time to get ready for sleep.  The native men did not want their mattresses to be placed in dormitory-like lines on the floor.  The placed their mattresses in a star-like formation, heads close together in the centre of a circle, feet placed at the outer rim.  This took space away from the total sleeping space available so we had to request that First Nations men accept the efficiency of sleeping in rows.  What a shame!   They knew the comfort of maintaining close connection in a distinctive way.  They didn’t make a fuss about our requirements, but they were joking in their own tongue over the next hour – I suspected about our stiff ways.

Again and again we saw native men and women drawing comfort from their strong ties, even in the face of death.  Two brothers in their 30’s, sharing several years of living on the streets of Toronto, were separated when the older one, Nick, died from illness and exposure.  Brother Billy, along with Thomas who was part of their city cadre, continued to join Out of the Cold for dinner, but left right after. Billy telling me that for the rest of the winter they would be sleeping outside to honour his brother’s death.  It seemed self-defeating – why risk repeating Nick’s fate?  But over time they could make clear to us that in this way they could they meet Nick’s spirit, re-entering what they had shared with him for weeks and years, and be able to let him go (this being my understanding of what they expressed to me).  For a full year, Billy with Thomas continued his vigil.  At the end of that time, he was able to find housing and was willing to accept the opportunity.  But he had been true to Nick.

Silly superstition?  I have no judgment about it, but do respect that for Billy, his connection to his brother required this extended and uncomfortable vigil.

The Tasks We Face

I speak as a product of both the culture I’ve grown up within (Canadian, British, well-read parents, lower middle class income, education highly valued) and as a person who has spent years trying to get honest about who I am.

The point for me, relative to the question of us being in the same boat, is that there are many ways of honouring our connection to each other.  I know for sure that how we live out that connection will vary greatly between cultures.  But we have to learn how best to do it.

At the same time, we have to develop a strong sense of who we are individually, in order to deal with what life will throw at us.  Our cultures have a big hand in shaping us, but getting beyond what our culture wants us to believe about ourselves requires effort and luck.  And sometimes we have to do that, if we want to stretch out and fly on our own, and maybe come back to help build a better boat!

Why Is This Important?

This is so pertinent now, as we’re struggling with stereotypes about the people from faraway lands and religions who are choosing to come and live as neighbours in our communities.   We have to try to get this right.

I’m suggesting one route. Two kinds of simultaneous awareness are necessary and each can be developed:  (1) recognizing and living as if we share our world with a variety of other people, while (2) developing a strong sense of our separate selves.  Two tough tasks.

Recognizing our personal boundaries (the lines we draw around ourselves, to enclose people close to us and keep out those we fear) is one step.  How does that work?  And how do we open up to those who are different from ourselves – learning to avoid the FEAR response and to develop a reasonable openness to those embedded in other cultures?  I’ll be tackling the necessary re-jigging of my own perceptions in the next several blogs, assuming that many of you are like me.

It’s too late to just say they should all become more like us.  We all have to become new beings.

Meanwhile, please add any comments you may have.

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Hockey – a Moral Compass?

By Rosemary Gray Snelgrove

There is more to hockey than many of us think.

I married into a hockey family.  This has been positive, for the most part.  The few times I’ve watched my husband play, I’ve been in awe of the beauty of his movement across the ice.  He glides, in a wonderful balanced movement; the assurance of his stride reminds me of how I continue to enjoy the difference between the genders.  (I skate reasonably well, and I would hope he’d enjoy my stride too.)

I love that he played regularly, for decades, with friends with whom he shared a camaraderie and sense of fun that carried over into life away from the rink.  So on a personal level, playing the game was a happy thing that I could also take pleasure in.

Beyond the personal, the fact of hockey on television or at the occasional big league game has been neutral for me, but again, enjoyed on Dave’s behalf.

But the larger place of hockey as a cultural phenomenon occasionally strikes me as worth taking seriously.

The Canada Russia Series, 1972

The impact of the first Canada Russian hockey series, in 1972, meant more than the entertainment value of the televised games.

For the first time, our hockey heroes – and the rest of us who chose to pay attention – met more than their match.  There was no preparation for the fact of how good the Russians were.  Our blinkered sense of superiority on this one dimension – that of  hockey – was crushed.  We had to wake up and see the reality.  They were as good as and maybe better than we were.

