During the Christmas season my church has included a prayer of confession in each of our services. I am leading worship today. This is the confession I wrote for the service this morning.
Park at the end of my street
God you have created a world filled with beauty for us to enjoy
But we have not always cared for it the way we should
My sister and brother and I with our grandmother.
God you have given us other people to love, people to love us
But we have not always reached out to share that love or opened ourselves to receive it
Stained glass window with hands in a cathedral in Santa Cruz Costa Rica
God you have given us minds to create solutions and hands to work
But we have not always used those gifts to make the world a better place
Forgive us we pray.
May we move forward in the light
Butterfly photographed in Phoenix Arizona
Noticing and appreciating your creation
Mildred Beach with students at the after school program she and her husband Tony started in Runaway Bay Jamaica
Loving and caring for humanity
My husband Dave tree planting with a student in Borneo
Working in innovative and responsible ways to make the world a peaceful and hopeful place for everyone
Questions at the Vatican
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter
A Prayer for the New Year
We went to see the movie All the Money in the World. It tells the story of the kidnapping in 1973 of J.P. Getty’s grandson and namesake. The senior Getty was at the time one of the richest men in the whole world but refused to pay his grandson’s ransom. The movie certainly makes the point that all the money in the world can’t make you happy, or buy you love or respect. It shows how in the end the accumulation of things leaves one cold and lonely.
What I admired most about the film however was Christopher Plummer’s performance. At age 88 he was called in after the entire movie had been shot to play the part of J.P. Getty because Kevin Spacey, the man who had filled the starring role had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. In just nine days all the scenes with Spacey had to be filmed again with Plummer in his place. It wasn’t until I saw the film that I truly realized what a feat that was. Plummer’s part was HUGE! The number of lines he had to learn in short order is amazing. At 88 he claimed it wasn’t that hard. After years of memorizing scripts he’s become quite adept at it. Plummer memorized the longest sections first and then worked his way down to the shorter ones.
It made me wonder if I shouldn’t take up drama in my old age if it helps you retain such a remarkable memory. I think many octogenarians would give an awful lot of money, though perhaps not all the money in the world, for a memory like that!
The Constructed Mennonite
He Just Disappeared
In November I heard Anna Maria Tremente interview Rachel Jeffs on the CBC radio program The Current. Rachel, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints has written a book called Breaking Free and Anna Maria was talking to Rachel about the story she shares in that book. I purchased the book last week and read it quickly, partly because the story was so troubling I wanted to get it finished. Rachel’s life experience demonstrates how easily religion can be used as a tool to imprison people. Rachel experienced love and care and support in her FLDS homes from her siblings and mothers but she was also at the mercy of her mentally unstable father Warren Jeffs, who was the prophet or leader of the FLDS movement and had to be obeyed unquestioningly. Warren had 70 wives some of them as young as twelve. Her father began sexually abusing Rachel when she was eight. When Rachel was eighteen her father arranged for her to marry a FLDS man who already had two other wives. Rachel’s father was arrested in 2008 for aggrevated sexual assault and imprisoned for life but he continues to run his religious empire from his prison cell. It was his edicts from prison that forced Rachel to be separated from her own children for months at a time and the last time her father issued an order that she be put into isolation, Rachel knew she had to flee her FLDS faith family in order to protect her children.
One wonders why nothing can be done to break up this religious group. But its members have been so brainwashed they believe the imprisoned Jeffs must be followed blindly if they want to acheive eternal salvation. That makes them prisoners too and is why their group continues to exist.
I think part of what is so unsettling about this story is that it makes me think about the dangerous and destructive behaviors of my own church in the past, forcing women to be submissive by not allowing them to assume any sort of leadership, pastors using their power over women to take sexual advantage, congregations ostracizing LGBTQ people and saying they must change to part of the church, and scaring children into obeying by telling them if they don’t they will go to hell. That’s a troubling legacy as well.
Stories like Rachel’s remind us that religion can be used for both good and evil and the line is never as black and white as we might think.
Many Women Are Pastors But Our Language Still Excludes Them
I Want to Believe People Are Good
One of my favourite pages in Macleans magazine was the last one called The End. It featured the obituary of an interesting Canadian, not a famous Canadian, but one who had lived their life in a special way. Macleans will no longer publish the beloved feature.
As a kind of farewell for The End writer Michael Friscolanti read twelve years worth of obituaries and made a list of three life lessons gleaned from other peoples’ lives.
- Find love. It is life’s greatest privilege and reward.
