Sunday, July 2, 2017

Canada Day Musings

I have a confession to make: my best friend and I went to see a fireworks display tonight, which is probably pretty damn problematic, because it was in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

As I write this, it's a little after midnight.  I am sitting in my room, and I hear occasional bangs from other fireworks, which are probably being set off by people in their own backyards.  The display earlier tonight was surprisingly lovely: all bright colours and loud pops and booms.  The local Canada Day committee really outdid themselves tonight.  I have to admit, though, that the commentary provided by the children who were playing close to where my friend and I were sitting was what really made the night for me.  There was just so much joy, and so much fun, in the way that they were perceiving the fireworks display and frequently they made my friend and I laugh with their observations (and, it must be said, their slightly skewed perception of the way fireworks happen in the first place).  It was a good evening, even if Paul & Storm's song about the fireworks-obsessed man named Johnny who accidentally blew himself up was crooning "Way-hey, boom!  And UP SHE GOES!" through my mind for much of it.  :)

The way people have been talking lately, it seems like celebrating Canada is celebrating genocide, and there can be no other valid way to look at it, or else you are a genocidal maniac who dances on the graves of murdered Indigenous children who were victims of the residential school system.  There's a lot of black and white thinking out there; if you celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, they say, you are celebrating genocide (both cultural and literal) and the colonial theft of land from Indigenous people.  You are celebrating an oppressive and uncaring and illegitimate government that doesn't care that Indigenous people have no access to fresh water or health care or quality education.  You are celebrating the oppression of a people and the attempted destruction of their traditions, their cultures, and their very lives.

To be Canadian, then, is to be nothing but a settler and a thief and a murderer.  Certainly nothing to celebrate unless you're a greedy, murderous asshole.

Does it make me a bad person, that I don't really see it that way?

We have racism here.  We have done poorly by the Indigenous peoples whose people were here first.  We have inequality.  We are not perfect.

But we are trying to do better, and I believe that even if we're not there in my lifetime, we carry the potential to be better than we are now.  I believe that even if the government is not sincere in the promises that they have made, many of the ordinary people of Canada are willing to at least try to make things more equitable for those who do not currently benefit from the things that so many of us take for granted.

My experience of Canada is bound to be very different from that of an Indigenous person living on a remote reserve.  Because some parts of my family have been here since at least the eighteenth century (my family name comes from a family who were among the "Foreign Protestants" who settled in what is now Nova Scotia in the middle of the 1700s), and even the most recent immigrants in my direct ancestral line came over about 105 years ago, my experience of Canada will also be very different from that of a Syrian refugee or a recent immigrant who originally came from anywhere else in the world.  Is my perspective any less valid for that?

Can I not be grateful for what I have and what I grew up with while still doing my best to promote a better world for people who have not had my advantages?  Am I harming Indigenous students, colleagues, and relatives (yes, relatives, thanks to some cousins on my mother's side) just by being me and not thinking that I'm a colonialist piece of shit who needs to fuck off and die (or at least permanently fuck off to Europe, though I don't qualify for citizenship anywhere there)?

Is it possible to be Canadian and not have to be totally ashamed of living here?

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Last night, when I was talking with my Anglican-born best friend, who is now the music director at a Roman Catholic church (I consider it amusing that we've ended up doing music at churches in each other's denominations of origin), he mentioned that he thinks it's odd that the priest there doesn't believe that God specifically sent Jesus to die.  I laughed and told him, "Welcome to the Catholic mindset."  This might have been a bit of an overstatement, but not necessarily by much.  While what it officially says in the Catechism might be different—and I can't say for sure, since it's been a while since I read it—every bit of what I learned about being Catholic when I was growing up really does seem to include his sacrificial moment as a sort of afterthought.

Sin and hell and all of that were, of course, a part of my religious education as a child and adolescent, but they were never the focus of it.  Neither was what we're told happened at Calvary.  (Well, except for around Lent and Easter Sunday, but that's kind of different.)  The focus was always on what Jesus is supposed to have taught in life—and within that focus, the message was always, "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you" (as a hymn we used to sing put it).  Even the form of the service seemed to put its emphasis on this: come in singing, hear a few scripture readings (and take part in the responsorial psalm), hear the weekly lecture about whatever the priest had decided was an appropriate topic, pray a bit, sing again, celebrate the Eucharist, sing a bit more, pray again, and go out singing. Even the celebration of the Eucharist seemed to be more of a memorial—"do this in memory of me"—than hammering in the idea of "CHRIST DIED FOR YOU, YOU HORRIBLE ROTTEN SINNER!!!!!"

We were taught to pray, to be kind, to give to the poor, to feed the hungry, to love God and each other, and to live a Christ-like life.  Whether we (or the Roman Catholic Church in general, for that matter) ever really managed to live up to those ideals is up for debate, of course, but that was what we were taught, and I still carry some of those lessons with me.

