My summer wish for you

Summer is almost here, and I am going to give Bookends a bit of a rest.  Oh, I don’t mean I’m going to stop reading.  Since retiring, I rarely read for any other reason than pleasure.  All I mean is that I won’t be blogging about what I’ve read.  Not for a couple of months at least.  For much of my life I have read a lot and have written a lot, just like singer-song-writers who are always picking out a tune, like crafters and artists who are always creating a piece, or like the “Chariots of Fire” runner who said he runs because it is then that “I feel His pleasure.”  It’s just something that people do because they’re who they are.

Speaking of artists, have you seen the new movie “Maudie” yet?  Highly recommended!  Nova Scotia’s now-famous Maude Lewis was always painting, despite having had no training and despite her various disabilities.  When I walked into her little house many years ago, long before the entire structure was moved to the provincial art galley in Halifax, it was fascinating just to see the impressive result of her compulsion to decorate everything in her home and to ornament her soul in the midst of a difficult life.

My reason for blogging is perhaps not so very different from her motivation or that of many writers, musicians, artists and runners.  I read and write largely for pleasure, but make no mistake about it, I would indeed want a few folks to read at least some of what I write.  And  here it has been my observation (not criticism) that genuine one-on-one communication among people is actually quite rare.  Lots of things are said, laughed over, gossiped, raged about, and penned  –  all the time  –  but I have seen that in all that verbal exchange there can be little of real substance.

Before the blog, I experimented with encouraging more worthwhile discussion by placing on Facebook suggestions for conversation under the title “Coffee Time.”  For a while, this really worked as people were sending back-and-forth comments on certain subjects, generally in a friendly manner.  That was great, though it didn’t last.  After a couple of months, it just petered out.  The Bookends blog has done marginally better.

I also enjoy hearing about old friends and am interested (and often grateful) to learn how their lives are turning out, but summer is just around the corner and it’s time for a change of pace.  I hope to do some travelling through picturesque Newfoundland — maybe even see my first iceberg.  And of course, I will also be reading quietly in the backyard of my home, no doubt making notations of one kind or another, but I’ll spare you the report about it.

Thanks to all you who took the time to read some of my blog articles.  Here’s wishing you a healthy, pleasurable summer, with lots of good friendly conversation!

 

A true ghost story

I don’t know why, but whenever I have relocated, I always had to scout around my new environs.  The urge went well beyond needing to become familiar with the streets and roads.  It was just something about wanting to explore around my home.  That also included finding out who lived there in years past and what the local history was like. Sometimes I uncovered strange or violent stories, though the one I’ll tell you has a happy ending.

Years ago, I lived in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, just down the road a piece from the hamlet of Pereaux, and not much further from the villages of Habitant and Canard.  These community names, of course, are French, though this is not at all a French-speaking area.  Beyond these settlements lay a large lowland that we called “The Flats,” first created by people now long gone, who built dykes to keep the sea water out.  And past those fields stretched the district of Grand Pré, a purely historical site because those who used to live there all disappeared.  Some say it was murder en masse.

It was not not like other mass killings, as “only” one-third of the thousands of the French settlers lost their lives prematurely, though all of them were forcibly moved away, “merely” transported in the naval equivalent of cattle cars.  Many of these people perished for lack of food and fresh air, or from contagious illnesses in the dark holds of the ships, while many others drowned in mishaps on the stormy seas.  The families of these unfortunates were often split up so that the children sometimes came to exist like slaves as they were put to work by foreign masters.  Terrible stuff.

This almost unbelievable tragedy took place all around where I lived and it was made more real to me through a book entitled The Acadians – a people’s story of exile and triumph, written by Dean Jobb.  As always in such matters, the culprits behind the deportation of the Acadians (history books don’t call it a massacre) were very few in number but many soldiers and allies did the dirty work.  Five years after the upheaval, the Nova Scotia authorities invited British-American farmers, who had no hand in the deportation, to come and settle the silent, emptied lands.

What about the ghosts?  Well, apart from a few monuments and French place names, there are only spooky, whispy traces of these original Acadians.  Their houses were burned down, their cattle stolen, their stories were forgotten, and the memory of their settlements was deliberately erased.  I have “seen” an Acadian cemetery, kind of creepy, not because of weathered headstones viewed in dim evening light, but because even in broad daylight there was nothing obviously there but grass and weeds  — all signs of the dead having been removed by man and nature.