My parents with their family in 2008
- Be yourself. Follow your own path.
My niece climbing a steep path on her own on a Arizona hike.
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
My Mom dealt with severe health problems for many years but remained our greatest cheerleader till her dying day.
Good advice from people who lived their legacy.
A Life That Adds Up To Something
Lessons from Leonard
Lessons from the Sydney Opera House
“We lie like lizards in the sun, postponing our lives indefinitely.”
“The kelp in amorous coils appear to pin down the Pacific.”
“A wet wing brushes away the trembling night……. the vines assume their social airs ingratiating green with children’s fingers.”
Those quotes are from Canadian author Elizabeth Smart’s book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept. I read the book to prepare for attending an upcoming concert by Heavy Bell a Winnipeg music duo composed of Tom Keenan and Matt Peters. They collaborated on last year’s award-winning musical version of Shakespeare’s Richard II directed by Christopher Brauer. Now Keenan and Peters have written and recorded a song cycle based on By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. They will perform it on January 13 at the West End Cultural Centre.
“I have become a part of the earth: I am one of its waves flooding and leaping. I am the same tune as the trees, hummingbirds, sky, fruits, vegetables in rows. I am all or any of these.”
I am looking forward to the performance because the lush and lovely language of Elizabeth’s book fairly sings itself off the page and I can see how its poetic images especially those related to nature would make beautiful music.
Elizabeth Smart 1913-1986
In her book Elizabeth is describing a decades long affair she had with poet George Barker. To say she was besotted with George is to do her a disservice. She was passionately in love with him. Although they never married he was her very life’s breath. Smart and Barker’s son Christopher says his father always remained a Christ-like figure to his mother.
There are many poetic Biblical references in By Grand Central Station I Lay Down and Wept and these too will lend themselves well to music. The very title of the book alludes to Psalm 137:1 “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.” Ms. Smart quotes extensively from the Song of Solomon.
I am certainly excited about hearing the musical version of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. I am sure I will appreciate the concert on January 13 even more now that I’ve read the literary prose it on which it is based. But I am also glad I read Elizabeth Smart’s book because it raised lots of good questions for me about my ideas about love and life. I’ll address those in another post.
A Bottomless Vortex of Books
Welcome to Our Neighbourhood
This beautiful Christmas card features a landscape painted by our friend Don Hoeppner. Don is a talented artist. You can see more of his paintings here. We don’t get nearly as many Christmas cards as we once did. I admit we don’t send any out ourselves anymore. But some of the ones we did get, like the one above from Don and his wife Marlene are real works of art. The ornaments on this card are handpainted water colors by my friend Esther. She also wrote a poem inside about the friendship we share. This was the card I received from the education department leaders at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where I am employed. It features a linocut stencil that is one of the earliest Inuit prints. Jospeh Pootoogook from Cape Dorset did the drawing in 1958 and his son Kananginak made the print. This car was created by my friend Debbie. She works at a scrapbooking and craft supply store and used different kinds of papers and lettering to design this beautiful card.
Christmas cards are losing popularity as more and more people send their holiday greetings to one another via the internet. I am glad we still get a few real cards. Some of them are true works of art!
Dali’s Christmas Card
I’ve spent Christmas in many different places. In 2008 we spent Christmas Day hiking the Wai -O- Tapu Thermal Fields in New Zealand.
As a child my Christmas always included time spent with my cousins at my grandparents’ home in Gnadenthal, Manitoba. I spent Christmas Day in 2010 drinking beer and eating pretzels in Germany.
In 1959 at Christmas my family was living in a residence for medical interns at the St. Boniface Hospital and the nuns there staged a Christmas party for the intern’s children.A number of my Christmases between 2003 and 2011 were spent in Hong Kong. Here we are singing Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming with our children in our Hong Kong church on Christmas Eve in 2004.
Many of my childhood Christmases were spent in Saskatchewan at my maternal grandparents’ homes in Drake.I spent Christmas Day in 2009 on the beach in Sydney Australia.
In the early 1990s we spent one Christmas in Red Deer Alberta at my brother and sister-in- law’s home and went on a family ski trip in Banff. Here I am freezing in Prague one Christmas.We have spent many Christmases in Steinbach at my parents’ home. Here we are singing as a family at Mom and Dad’s house on their country property just outside of Steinbach.
I spent my very first Christmas in Winnipeg because that is where I was born. Here’s my Mom taking me out for a walk. Winnipeg is also where I will spend this Christmas. I am going to take a two day break from blogging now. Wishing all my blog readers a very Merry Christmas.