Expand this to the wider realization that our widely held sense of superiority to people we saw as less able, perhaps more primitive than ourselves, was likely WRONG.  The totality of the shock reverberating across the country makes sense.  It wasn’t just a hockey team.  It was a whole sense of identity. National identity.

And it didn’t stop there.  If we weren’t the best at hockey, were there a whole lot of other things up for grabs?  Might we have some other things wrong?

The entire Canadian populace likely didn’t see things in this way, but the door had been opened to having to lose the smugness, the arrogance, that had come of assuming that we were simply – the Best!  Second to the Americans in lots of things, but Hockey???

In losing this assurance, we had to grow up!

As The Series Progressed…

I remember feeling great ambivalence.  I was so much more identified with hockey than I would have guessed.  I really wanted Canada to win the series.

But as the games became more rough, and “our” team began to look more like street toughs, I was embarrassed.  When Bobby Clarke broke the ankle of Kharlamov with a slashing stick, he took out one of the best of the Soviet players.  That was awful.  But it didn’t stop me from jumping up and down when Henderson’s goal won the final game in the final seconds.  That’s still one of the most thrilling moments of sports history in my life.  But.  The unease about how we won – that has remained.

The Return Bout

Two years later, my husband reminds me that the Red Army team came back to North America, to play some of the NHL teams.  The game with the Canadiens in Montreal was apparently a wonderful hockey game, showing skill and spirit.

The next game was with the Philadelphia Flyers.  They were a tough team, known as the Broadstreet Bullies.  And bully they did.  They lay into the Soviets with physical moves that many would call assault.

The CBC Olympic coverage has repeated an excellent short piece on the reflections of three of the Soviet players of the time, including Boris Mikhailov.  He describes how the team was so unprepared for this kind of game behaviour that they feared for their lives.  The Soviets actually determined that there was serious risk to the players and after the second period, they left the game.  Just walked out.

Further Reflection

I find this very interesting.  To win in 1972, Canadian players were so fired up to win, so shocked when realizing how hard it was going to be, that they used tactics that had nothing to do with skill and sportsmanship.  Was it perhaps a little bit like war?  They won.  We won!!  We were happy.  We still celebrate it occasionally.  But did it tell us something about ourselves that we need to be aware of?  We’re not bullies when we don’t have to be but if we have to…?   But did we have to?  Who knows?

And then in 1974, the pleasure of well-played hockey was restored between the two countries and a fine game took place in Montreal.  Perhaps there was less riding on this series for Canadians because we’d absorbed the wonderful myth that we were the best.  Was winning perhaps not as critical?

But did the Flyers feel they had more to lose?  In Philadelphia there was clearly some motivation to assault the Russian team and they went out and did it.  Was it a matter of the stakes seeming higher?  The Cold War was still a reality.  So perhaps, war it was.

Winning, Losing, Identity, Pride

This all suggests that we hardly know ourselves.  Winning at times seems to matter more than honour.  Losing embodies shame almost beyond enduring.  Who we are is bound up in being closer to winning than losing.  Pride can blind us.

Is this just the way of the world?  Are we making any progress toward more inclusive thinking and less need to be victors?  Or, when push comes to shove, are we always going to shove as hard as we can?

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Uneasy Road: A Grandparent Looks At The Arrival

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I’m about to do the most obvious thing in the world: talk about the experience last week of becoming a grandparent.   Our grandchild, Theodore Jonathan, was born 9 days ago.

I won’t talk about how charmed we are by the infant (visited on Skype), or about the joys of the grandparenting relationship.  Technology has so far provided the connection with him.  We anticipate joy in getting to know him, but as he may always live in another city that will become what it will be.  It’s the mere fact of his approach and arrival that are presently absorbing me.

Phenomenology: the approach to knowledge from studying experience.  Some call it naval-gazing.   Self-absorption?  Narcissism?   Perhaps.  In this case, because the ground under my feet has been shifting since Theo’s birth, I’m curious.  Telling you about it may be of little use to you, but my urge to poke under the surface of experience seems unstoppable so I’m just going to do it.