For all that it's a traditional Catholic belief that the bread and the wine literally become Jesus' body and blood through the miracle of transubstantiation, the sacrificial lamb aspect of the story of Jesus never really seemed to be as front-and-centre as I perceive it as being in many Protestant denominations.  Though admittedly, I could be wrong about the emphasis on Jesus' death.  Still, so much of my childhood religious education was focused on his life that I find the belief that the only reason for his life was to die a horrible death to be...difficult to understand, to say the least.

I guess that part of me will always be, for good or ill, ever-so-slightly Roman Catholic.

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Lately the Norse gods have been calling me.  I don't think that they will ever take me away from my beloved Celtic pantheon, but despite all the negative publicity that the Sons of Odin have been giving the Norse pantheon in recent years, I do believe that there is wisdom and knowledge to be gained there.  While the deity-focused part of my spiritual life is a bit difficult to pin down (to put it as simply as possible, I'm a bit agnostic; I believe that the Gods, if they do exist, reveal themselves to us in the ways that we're most able to understand and accept, and that even if they don't, their stories can still lead us to various real insights and truths), I am always drawn to Goddesses and Gods who are associated with the values of compassion, wisdom, and insight.  And as much as I have heritage that ties me to various Celtic deities and mythological figures, I also have Scandinavian ancestry that links me to the Norse pantheon.  I think that maybe it's time to learn a few things from and about them as well.

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I've also been thinking about the reasons why I turned to Paganism in the first place.

I first heard what I can only describe as the call of the Goddess when I was about thirteen years old, which confused me to no end because at the time I was a pretty devout Catholic.  But (as kids often do, which many adults seem to forget) I had a pretty good bullshit detector, and I couldn't stand hypocrisy.  At about that time, a local Catholic teacher was the defendant in a rather well-publicized trial relating to the sexual abuse of his students.  I had also read several news stories about Catholic priests who had committed similar offenses, and it led to

At about that time, my mother had bought a copy of The 21 Lessons of Merlyn (I know...Llewellyn hasn't got the best reputation as a publisher, and I understand why, but this book did in the end send me down an interesting and challenging path, so I'm thankful for that).  And I had always loved spending time outdoors; I grew up next to a surprisingly large forested area, and I took frequent walks out there, singing so that I wouldn't inadvertently surprise any wildlife that might, er, take exception to being startled by a human.  When I started reading about a kind of spirituality that was more Earth-centred, one that didn't tell me that people were supposed to "subdue the Earth" but instead respect it and be thankful for it...something clicked.  In time, I sought out information about spiritualities that weren't so male-centric and that affirmed that women weren't the vehicle through which sin had entered the world, but that we were every bit as worthy as men to be called by the Divine.

I think I needed that.  And I knew from pretty early on—though for a few years I would deny it—that my path didn't lie solely in Christianity or Paganism, but in some strange mix of both.  It's been more difficult than choosing one or the other would have been.  I won't deny that.  And there are people on both sides of the fence upon which I walk who would say that because I am both, I'm not worthy to be a part of either group—Christians would say that because I experience the Divine as a sort of multifaceted entity (which treads pretty close to a couple of heresies relating to the Holy Trinity, actually) that is One at its centre, but shows many faces to teach many lessons, and many Pagans would say that I don't belong to them either because somehow it's okay to worship Gods from most pantheons, but that it's a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE THING HOW DARE YOU to include Jesus of Nazareth (and of course God the Father and God the Holy Ghost) in worship because Christianity automatically equals evil.

For people who are supposedly free-thinking, there can be a lot of black-and-white thought where anything even remotely Christian is concerned.  I can understand it to a certain extent; I used to think I was superior, too, because I had Broken the Chains of Monotheism and Reached a Higher Consciousness and all that stuff.  I'd learned very quickly to equate Christianity with hypocrisy and hate and jealousy and all sorts of nasty things, especially after the death of Tempest Smith in 2001.

Smith, who was twelve years old when she committed suicide, was the victim of religious-based bullying; she had been bullied for years by her classmates, but eventually the bullying got worse when they learned that she was a Wiccan.  Her bullies used Christianity as a weapon, and eventually she hanged herself in her bedroom.

While I had never been subject to anything even remotely similar to that kind of bullying, I felt that this reflected very badly on Christians in general.  (I was eighteen at the time.)  And then, later that year, the infamous September 11 terrorist attacks happened, and I heard so many Christians blaming all Muslims for the actions of a hate-filled few.  Even my own father did; at the time, he was a big fan of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other hateful conspiracy mongers of their ilk.  In my disgust, I turned even more determinedly towards Paganism, developing some rather bitter feelings towards Christianity as a whole.  It took years, and the invitation of a friend to join the Anglican church choir he directs, to really start resolving those.  And in the past year, since my best friend became the musical director at a Catholic church, I've attended Mass a handful of times and plan to do so again.  It has proven to be extremely thought-provoking.  And though I don't think I can ever completely go back, as I said earlier on, some part of me will always be Roman Catholic.

I think that in the past year, I've come closer to being the Christo-Pagan I've always claimed to be, rather than a Pagan who regularly attends Anglican church services.

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I killed a forest tent caterpillar while I was writing this.  It fell from the ceiling, narrowly missing my mug of tea.  Almost reflexively, I squished it.  I'm not sure how it even got in the house.  As much as I know that in large numbers, they're really bad for the trees (as in they can kill them if the trees are defoliated too many times in a year), I actually feel bad for having done that.

