Month: March 2015

Spring – Is Where The Flowers Are

Residents of my home city, Victoria, British Columbia,Canada, have been enjoying extended pleasures this year courtesy a Spring that sprung early with snowdrops popping up in early January. What seemed like a few days later streets lined with ornamental-blossom trees exploded providing  glorious pink or white canopies on just about every street, avenue and cul-de-sac in the city.

In late February and early March daffodils entered the beautification challenge. Tulips were quick to follow and citizens with five years or less as residents went into the annual gloat-boast with a flood of e-mailed photos to friends and relatives in Eastern Canada – or anywhere in the world where people were still digging out from the white stuff.

Many an old friendship has been sorely tested – and will continue to be tested until newly citizens remember what it was like when THEY were still shoveling snow “back East”  while weather-snobs on Southern Vancouver Islanders battled mini-whiteouts of blossom, drooled over crocus, and photographed clusters of bluebells from every angle.

Mature citizens – that’s old folk like me – long ago grew to accept our early spring joyously, gratefully, while subduing the temptation to boast that while spring is undeniably early – again – this year, it isn’t the earliest it’s ever been.

On December 17, 1925, The Daily Colonist, ran a brightly boxed story with a headline: “Snow won’t come, but snowdrops are seen in the city.” Readers will have noted that date, or should, as they read the text of the story:

“ (With) All signs of winter failing to appear, Spring seems to have taken the situation firmly in hand and has lately been busy writing trademarks all over the countryside. “Snowdrops are the latest tributes to the fair weather and are to be seen blooming profusely for while the Colonist was informed recently of blossoms appearing this month, another notice was received yesterday of snowdrops that first unsheathed their buds on November 27 in the garden of Mrs.L.L.Phillips, 400 Gorge Road (Victoria) – and are still gaily blossoming.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if even earlier “springs” have been recorded, but Novermber, 1925, is the best I’ve been able to find. I merely note that 90-years ago global warming appeared well on its way – and I don’t think automobile exhausts were causing it.

Any words of comforts for friends living “the other side of the Rockies” and still longing for the first snowdrop – or even the sight of bare earth? Not really, other than the promise not to send flowers or photos of the same. I spent three winters in Edmonton, know how weary the wait for spring can be – and understand what the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay when she wrote to a friend: “It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another – it’s one damn thing over and over again.”

As I used to think when I had to reach, again, for the snow shovel.

I Fear The Answer

A brief plea for help as I try to understand a few well used words in everyday vocabularies but the true meaning of which escapes me. Well, maybe not the meanings, but rather the context in which they are used.

Example: When a person born and raised in the Protestant version of Christian faith and joins the Roman Catholic Church the term we use is “converted”. The individual making that move has weighed long held beliefs against newly discovered doctrines to which, after a period of contemplation and discussion, he or she has “converted”

It’s the same procedure when it goes the other way and a long time Catholic believer finds greater solace in Protestant doctrine, studies new found beliefs and after contemplation “converts” to a new way to worship the same God, but with a different cover on the book and different statements of faith between its covers.

Missionaries in both Catholic and Protestant faiths still actively and energetically work to attract converts. The multifaceted Protestant-faith preachers with their door-knocking foot soldiers offering front-step sermons and easy conversion are possibly more prominent than Catholics at the local level.

So here’s my problem: When young people of one of the many the Christian faiths – or of no previous faiths at all – announce that after a period of investigation and instruction they have joined a Muslim mosque with a militant attitude we are informed they have been “radicalized?” Not “converted”, but “radicalized.”

“Radicalized” has become a flavour-of-the-year popular-press word to describe conversions to the Muslim faith with its quick move to a self-called holy army to fight Christians of whatever faith, wherever they may live. I have “blogged” before those  new recruits to Muslim militancy should be helped to leave Canada, or wherever else they live, and find a Muslim governed country in which to dwell and further their aims. That thought, however, does nothing to clarify my confusion with the usage of “converted“ and “radicalized.”

It seems to me that early Christian missionaries were into some heavy duty radicalization when they set about converting other races with force-fed Christianity. The records both Catholics and Protestants have in their foreign-fields call to “come to Jesus” are far from enviable with fear of death, hell fire and the sword their main weapon of persuasian.

In my last blog I wrote about the Crusades, the slaughters Christians and Muslims thought essential to convert the world to each other’s one true faith. Muslim nations seemingly want to continue killing their way to peace while the Western World claims to continue its search for more peaceful ways to live together. But while we insist peace is our only ambition, we still bristle mightily and militantly when singing about how we intend to convert, or should that be “radicalize?” those we demand believe.

Who cannot thrill when a choir and congregation in a glorious cathedral or a simple country chapel soar into William Blake’s “Bring me my Bow of burning gold, Bring me my arrows of desire; Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold, Bring me my Chariot of fire! I shall not cease from Mental Fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…..”. It’s not exactly the Sermon on Mount is it? More like the Battle Hymn of Republic where “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.”