If I get any of it right, it might go some way to illuminating why grandparents smile so benignly if you mention their grandchildren.  It’s almost like a secret.  Is it just that the child is so lovable?  Or more?

New Behaviours, Mostly Compulsive

I photograph his image on Skype every time we talk to our daughter and son-in-law.   And then send the pictures all around, to whoever I think might be interested.  Or even not.

I keep going to the computer to see if anyone has messaged us to comment on his arrival.  Or how they like the latest photos.

I live in a state of simmering excitement, which leads me to fall over or forget what I’m doing, especially after a glass or two of wine.

Memories of our daughter (only child) at the same age abound and I voice them to husband Dave.  He seems to have some of his own and tells me them so we’re partly living in a time zone 29 years back.

Family Connections Fascinate

We’ve found it fascinating to look at the seven-pages (small print) printed from the Family Tree page that Dave has tended for a few years listing all our family members.  The Snelgrove grandson’s list of “Relationships” goes to the eighth step of connection:  our family newborn has 350 family relationships (that we know of).  The last one, “Sally Brown, the wife of a third cousin of Snelgrove grandson, eight steps to a direct ancestor”, may strike you as being on the remote side.  But to us, it seems precious.  The boy has a familial connection to at least 350 other people.  And he hasn’t even made his first friend yet.

A Little Out of Control

While awaiting this birth, which occurred exactly at the time predicted – meaning that there weren’t anxious weeks of wondering when, when, when – a flittering butterfly kind of mind took over my days.  For the last month, sitting and focusing on a single topic or activity – required for writing a blog – wouldn’t happen.  Woke up wanting to, and instead, spent hours doing busy work: sorting a drawer, tidying a shelf, making lists.

There were other ways in which, on reflection, preoccupation with the impending birth had taken over some emotional core.  Blood pressure was up, digestion wonky, an aggressive rash spread over arms, shoulders, head – all signs of stress.  What, me stressed?   Nothing really to be concerned about.  Our daughter is competent, healthy, and all will be well.  Friends were solid in keeping the mind on the right track.  Worrying would be doing her a disservice.

Okay – well and good.  But now, a week later, I tend to recognize the impact of the history of childbirth and our own store of tales from friends and family.  We know that childbirth isn’t a slam dunk.  Lots can happen.  In the two weeks prior to the birth, our daughter suddenly had to get to hospital to have several minor but not pleasant procedures, which she handled sensibly and recovered from in the following days.  But that reality served to emphasize for me the tough truth that, common as it is, bringing another life into the world isn’t going to be easy and won’t necessarily be without incident.

Separating from our kids in their teens, as they push away from us and have to try themselves out in the world, is accomplished with varying degrees of success.  I think we had arrived at a comfortable place, trusting our daughter as a capable adult.  But!  When she was seeming to be in trouble, in those trips to the hospital – with her husband working long hours at a serious job and no friends nearby to drive her, plus an expensive taxi ride to the Emergency Room and back – my protective impulses went back into high gear.  I couldn’t halt the shakiness inside.  I yearned to be there to be able to help.  But I likely wouldn’t have been!  My anxiety would have interfered with her problem-solving.

All part of the fact of our child really being out there on her own.  She’s blessed with a fine husband, a fine man, and not all alone.  Except that, in the matter of bringing life into the world, there’s no controlling what may happen.  Some deep trust in the life force, the ongoing circle of life – however we can visualize it – has to take over.  But it can be a mighty struggle for a parent.

The irony is that she’s now one too.  And all that awaits her.  I don’t envy the trip.  Except that I do.  How wonderful it is.

Age is Clear

My age is now underlined.  I’ve distained many of the nostrums about being old.  “Dress your age”, “Act your age”, “It’s all downhill now”.  Still don’t buy into much of that.

But looking at one of my short-skirt-and-tights outfits, I saw it differently.  I’m a 73-year-old grandmother of a little boy.  Maybe there’s a way to incorporate that into how I go out into the world, pointing to second thoughts about my indifference to age-appropriateness.

This one is still open for consideration.

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Love Quebec, Hate the Charter

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I’m leaping into the debate. Intemperate language will follow because I’m riled.