Christmas Stocking Crisis
She Was Thirteen Years Old
Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier (1758-1836) was the wife of scientist Antoine Lavoisier. His primary laboratory assistant, she edited his work and illustrated it with detailed drawings. She translated his essays into English and published them.
A high school student teacher of mine this last semester planned a chemistry unit. In one class he introduced his students to twelve great scientists who made important discoveries that led to our modern understanding of chemistry. Guess what? All twelve of them were men.
Marie Curie 1867-1934 carried out groundbreaking work in radioactivity. She was the first person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
After the lesson I asked him if there were no female chemists he might have introduced to the students. “There are only men mentioned in the curriculum,” he told me. Sure enough! I checked the grade nine Manitoba science curriculum and the time line provided there included the exact twelve men my student teacher had faithfully introduced to his class. Since I always encourage my students to make sure their lessons connect to curriculum I really couldn’t fault the young man. But I was disappointed in the Manitoba Department of Education. How could such outdated and non- inclusive curriculum documents still exist? I was also curious! How hard would it be to find a dozen female chemists? As it turned out not hard at all!
It didn’t take too many minutes of searching on the internet to find a site that featured twelve famous female chemists. In my follow-up notes to my student teacher I suggested he check them out. “The girls in your class need role models too,” I told him.
Women Were Honored? Think Again John Kelly!
An Inclusive O Canada
Galileo’s Grocery List
My friend Marilyn gave me Jann Arden’s book Feeding My Mother. On the one hand it was easy to read because there isn’t a great deal of text and the layout of the book is so colourful and eye-catching and contains so many excellent photos Jann has taken of her mother and the scenery around their Alberta home.
The text is interspersed with recipes. Jann has a house just a few steps away from her childhood home where her Mom still lives. Before her father died Jann routinely had her parents over for dinner and she still does that with her Mom. Jann shares the simple recipes she uses when cooking for her Mom, hence the title of the book Feeding My Mother. The chatty tone, the hearty recipes and visual impact of the book make it easy to read.
On the other hand the book was also very hard to read because it records Jann’s efforts to care for her mother who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. Jann is fortunate because she has the financial means to provide in-home caregivers for her mother. But Jann’s pain in losing the mother she once knew and her struggles to maintain a patient attitude with her mother and a positive attitude about her mother’ situation, will resonate with anyone who has dealt with a seriously ill parent.
The most poignant line in the book for me was when Jann realized her mother was rapidly losing her memory and asked her, “Do you think you will ever forget me Mom?” Her mother replied, “Well my brain might, but my heart won’t.”
Feeding My Mother helped me learn some new things about Jann Arden one of Canada’s most beloved musical artists and it helped me learn some new things about how Alzheimer’s impacts families and relationships.
Sons and Mothers
My Mother’s Childhood Christmases
Filed under Books, Family, Music
When you start writing fiction one of the first things you learn is that even your heroic characters will need to have flaws if they are going to be interesting.In the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri everyone is flawed and that makes each character a puzzle.
There’s the courageous but grieving mother played by Francis McDormand. She’s grieving because her daughter has been murdered and raped. You want to feel sorry for this woman but her flaws make it tough. She blows up a police station, attacks her dentist, drop kicks a couple of teens she’s angry at, insults her pastor and is constantly embarrassing her son. Plenty of flaws there.
There’s the cheerful but fatalistic sheriff played by Woody Harrelson. He’s fatalistic because he is dying of cancer. You want to feel sorry for this man but his flaws make it tough. He doesn’t curb his foul mouth in front of his two little daughters, he leaves the girls unsupervised by a river to have sex with his wife, he thinks its okay to have racist men working for him, he commits suicide and you get to see the devastating impact that has on his wife, co-workers and community. Plenty of flaws there.
There’s the childlike but angry police officer played by Sam Rockwell. He’s angry because his father died when he was young and he lives with his mother who is a chain-smoking, snivelling crone. You want to feel sorry for this man but his flaws make it tough. He spouts politically incorrect insults directed at minorities, beats up a billboard salesman and throws him out a window, arrests a black woman on a bogus charge, and plots to kill a man. Plenty of flaws there.
My husband said the flawed characters in this movie were intriguing and they made him like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. I found the flawed characters in this movie sad and they made me feel unsettled.
Why Do We Share Our Worst Selves With Those We Love the Most?
He Watches. He Listens. He Thinks. He Writes
Now I Really Want to Go To Botswana