Or that old revival hymn written so many years ago as a song for children in Yorkshire when they marched from one village to the next to celebrate Whitmunday 50-days after Easter: “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the Cross of Jesus going on before, Christ the royal master leads against the foe, Forward into battle see the banners go.” They are all still sung fervently today but what does it signify?  Are we really anxious to convert unbelievers to our Christian ways? Or have we remained, as many Muslim leaders appear to have remained, in the dark ages of intolerance where indoctrination and radicalization are the passwords for conversion.

I fear the answer.

Will Things Ever Change?

It’s not new, this ugly scene in Iraq with good Christian soldiers marching forth to do combat with Islam. Today’s fighting is ranging over  battlegrounds our ancestors fought on a thousand or more years ago when two powerful religions – Roman Catholic Christianity and equally powerful Islam – clashed in the name of God and the love of Allah..

Muslim’s were in possession of Jerusalem, Christendom’s holiest city and ruled the Middle East in general and that was more than Pope Urban II could tolerate. He called the Catholic nations of Europe to unite in holy war and in 1095 the First Crusade to free Jerusalem was launched. Four years later the city fell to the crusaders, several ‘Christian” states were established – and the battle defeated Muslims immediately declared “jihad”, their term for a holy war which they swore wouldn’t end until they again controlled the Middle East.

The battle is still going on with ISIS fighting to again re-establish an ancient Muslim state, and the western democracies fighting to bring freedom and enlightenment to a nation wishing to remain Islamic and live under strict Islamic law.

Bloody wars to give one religion predominance over another have been around since men began to worship different Gods. Over the centuries we have romanticized the leading warriors in the blood spilling contests – and never more so than in the six holy crusades to “free” the world (especially Jerusalem which had been recaptured by the Muslims during the Second Crusade —1147-49).

In British schools Richard the Lionheart is still honoured as a triumphant King-knight. In Muslim countries Saladin is still revered as the great defender of Muslim faith.

When King Richard the First and Saladin clashed in the Third Crusade the Christian-Muslim fight was already a century old. Toward the end of the Second Crusade Saladin came close to eliminating the entire crusader invasion force at the battle of Hattin, the final battle in his war to eliminate the Crusader’s Kingdom of Jerusalem. That humiliating defeat sparked an all-Europe call for a Third Crusade (1189-92) to punish Saladin.

Richard is credited doing that with the defeat of Saladin at the battle of Arsuf, the re-capture of Jaffa and the re-establishment of The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Richard and Saladin in a peace treaty signed by both in 1192 confirmed the agreement. Ironically The Kingdom did not contain the Jerusalem itself. Richard had looked down on the city from surrounding hills but, possibly war weary, refused to lay it siege, took his army home leaving the city in Muslim hands. A grim part of Richard’s Christian record in the field is the story that unable to guard or feed 2,000 captured Muslim soldiers, he ordered their execution by sword and spear. All 2,000,

There were other crusades – always with the white banner emblazoned with the Red Cross on flags or across knightly chests. The most bizarre of all holy wars was The Children’s Crusade in 1212, thousands strong and lead by a 12-year-old. No room to tell about it here but it was real and is worth a Google to begin to understand – the religious, mad, fanaticism of the day, and the echoes of that same madness today.

Other echoes. In all the Crusades the main recruiting enticement to the soldiers in both armies – Christian and Muslim – was immortal life. Christian’s answering the papal call to arms were guaranteed immediate forgiveness of all their sins and a reserved place in heaven. Muslim foot soldiers got – and still get – the same offer with a promised dash of sensual pleasure.

All troops supporting Cross or Crescent were also assured their cause was righteous and that to kill an “infidel” – Muslim or Christian – would please Allah or God.

Makes a person wonder, doesn’t it?

One Way Ticket To Paradise

Here’s a thought. Instead of tracking down people who want to head for Iraq or Syria to join the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), why don’t we help them on their way?

I mean we don’t really want them in Canada, do we? So why don’t we say: “Look, you don’t like our way of life, our chosen political and religious beliefs, and our democratic form of government. You long for life under the Islam’s Sharia law – so how can we help you achieve your aims?”

In England the Conservative Government is preparing to launch what are being termed “tough new measures to combat the growing threat from Islamist extremists.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper will no doubt be watching with great interest because we have a similar “growing threat in Canada although it is miniscule when compared with the problems in Great Britain – and France.

In  the UK it is claimed  more than 700 citizens have already travelled to train and fight for Isil (or Is as we abbreviate it) – and at least 300 “dangerous jihadists” have returned to England waiting to strike a blow at the country which in the past gave them or their parents refuge.

It seems to me England would have less of a problem had it said to the 700:”Let us help you get to where you want go. We took your family in when it was homeless and we have fed, clothed and housed you for years and we tried to show you a way of life we thought more attractive. But we have obviously failed, and we are sorry about that so let’s get all who want to go back to what you call home. We’ll pick up the tab, as we have been doing for years.”