Reading two very funny pieces from the English Quebec press, regarding the more bizarre possibilities in applying the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, two opinions crystallized for me.

First, One of Two Disclaimers (be patient)
I’m not rattled about the intensification of the secular/religious agenda. Nor am I particularly emotional about the politics at this point.

There are clearly political motives to the proposed Charter. The P.Q wants to be re-elected. A Constitutional battle with Ottawa over the Charter would likely heighten popular separatist opinion in Quebec. Also there are rural votes to be gained by appearing to not let immigrants feel quite so welcome. “Pure laine” still has appeal.

Secondly, Reasonable Accommodation
Secondly, all across the country I think we’re not clear about where we want to come down on “reasonable accommodation”. It’s a darned tricky issue. And we keep forgetting our history.

We are a country of immigrants.

Of course, we gave no chance at all for the original inhabitants to decide how much to accommodate us – we bullied our way into possession and power hundreds of years back.

It makes no sense to compare us with France or any country in Europe or Asia where – while foreign invaders kept working at shifting boundaries – there have been clear linguistic and cultural developments in many regions over millennia.

Canada, by contrast, kept inviting and attracting immigration. Hence we have had to keep re-inventing ourselves, working out over and over how to work with the whole mad combination of talents to build a country together. We needed immigration. We still do.

French Canada, being founded earlier and holding on to its common language, has had a few hundred more years to grow its distinctive culture. But immigration has continued to fuel its enterprises.

We Need to Work Out Reasonable Accommodation
Holding all of Canada’s regions together has been a common belief in the rights of peoples on our soil to have as much freedom as makes sense, within limits of not hurting others.
So, what is reasonable accommodation of newcomers’ differences? This has to be worked out between us all, paying attention to fundamental human rights and the Quebec and Canadian Constitutions.

Here Come My Objections
Putting aside the secular/religious issue, and that of reasonable accommodation, there are two huge objections I have to the Charter of Quebec values.

I refer to Bernard Drainville, one of the authors of the Charter. He is the main spokesperson for its contents and intentions.

Racist Toward Jews
Pay attention to the argument for retaining the big cross in the Legislature and other large public fixtures (such as the Mount Royal cross). These large Christian symbols are to be exempted from the Charter’s rules because they are part of the heritage of Quebec.

Is no group other than Christians a significant part of the history of the province?? Jewish people are hardly newcomers. They have been a critical part of the commercial, intellectual and artistic life of Montreal for much of its life. They have contributed profoundly to the social fabric. Those who have been wearing the kippah every day of their adult lives are part of the traditional life of the province. To ignore this is an injurious disregard of the Jewish contribution to Quebec.

I therefore consider the legal prohibition of the kippah for everyone receiving a pay cheque from the government (which includes thousands of Quebecers) to be a racist act.

Relative Newcomers
Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs have all been invited to come to Quebec following campaigns in their home countries encouraging immigration, The best and brightest have been particularly welcome. Quebec provided a good example to other provinces in its peaceful integration of new minorities. Until now. “Sorry, we’ve changed our minds”.

For cultures which have developed around a fundamental connection between culture, religion, and personal identity, the new Quebec of the Charter of Values tells them that their way of being is unacceptable to the State.

A Fascist Impulse
Secondly, Drainville said on CBC, and in some reported interviews, that if differences between people are not evident — if people appear to be more alike — life will be more peaceful. For whom? Not for those who have to lose their jobs in order to honour their heritage.

Was this not the thinking of the National Socialist Party through the ‘30’s in Germany, resulting in the plan to eradicate those who were too different?

The Taliban also requires conformity.

Enforced conformity
This is the commonality between the Nazi program, the Taliban, and the Quebec Charter of Values.

Drainville said that the threatening aspect of the wearing of a scarf, turban, kippah, is that it indicates that that person has beliefs and concerns different from the norm. He or she is placing importance on something other than the goals of a secular state.

Conformity with the goals of the State will indicate one’s worthiness to be a full member. A teacher, nurse, day care worker, social worker, garbage worker – the whole structure of the Quebec civil service will be required to conform. That structure is threatened by non-conformity.