Lots of Acadians are now living elsewhere in the Maritime provinces, descendants of those who came back years later, and there are many American “Cajuns,” as they are called down in the state of Louisiana where some of them ended up.  But no one was allowed to return to the original fertile farms and familiar sites of former villages.

There is still an unreality about it.  The area of my present home has, like the Valley where I once lived, dyked lowlands formerly owned by Acadians.  The name of my town is Bible Hill, in part because British settlers who came after the deportation found an old French Bible near a well that the former inhabitants had used.  This was just one more fleeting indication that Acadians actually lived, worked, worshipped, and raised families here.  They seem like whispers, barely heard sounds in the wind, ghost-like hints of a once thriving people.

Some have said that Acadians of old were terrorists who deserved to be punished and deported.  Sure, a few actively resisted British rule over the colony, but most of them apparently just wanted to be left alone to tend their farms.  It has also been said that since they were all Roman Catholics, they could never be loyal to the nominally- Protestant British government.  Maybe, maybe not.  It should be added that the British were the newcomers, not starting to settle in Nova Scotia until at least a century after the Acadians had begun to live there.

Time has moved on and relations have now vastly improved.  Queen Elizabeth made a royal proclamation to acknowledge the unjust suffering and she made July 28, which was the date of the deportation order, an annual day of commemoration.  This summer, Acadians will invite their English-speaking neighbors, especially in this year of Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation, to the historical site at Grand Pré, for remembrance and celebrations.

Yes, a happy ending, but wouldn’t it be good if in our day we would never hear again about the fear of other ethnic groups, about present religious bitterness, and even the threat of mass deportations?  Here in the Maritimes, much of the bitterness of the past has been overcome, thank God — but please, no more true ghost stories.

 

How I found the cover-up of an airline disaster

Full disclosure here.  Everything I know about a cover-up of the cause of the crash of Swissair 111 in September of 1998, the second worst air disaster in Canadian history, I learned from Tom Juby.   When I first met Tom, it was about a year after that crash near Nova Scotia’s famous Peggy’s Cove.  He was then a forensic identification investigator with the RCMP, having been assigned to examine the physical evidence of the crash.

I could tell right away that Tom Juby was no opportunist, seeking to profit from the disaster.  That day, his mind and feelings were much troubled and impacted by events relating to the investigation.  Not only was he affected by the horrible scale and details of the human loss of life, he and the lead investigator for the federal government had uncovered evidence of an “incendiary device” on board the fatal flight, and also a number of strange facts about the flight itself.

But perhaps worst of all, for Tom, was the fact that his own bosses in the RCMP had wanted to shut down his sleuthing of a criminal cause. They wanted him to alter his notes in order to delete any reference to possible criminality (just like the Transportation Safety Board later ordered their expert investigator, Dr. Jim Brown, to change a similar reference in his own report).  In a tired and depressed tone, Tom started telling me technical and scientific facts that I barely understood, and also suspicious details of the flight that were much easier to grasp.  Among the latter was the passenger list, which included a Saudi prince and several United Nations officials, and there was a missing cargo of diamonds.  Later, he would add further disturbing bits of detail, such as first class passengers having been inexplicably moved to the rear of the plane, and a missing airport worker who had been in the plane before its take-off  but who, after only one shift on the job, had vanished without a trace except his false identity in the airport employee file.

Despite these and other anomalies, RCMP brass decided already on the third day of the investigation that there was no point to further examine the passenger list, and indeed before long they decided the Swissair crash was only an appropriate study from a safety perspective, not from a forensic/criminal one.  Yet the names of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda had been mentioned, more than two years before the destruction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers on 9-11.  Tom wonders how history might have unfolded differently if the Swissair investigation had been handled better.

At his home last year, Tom filled me in on his plans to publish a book of his findings.  In the intervening years, he had retired from the RCMP, taken a different job, and had been the focus of an episode on CBC’s investigative journalism program, “The Fifth Estate.”  Now about to resign from his other work, he could concentrate on the book and the expected publicity, some of which could well be hostile.

The book is finally available, called Twice As Far: the true story of the Swissair 111 airplane crash.  Readers who may be especially interested in the story can get further details and news on Tom Juby’s web site at  www.swissair111.ca

A Street Cat and a Sad Song

Recently, there have been reports in some of the media saying that young people are now more stressed than before and are having more mental health issues than ever. Various reasons for this are proposed, including the addiction to social media.  I won’t dwell on these statements but whatever the state of youth stress may be, it has been an observation of mine for a few decades already that there seem to be fewer traditional calming influences and ordinary emotional supports, perhaps especially for urban youth.  Let me tell you what I mean.