Funny, that.  I have no problem with swatting mosquitoes or blackflies, but squishing a caterpillar evokes feelings of guilt.  Maybe it's because the caterpillar, on its own, presented no danger to me or even to any of the houseplants.  Mosquitoes can spread disease, and their bites are painful and, later, painfully itchy.  Blackflies can spread disease as well, and their bites are every bit as itchy and annoying.  But caterpillars...they're relatively harmless unless they show up in long-term infestations.

And just before my mug came down on top of the caterpillar, it looked at me.  That freaks me out a little.

At least I gave it a quick death.  Still, conscience can strike at the weirdest times.  This may not exactly be a major moral quandary, but it's got me thinking all the same.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Protests and Pink Hats and Safety Pins...Oh, My!

Given the events of the past few days, I suppose that it's entirely understandable that I'm thinking about various Women's Marches and the reasons for them.  I'm also thinking a bit about something that may seem a bit frivolous at first look—those pink "pussy hats" that so many people have been creating and wearing as a form of sartorial protest.

I've been reading a fair amount of criticism directed at those hats lately, just as there was criticism directed at the wearers of safety pins a few months ago (Can it really be that long?) when they were adopted as a sign that the wearer is a safe person for people who belong to marginalized groups to be around.  The general thought seems to be that visual signs and symbols like this are useless and perhaps even a bit insulting, since there's no guarantee that the people who make use of them are sincere; also, these symbols seem to take up too much space, physically and mentally, without actually giving a direct reference to the things that they're supposed to signify (especially when the people who adopt them most widely tend to be white and therefore they put people of my race front-and-centre when perhaps we shouldn't be).  And of course there's the risk that the visual references will overshadow the very things that they're supposed to represent, which is counterproductive and also kind of horrible.

I admit that these are valid criticisms, but I also have to think...what if the safety pins and the pink hats and the more theatrical aspects of peaceful protests can also serve a useful purpose?

When I see someone wearing a safety pin or a pink "pussy hat," or when I see people getting involved in a march or singing songs or chanting protest slogans with or without a drum circle, I see someone whose ideology is most likely at least compatible with mine, though we may well differ on the specifics.  It's the same when I see someone wearing a pentacle or a cross (or a crucifix—I do come from a Catholic background, after all) or a seven-pointed star.  There's value in that.  Seeing people openly wear a symbol of protest or safety gives me hope.  It reminds me that there are in fact quite a lot of people who disapprove of the direction that things have been going in lately, and I can see one of them standing right in front of me.  I know that regardless of any other differences we might have, we can support each other in this particular issue, at least.

While the symbol and any accompanying protest actions should by no means take the place of the things that people are trying to say and to accomplish in the first place, I do think that they have their uses.  They energize people; they remind us that things are not all inevitably going to be horrible.  They give a bit of hope to people who may be frantically trying to tell themselves, "it's pretty scary now, but maybe it will someday be okay."  They can help to fire up people's enthusiasm, sometimes more than solemn repetitions of the reasons why Things Are Disastrously Wrong can.

As anyone who's been reading this blog for long enough knows, I have had problems with depression and anxiety in the past.  (There is a point to referencing this, I promise.)  Sometimes my mental health can still be surprisingly shaky, and I have several friends to thank for the stability I do have, especially my best friend.  And frankly, it isn't very helpful to always be hearing a ceaseless commentary about the terrifying state of the world and the great evils that everyone must be willing to fight until we have no fight left in us.  Enough of that talk, and I become too discouraged and afraid even to leave my bed, never mind the house.  Since a lot of people think that the only real way to make a difference is to lead loud public protests, shove petitions into people's faces, and generally be a pain in the ass to the Powers That Be, that's...not useful, really.

I need some of that joy, some of that hope, some of that public group enthusiasm to remind me of precisely why we need change.  I need to see that there are like-minded people out there who are willing to do things—maybe not great and extremely visible things, perhaps just "small things with great love," and I'm sure that I'm going to be writing another rant about the way that activists assume that they're the only ones who work to make changes, but that's a topic for another day—to make this world less frightening and depressing.  And I'm sure that I'm hardly alone in that.  As long as these symbolic and fun things don't take over, and as long as they're not the only things that people do to accomplish what they say they believe in, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

They shouldn't take over, of course, but they should have some kind of place.  Not everyone is able to keep things totally serious and solemn and perfect all the time.  Nor should they have to.

As for me?  I'm not an activist; I'm a subversive.  I do small things and hope that they can help in some way.  And after I'm finished crocheting my grandmother's birthday present (a bright pink blanket to help brighten up her new home), well, perhaps I'll have enough yarn left to make a cute pink hat of my own.  It's not really my colour, but I think I can deal with that.

After all, it's not the only thing I'm doing, and who knows?  Perhaps someone needing encouragement, perhaps someone who is of a more activist bent than I, may see me and be glad to know that they are not alone.  That somebody has their back.

There's value in that.