This appalling idea is to be enforced. Law requires enforcement. Enforcement requires policing. A person on the street may be a secret terrorist or thug: it’s the religious teacher or SAQ employee sporting a modest religious symbol who will have to deal with the police.

This is, in my thinking, a mark of a fascist society.

Where Did This Come From?</
The news that 60% of the Quebec population feel in tune with the proposed legislation is chilling to me. I was born in Quebec and lived there for over 30 years. Where has this mean-spirited strain come from? Can’t blame it on the Church. I don’t think Rene would be happy – he was a worldly man who hated fascism! So who likes the idea of enforcing this removal of individual choice in the matter of acknowledging, so modestly, one’s religious attachment?

Who really thinks the state is threatened?

There’s the pain – conformity seen as necessary to peace. Does anyone else have trouble with this???

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Why A Bigger Circle: After Three Days of Comments

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

To review: the original blog on August 1- Watchful Hope – Can We Maintain This? – contained a long article by Jamie Manson about how those so inclined might best regard Pope Francis. It wasn’t published in A Bigger Circle but was e-mailed to the mailing list, and Comments as they came in were also e-mailed.

The response, as seen in the number of Comments received, has been remarkable in the history of this blog as has the range of opinions. This means to me that people were interested enough to want to join the discussion. Yet, two readers have asked to be removed from the mailing list. This suggests that the blog for some has been hurtful or offensive.

I regret any offence given, of course. I respect the continuum of opinions and belief that exists among people applying thought and intelligence to any issue. Experience colours all our thought and feeling and each reader’s experiences are unique to him/herself. Our responses to each other may seem to line up on ‘sides’ of a question, but on close examination, each is unique.

The Purpose of A Bigger Circle
I have had to look again at the purpose of this blog. It may have changed a little since I inherited it from Joy Connelly, but I don’t think violates her intentions. A Bigger Circle does attempt to include people of different views, to respect those differences, to attempt to address them in subsequent blogs, There has to be room for controversy. HOWEVER, the purpose is not to stir controversy. It is to explore what I perceive as common human dilemmas as we journey along, trying to reconcile mind, spirit, and the world. I also try to find ways of getting beyond where we – individually and/or collectively – seem to be stuck. I love to look under and around and into the dilemmas to find a place where we can at least understand what the different perspectives are. And where they come from (i.e. the experiences that form them).

Religion, Not a Popular Topic
I’m aware that questions about Church and organized religion may push negative buttons for some readers: a real ‘turn-off”. Yet, Church or Temple or Mosque play a big part in the lives of many, and I think A Bigger Circle has to include people of good will, with differences acknowledged and accepted.

Religion is important for those who find it a link to their history and traditions. For some it holds the family together. It is one way in which people give expression to religious feeling. Some find satisfaction for their spiritual yearnings. Church community can provide a lifeline for people otherwise isolated. Great for some, not for others.

And some of the big churches and religious communities have the ear of political leaders. Ignore that at our peril.

Can’t Promise Never to Touch the TopicI assume that readers understand that I am not advocating for religious institutions, nor for people who choose them. But I won’t drop the subject out of fear of offending readers if it seems timely to write about it. And if I do offend you, I’m interested in why people. Believe me, I want to understand differences.

The Comments Below
You have received the Comments that are attached in a series of e-mails over the past 5 days. If you want to read them in sequence, they’re here below.

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Each Home A Mystery to Another

Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Some ideas are like those tunes you can’t get out of your head for days. The latest one such for me emerged from a TED talk given by Jordan Peterson, a man who not only has the great good luck live on Toronto’s Olive Avenue, but who also puts together philosophy, religion and psychology to great effect, giving us fresh ways to look at life. (He does this at the University of Toronto and in various venues such as TVO – Google will lead you to some, always worthwhile).

The notion was that no one knows what goes on inside another’s family. So now I’m seeing everything in that light.

The Impact of Serious Mismatch

We know about the impact upon us of nurturing, and the degree to which our natures interact with that family environment to shape our identities so that when we venture forth into the big wider world, we’ve got some basic equipment with which we operate. (Reference here to blog on Identity, [date])

But. Taking this reality a little further, I believe we’re inclined to think that what we regard as normal is normal for other people. We don’t see the peculiarities of our family environment. I now realize how much this leads us astray. And I think this error is a main element in some of the biggest mistakes we make.