There would be minor sacrifices. On the day of departure passports and citizenship would be surrendered; the tickets would be one way. Trained militants would not be welcomed back – or welcomed anywhere where Sharia law held sway and could not be challenged.

The threat of individual acts of terror may never be eliminated but it could be greatly curtailed, even if my suggestion of one way travel support for budding jihadists is ignored.

In Canada we have laws relating to treason or high treason. I’m sure the UK, on whose legal system ours is built has similar statutes. Canada’s  high treason one will do for me. Until 1998 it still carried the death penalty under the National Defence Act “for treason or mutiny”. Today it is “not more than 14 years” for what the law might regard as less serious treason but mandatory life for more serious cases. High treason is defined as anyone who:

“… (a) kills or attempts to kill Her Majesty, or does her any bodily harm tending to death or destruction, maims or wounds her, or imprisons or restrains her; (b) levies war against Canada or does any act preparatory thereto; or (c) assists an enemy at war with Canada, or any armed forces against whom Canadian Forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between Canada and the country whose forces they are.” The emphasis is mind.

A basic belief of our democratic way of life, one radical Muslim’s find difficult to accept, is added: ”No person shall be convicted of high treason or treason on the evidence of only one witness, unless the evidence is corroborated in a material particular by evidence that implicates the accused.”

So two thoughts: Let’s help all Muslims who want to join Isil on their one way trip to imaginary paradise, and charge with treason those who stay here but levy war against us.

Living Within Our Means

Heavy debate around the world these days on the ever increasing problem of young people emerging from university with staggering student-loan debt. Whether single, newly married or in the more popular “relationships” of modern times, they appear to be finding it difficult to reach the plateau of financial happiness defined so clearly and accurately by Charles Dickens more than a century ago.

Using the dollar instead of his pounds, shillings and pence, and with other slight modernizations, I submit:”Income $200 dollars, expenditures $199.50 – happiness; income $200 dollars, expenditures $200.50 – misery.”’, Readers can use any currency in any country and in any volume but the basic truth remains the same: if your expenditures are lower than your income you will be growing modestly better off as the years roll by. If, every month of every year you spend more than you earn you will remain in the perpetual misery of debt and constantly lamenting the burden you have placed on your own back.

It isn’t easy growing up. Moving from childhood through youth to young adulthood never has been easy. Breaking free from parental discipline was, and always should be, a joyful step up the ladder of life. For most of us it was also a startling awakening to the fact that fridges did not automatically restock their shelves; that cookie jars did not stay perpetually full; that dinner every evening was not produced by the wave of a magic wand – and that electricity and water were costly necessities.

Learning the lessons of “independence” has always been tough. If it is tougher today than it was when I struggled to stay afloat it is, I believe, because the major hazard, today’s “me first” philosophy, has been created by banks, credit card companies, bottom feeding loan companies and the ever growing retail sales chorus of “buy now pay later”. By fostering and making easy the instant gratification demands of the young the “profit at any cost” people have trapped and threaten to hold debt-captives a young generation, many of them still too young to vote.

Earlier this month I received an e-mail from readers Katie and Bob Etheridge recalling their marriage in Toronto in 1968 “with not much more than $75 between us….we lived in a high-rise apartment with the only furniture a dining table and chairs, an old over-stuffed armchair given to us, a double bed and a black and white TV set….” I have a feeling many thousands of other couples marrying between 1948 and 1968 could tell similar stories.

And I’m sure young couples joining hands in the 1980’s when interest rates on mortgages ran as high s 14 percent could match the Etheridge story. They moved to Victoria in 1973 and two years later bought their first house. The house, built in 1905, “had no insulation and gaps around the windows. It was still on a septic tank and we were given a year to hook up to (a new) sewer line. We couldn’t afford a back hoe so my husband dug (the line from house to main) and got it done within the deadline.

“Looking back that first home was a nightmare….we spent the next seven years renovating….it took all that time because there was so much to be done (and little money).” Eventually a crumbling attic became a master bedroom, the plumbing was modern and the windows stopped rattling in the wind. ”And we were happy, knowing this was our home and we owed no-one a  penny…We had sacrificed wants for needs…we appreciated every little thing we had, even if it was a new pack of tea-towels after being married for ten years – having made them from old sheets up to then.”

Their story should not be dismissed as old folk’s exaggerating imagined hard times. Many of us could recite similar, truthful, histories of the days when we cut the cloth of life to fit within our means.

Somewhere along the way our emerging generation has failed to grasp, or we who were once in charge have failed to teach, that life’s ladder may sometimes be hard to climb, but it is never insurmountable.

And the sooner our younger generation realizes how easily it has been seduced into debt plagued slavery, the sooner it will break the money lenders chains and live financially indebted to only the taxman who, unfortunately, will never let us free.