Take music, for instance.  There is lots of the usual rebellious rock and social-commentary hip-hop, but how often are the young exposed to contemporary versions of soothing ballads, quieter blues, and other tunes that help the soul and mind to work through hurt, loss, and pressure?  This has been, for eons, one of the great benefits of music.   I recall as a young man crazy about the Beatles, being very moved by Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” with its soothing lament over a lost love, not unlike the Beatles’ own “Yesterday.”

There appears to be a lot of loudness, whether of anger, passion, or praise, and (to me) far too little of the softer, thoughtful, singing that has healing power.  The poet G.K. Chesterton once said the following about the ages-old features of the Celtic character ….

The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.

The Irish are particularly talented at making good sad songs, perhaps in part because so many of them seem equally talented at drinking and arguing.  Check out the Irish ballad called “The Dutchman” in the previous blog, as just one example of many, of their renowned skill.  Sad and thoughtful songs can help a mind under stress open an emotional safety valve.

I am not suggesting to the young what their taste in music should be, but only that there are in the general culture and in nature various calming, therapeutic sources of strength and stability …. if we only open our eyes and ears to them.  Besides music there are pets, quiet walkways, forms of mindfulness, meditation on good things, and so much more.

Earlier this month, I watched a wonderful movie called A Street Cat named Bob, about a young homeless drug addict who meets up with a stray cat, leading to health for both of them.  I then read the book by the young man himself, for the film is based on his true story.  Who knew that someone who had been living on the streets of London for a decade would be saved by a cat?  If puzzled, read the book or watch the movie.  Taking care of Bob the sick stray helped James Bowen to have, as he says, “an extra purpose in my life, something to do for someone – or something – other than myself.”  The story has a certain similarity to Marley and Me, another inspirational best-seller about a man and a pet.

I have to disagree with the view that stress and depression must always be met with optimism and the upbeat.  Often a quiet word of empathy or an opportunity to shed a few tears is far more helpful.  I tend to avoid social groups or churches that are forever pumping the positive.  Great pieces of poetry, including the Psalms, show a wide range of emotions, and a good Irish lament, or a needy street cat, can do a world of good.

 

 

The Dutchman

 

Every Wednesday I meet with a bunch of guys to hear one of them or a speaker they bring.  The “speaker” this time brought his guitar and a good friend of his also with a guitar.  They entertained us with a dozen or so great melodies, finishing with a hauntingly favorite, entitled “The Dutchman.”  For my blog this month, I am treating you to a rendition of this memorable song, sung here by the late Liam Clancy.  Just click on the triangle above and have your speaker on.

What’s the song about?  You won’t find much accurate information about Holland here, but the human pathos of the Dutchman will move you as it has countless others.  As so often, it’s about love, a special kind of love.  Figure it out for yourself.  The lyrics appear below.

The Dutchman

Words and lyrics by Michael Peter Smith

The Dutchman is not the kind of man    /    who keeps his thumb jammed in the dam    /   that holds his dreams in,    /    that’s a secret that only Margaret knows.

When Amsterdam is golden in the summer    /    Margaret brings him breakfast,    /    she believes him    /    (he thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow).

He’s mad as he can be,    /    Margaret only sees that sometimes,    /    sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes.

Let us go to the banks of the ocean    /    where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee.                 Long ago I used to be a young man,    /    dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes    /    and his cap and coat are patched with the love    /    Margaret sewed there    /    (sometimes he thinks he’s still in Rotterdam).

He watches the tug-boats down the canals    /    and calls out to them    /    when he thinks he knows the captain.

Margaret comes to take him home again    /    through unforgiving streets that trip him    / she holds his arm    /    (sometimes he thinks he’s alone and he calls her name).

        Let us go to the banks of the ocean    /    where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee.                 Long ago I used to be a young man,    /    dear Margaret remembers that for me.

 

 

The winters whirl the windmills ‘round,  she winds his muffler tighter,    /    they sit in the kitchen,  some tea with whiskey keeps away the dew.    /    He sees her for a moment , he calls her name.

She makes the bed up singing some old love song,    /    she learned it when the song was very new,     /    he hums a line or two, they hum together in the dark.    /    The Dutchman falls asleep,    /    Margaret blows the candles out.

        Let us go to the banks of the ocean    /    where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee.                 Long ago I used to be a young man,    /    dear Margaret remembers that for me.