Primary example: marriage. It may take years, but eventually we see that what He learned at home is entirely different from what She learned at home. The obvious differences (handling the toothpaste cap, noticing when dust turns into grime, comfort with animals in the home) surface and are worked out – or not – in the first few years. Enough disparity in several areas may well determine whether the relationship sticks.

The deeper habits, such as how emotions are expressed, what is considered risk rather than adventure, the practice of generousity including comfort with guests in the home: these take longer to become apparent and may lead to a whole review of what was thought of as a keeper of a relationship.

The Impact of Subtle Diversites

I’m looking here mainly at families of similar cultures. Cross cultural variation enters another realm – one I don’t know much about. Around us in Canada, successful long-term relationships between people of different cultures abound but I don’t know what is required in the way of accommodation, wisdom, or learning. Please provide Comments if you can illuminate the subject of cross-cultural relationships.

But the point of this blog is that I’ve realized that just about every modern marriage is actually cross-cultural. Perhaps not among people of tight-knit communities, but even Mennonites may have big variances in what happens behind closed doors.

Everyday Differences with Big Consequences

Space here allows just looking at the initial phenomenon – what are some obvious significant differences in home environments?

I think that the big red ball in the middle – for all – is emotions and how they’re expressed and responded to.

Emotions are Huge

Fear, subsequent anger, sadness, anxiety, embarrassment, joy? How are these expressed?

Is there censure if the emotion is (a) acted out, showing anger or hurt or exaltation by hitting, throwing, jumping, shouting, swearing), (b) verbalized with emotional words (“I hate you”, “You’re all awful”, “You always do this”, “I’m so happy”, (c) verbalized in a reasoned way (“you know I hate losing”, “I’m afraid when you’re like that)? When witnessed by a child, she learns quickly what’s expected. Don’t cry. The man can yell, the woman can’t. If you’re small, shut up. Lots of unspoken rules.

An example: some families forbid ‘fighting’ between siblings. Sounds good to me, at first blush. But if no anger can be expressed, what does the wronged child do with the sense of injustice and frustration? If there’s a bully in the bunch, does that ever become evident to people other than the victims?

If, from earliest days, a child is surrounded by people who have found a harmonious way (likely including humour) to acknowledge each other’s feelings and validate what each other feels – well, that’s probably a child born into heaven. But families that are trying to do this will be modeling something hopeful to their children.

So many of us, of course, fail at dealing with strong emotion and yet do provide nurturing environments. However, I think that many children learn very early that emotions are dangerous. Learning to “walk on eggs” is familiar to anybody living in a home with an addict (even expressing anger can be a kind of addiction). Emotions can be volatile and the unpredictability teaches certain behaviours. So do lots of other conditions that are completely random – bearing no blame, no fault. They just are, but they impact on a child in formation within that family group.

Other Areas With Big Implications

How does the family approach celebrations and community holidays?

This may have everything to do with faith communities and culture. Yet, even among those who are part of a celebrating community, the mood, the approach to the extra work involved in preparing, the absence or presence of joy, inclusion of all in the home, the dealing with pressure and tiredness : these can vary enormously. And will impact on how family members approach those holidays, birthdays, weddings, into the future.

How financial realities are dealt with remains private within households. We knew a family where the father, having lost his job, continued to act out the part of a working man for months, dressing, leaving the house, and returning at suppertime, in order for his family to not have to deal with the reality. Were pride and shame the motivator in that household? What would all learn from that?

Change: for some families, the spectre of change causes fear to flow. Moving home may be familiar to many: military families, clergy, many businessmen. For others, dread and deep anxiety would fill the household if the necessity to move away was presented. And few are prepared for the unexpected such as illness or death. The way that these are handled will vary enormously and give the children their sense of what is normal when change has to be faced.

The Norms – a Hidden Dimension of Identity
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So upon the question of what is the norm: here’s where the rubber meets the road. What do we learn to expect? What is normal, what is acceptable, what goes beyond the bounds, what are the bounds?

Our baseline emerges from our households. And every one is different. Isn’t it amazing that we ever manage to live with others?

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