 

 

 

A Butterbox Resurrection

The things we don’t know about the places we live in.  The things we don’t know about each other.

My wife and I have recently been reading the long-hidden story of the now internationally infamous Ideal Maternity Home of East Chester, Nova Scotia.  It is a bittersweet story with personal connections for us.  In 1990 we moved from Ontario to Squid Cove, just a short distance down the road from that Home, the main building of which was still standing.  For thirty years it had been the location to which frightened young unwed mothers and shamed families turned for secret births followed by the loss of babies, either from questionable adoptions and illegal sales of infants, or from frequent infant deaths (some of which may have been deliberate for those children who were “not very adoptable”).  In 1990 the scandal had just been breaking out into the open.

Malcolm Phillips we knew as a very kindly senior living by himself, a grandfather figure to our two little children.  Not until we read the book did we know that he was one of the key journalists who put the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation onto the story of the butterbox babies.  Moreover, I had exchanged my old K-car for a newer used car at a small dealer in nearby Fox Point, not realizing that I stood very close there to a cemetery of unmarked little graves where a hundred or so babies from the Ideal Maternity Home lay buried in creamery boxes, secretly disposed of, all but forgotten.

My wife and I found it strange that the local church we had begun to attend in Chester did not show the least interest in us.  The pastor promised to visit but never did.  The congregation would leave me completely alone after the service to get my wife into her wheelchair and our two tiny toddlers out of the emptied church and onto the freshly-deserted parking lot.  We were newcomers and it seemed there were things we were not supposed to know.  When my mother and sister came to visit us, they stayed at the Casa Blanca Inn, a gracious old bed-and-breakfast run by an equally gracious and old Isabel Marshall, of whom mother spoke very highly.  None of us knew that the Casa Blanca’s guest book contained the names of scores of American couples who had come here to adopt children, paying well for the privilege, and being escorted to the Home by the well-intentioned innkeeper.

The baby business had brought much needed cash into this remote community, beginning in the Great Depression of the 1930s and continuing into the war years. Even when a reluctant Nova Scotia government finally closed down the Home after many years of investigations, reports and court cases,  the baby business carried on quietly.   I asked my wife, not long after our arrival in the area, why she had for so long raved about Nova Scotia’s “down-home hospitality” when we only experienced furtive glances and secrecy.  She concluded that the area was an odd exception to the well-known Maritime friendliness.  The book about the Butterbox Babies now gave us one possible reason for that difference, back a few decades ago.

But things did change.  Surviving children of the Ideal Maternity Home began to investigate their origins.  Dozens of people, especially Americans, began travelling to the Chester area, hoping to find some clues to their own birth names and true identities.  Sometimes this brought about tearfully happy reunions with now-elderly natural mothers, and other times it led to disappointment and closed doors.

We moved away from the area in October of 1992 in order to settle near Canning in the Annapolis Valley, and so we knew nothing of the emotional first gathering of survivors in a Chester church in November of the same year, an event that began to put many puzzle pieces together and shine a ray of healing light on lives that had known the darkness of earlier days.  Not aware of that reunion, we also did not realize later on that a new pastor who came to our church in Canning, Andy Crowell, was one of two ministers leading that first gathering of healing and hope.

So often, life’s earlier pain eventually leads to a deeper appreciation of life’s most important things.  Those who turn away from the journey of discovery because of the suffering often lose hope and miss out on the freer life that awaits.  But what a confusing and tiresome journey it can be, and how much we might have learned better if only we had known then what we know now.

Stories of the lower lights

I am preparing to give a talk to the men’s group I meet with each week, twenty guys from many walks of life, variously still active, though all have “seen better days,” as the somewhat euphemistic phrase says.  There are many personal stories there, intriguing stuff that I wish more would share, although I know that few of these stories will be heard by me, or even sometimes by their families.  The lower lights rarely speak of their accomplishments or share their most important experiences.  It isn’t always easy to open up about oneself, and in some sense it’s risky.

I was into my forties before I started to discover in detail what the lower lights of the older generations in my family were about.  Before that time I was too busy struggling to make it in my own life, raising my own family,  and developing a view of the things of life. And the older people didn’t talk much about themselves or what they had been through. Once I met a woman from Europe who said she knew about my family from a documentary she had seen on Dutch television.  I have to admit that I politely brushed off her “mistake” — it must have been some other family with a similar name since all of us were lower lights.  It was at least a decade later before I started to investigate the story.

There’s a song that has been recorded many times by various artists, an old Philip Bliss tune that’s called “Let the lower lights be burning,” referring to the many smaller beacons that mark the shores for sailors out in dark waters.  These were collectively as important as the tall and more renowned lighthouses.  Because of GPS systems and other modern navigational aids, the lower lights are fewer as time goes on, and not many people even know about them.  I’m like most ordinary humans in that I don’t have many people who have taken the time to know me accurately.  That’s sort of OK, I don’t need a lot of people to really know me … half-a-dozen will do, and I will just have to let the rest think what they may.

Still, I enjoy hearing about the lower lights who, when I find out a bit of their story, often turn out to be quite extraordinary in some ways.  They do the best they can while facing long and tough situations, and together they have a storehouse of knowledge and achievement that would fill a library if it was recorded somewhere.  More traditional societies sat around in the evening and told stories about the elders and the wisdom or songs they had to share.  My ancestors have all long since been called home and I can no longer hope to have such discussions with them.  Oh yes, I realize that I might disagree with some of the things they would have to say, but I don’t think I would argue.  There would be enough intriguing information and useful insights to encourage me in my own walk through life, if they were willing to talk.

“Aye, there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare would say.  Typically, ordinary people have to be asked specific questions to help them overcome their reluctance to open up, and even then some of them will tell you to ask someone else.  But I think almost all of them will quietly be glad to have been asked, and it may lead them to share a bit of themselves at another time.  I’ll keep trying to open the conversation, and I will thank them for sharing, no matter how tentative or how few their words may have been.

 

Human meteorites

Recently, there was another news report of an unusually bright alien rock entering the earth’s atmosphere, briefly lighting up the night sky like noon before breaking up and disappearing.  I have had the privilege of twice being at the right time and the right place to witness such an awesome sight. For an instant, the mind flashes from intense wonder, to religious hope, to nuclear horror, before settling back into the scientific complacency of knowing it was “just” a large meteorite.

There have been meteorites among the human race as well.  This past week, I read two books about such notable careers that were also exceptionally short.  The first book was The Pope Who Quit, by Jon Sweeney, not about the recent Benedict XVI who stepped down three years ago this month, but his predecessor as far as resignation goes, a solitary hermit named Peter who reigned ever so briefly for 107 days as Pope Celestine V at the end of the thirteenth century, and who was rumored to have been murdered by his successor, Boniface VIII.  Sweeney notes a similarity to “the laughing pope” John Paul I who served for only 33 days before he (some speculate) was killed.  The other book was Oliver’s Twist, the autobiography of a much-respected CTV political reporter, Craig Oliver.  His own career has endured long but, among other things, he writes about the meteorite prime ministers Joe Clark (in office 273 days), Kim Campbell (132 days), John Turner (79 days), and Paul Martin (serving by contrast, a Methuselan 14 months).  It is more than interesting to learn how these people, some of them highly unlikely candidates and fiercely opposed by the established powers, managed to have their moment in the sun. For anyone who doubts there is much human frailty and corruption in Canadian politics or the political media, Craig Oliver’s telling of it may persuade you otherwise.

When they occur, meteorites surprise us humans so much that there is a sudden splurge of talk everywhere, and then the news dies out almost as quickly as the event itself.  So it is with meteoric people.  I doubt that I will think it hugely important to tell my grandchildren about these short-term prime ministers, or that the children will read much more than footnotes about them in school, though I could perhaps see myself making a cautionary tale of the very unusual papacy of the hermit Peter for those who want to radically change church or state.

These are political stories, after all, with tales of intrigue, lust for power, of exploitation and sleaze.  The same goes for the thirteenth century popes who were among the world’s largest land-owners at that time, heavily involved in worldly politics.  And part of the reason the brief careers were indeed so short is that the perfectly clever vices of opponents overcame the less perfect political instincts of these meteorites. But though such people are often forgotten, their experience in sudden office tends to shine light, as real meteorites do, on the darkness into which they came.

A question of citizenship, Part 2

Following on Part 1 — what then about this image of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with four native chiefs superimposed above it?  The Lakota / Dakota tribes were violently removed from their land when the U.S. government decided it was time to break the treaties because gold had been found in them thar Black Hills.  But I wasn’t interested in belaboring the old massacres and injustices.  I was actually looking for something positive — a way to express an alternative to the American Dream version of the Bible expressed by the clergy at the recent presidential inauguration (and elsewhere too – no party politics at issue here).

The clergy praying in Washington spoke of “God’s will for America,” but their scripture verses were not actually about America at all.  In Canada, we sometimes (though less often) have the same kind of mistaken public religious references — for example, the Order of Canada medallions patriotically contain a New Testament quotation that says, “They long for a better country.”  The problem is that the rest of that Bible verse adds the phrase “– a heavenly one.”  Ironically, the quotation speaks of people who turned from a focus on the land of their birth or adoption in order to search for something of higher value and of a more inward nature, something called “the kingdom of God.”

So what image could I use to illustrate this ironic difference?  Well, I settled on a picture of Indian chiefs in the sky above the Black Hills monument.  I needed something that would hint at the notion of people trying to hold onto an outlook that is beyond their present situation and country but that is also not removed from worldly realities.  The native people of both the U.S. and Canada have some experience in this.  They were invaded and surrounded by a society to which they did not belong.  They tried to hold on to their own way of life and beliefs but the outside world had many soldiers and guns, as well as thousands of covetous gold-diggers and land-hungry settlers.  That crowding world understood little or nothing of their experience of life and did not hesitate to use any means necessary to push them aside.  They were forced to deal with the European world and to some extent to assimilate to it, even while hoping to keep their true identity as natives.

So here then was a parallel to the concept of the spiritual kingdom.  The disciples of Jesus, when he was telling them about this kingdom, were slow to get it.  At first their minds were looking (according to their religious tradition) to the physical land and its laws, and they kind of expected that their Master would somehow push back the Romans in order to establish himself and his disciples in positions of power in a restored Jewish homeland.  But they eventually came to grasp the notion of a spiritual citizenship, one that was not about national or ethnic politics.  They would have to learn to live as citizens of heaven while continuing to live within the Roman world.

This matter of “being in the world but not of it” is evidently a difficult one to handle but it is made more difficult when some religious leaders use spiritual references in order to promote that other society, thereby clouding the distinctive identity of each. Perhaps “kingdom people” and native people could learn to have more of an appreciation of each other’s dilemma, that is, of the challenge of living in one society, with its national dream and political interests, while holding at heart a passport (so to speak) of a different world with different outlook and priorities.

A question of citizenship, Part 1

I enjoy freedom. Freedom to think without penalty, to express without being judged by the law, to follow God without condemnation from religious laws, freedom to choose my friends and to reach out to them. I don’t know about you but in my life these freedoms did not come easily or automatically, and not without consequences.  But the older I get the more I enjoy a free life.

I wish more people would see life this way but I have found that some of my attempts at telling others about it have simply ticked them off.  But I still like to follow thoughts to see where they go, mostly for myself, though I do occasionally share these journeys of the heart and mind with others.  Like the previous blog, today’s topic is not political but I’m again using politics as the springboard to some reflections.

Are you a Canadian or an American, or something else?  Recently I was watching the inauguration of a new American president and noted again how different Canada is from the United States.  The ceremonies in Washington involved no fewer than six praying clergy people, five Christian and one Jewish, and other clergy among the invited guest list. I’ve never seen that in Canada.  Many Canadians would think that would be quite out-of-line, not to say politically incorrect.  We may love our country and think it’s the best in the world but we just don’t see ourselves as God’s “shining city on a hill” to bring the message of Canadianism to a thirsty world.  The clergy at the inauguration, however, did paint such a verbal picture, and they would have even if the new president had been a Democrat.

At this event, as well as at other American political events I have witnessed over the years, God and the mandate of “American exceptionalism” received frequent mention by clergy and by politicians.  Whether it is a conservative Republican event or a liberal Democrat one the expressions of personal faith in country are virtually the same, and each political side has its own Christian cheering section full of belief.

How different this is from what we might expect in their northern neighbor.  Can you even imagine a maple leaf version of the Mount Rushmore memorial — way up in the Rockies or Laurentians the giant-sized heads of four Canadian prime ministers?  Sir John A., Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie King, Joe Clark?   No, that would seem just too un-Canadian, even a bit idolatrous.  And yet that’s not to say that Canada is oh-so superior.  No, we have our own challenges.  The awful personal attacks and negativism we see in American elections is here too, though in a slightly more subdued Canadian way, and the religious communities have contributed their strong views in our history just like they have done (and still do) in the U.S.

Just thinking.  Just sharing some of my thoughts about freedoms and citizenships, whether on earth or in the skies.  Look at the visual illustration above.  I’m coming to that but I know that attention spans are short.  I’ll explain the picture and round off these thoughts in the next blog.