Sam Steele still makes headlines. Steele is, of course, the legendary hero of the RCMP who brought law and order to the Canadian West.
Although the RCMP -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- didn’t exist yet. And the “West” wasn’t fully Canada yet.
But Steele was certainly a real person. As a staff-sergeant in the North West Mounted Police, which later became the RCMP, he ended the Riel Rebellion when his two dozen constables defeated Big Bear at Loon Lake, the last formal battle fought on Canadian soil.
Steele established the first NWMP fort west of the Rockies at Galbraith’s Ferry -- since renamed Fort Steele in his honour.
And he went on from there to the Yukon Territory, where the discovery of gold launched the famous Klondike Gold Rush. Thousands of gold-hungry gun-totin’ Americans flooded north. Steele made his own laws. By requiring every person entering the Yukon to bring along a ton of supplies, he prevented the Yukon from turning into the OK Corral North.
Having made his indelible mark in Canadian history, Sam Steele moved on to command a British cavalry unit in the Boer War in South Africa.
The cannabis irony
But he’s back. By a circuitous chain of ironies.
In Fort Steele, a cannabis store owner put Steele’s picture in his window. The RCMP told the store owner to remove the picture. Because it showed Steele in uniform. The uniform is trademarked, said the RCMP. It can’t be used without their permission.
Except that the RCMP didn’t exist when the photo was taken. It’s not even an NWMP uniform, according to Calgary historian Rod Macleod, who wrote Steele’s biography, because he’s wearing a medal earned in South Africa. After he left the NWMP in 1899.
In a further irony, Steele’s picture was put up to protect pot-shop customers from seeing a product that hadn’t even been declared illegal in Steele’s time.
Still, cannabis is not the issue. Nor is a uniform itself.
The issue is intellectual property.
Intellectual property refers to ideas. Names. Tunes. This column is MY intellectual property, even if it’s printed in YOUR paper.
Names like Aspirin, Zipper, Kerosene, and Escalator were once the exclusive property of the firms that made them. The “Happy Birthday” song was once copyright.
But they’ve all been so widely used that they now belong to everybody.
I contend that the same has happened to the RCMP uniform. And to its wearer, Sam Steele.
That’s where the Christmas connection comes in. Like Steele, Jesus was a real person. He built a new organization that’s still going.
But Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew. The church that claims him didn’t exist until later. Just like the RCMP.
Can you imagine representatives of Judaism suing Christian churches for pirating stuff that originated as their intellectual property?
Can you imagine the Vatican taking legal action against breakaway denominations for celebrating Mass -- communion, the Eucharist, the Last Supper -- that was once exclusively theirs?
Jesus has become universal. He can be invoked by Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists. The Christian Church -- by whatever name -- does not own Jesus.
Any more than the RCMP own Sam Steele or his uniform.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I received a lot of appreciation for last week’s column, about the memories associated with a little ceramic Christmas tree, a gift from a woman named Lorraine. It seems that many of you have similar ceramic momentoes – and have had similar Lorraines in your lives.
Nenke Jongkind: “I had a Lorraine by a different name in each of the congregations I served. A few of them knew the mind of God, which to me is really scary. I used to offer my thoughts or interpretations but I’ve stopped. God loves them too, just the way they are and God loves me too just the way I am.”
Calvin Hefner: “My Mother in 1975 took a ceramic class to produce a nativity set. She made three sets, all pure white, one each for my siblings and me. She signed each piece on the bottom with the date and ’Love, Mom’. Every Christmas since then, I find a place for her nativity set. As I unwrap each of the pieces, I feel the love that Mom sent as she formed, fired, and polished each piece. Our guests marvel at the simplicity of the Nativity and are amazed that I still have all of the pieces. Even as I write this message, I feel the love of my dear mother, who transitioned ten years ago.”
Bob Rollwagen: “You reminded me that we have a ceramic tree stored somewhere in the condo. I went looking and found it. It is only missing the star so I fixed that. Last Christmas it shone in the room of a 99-year-old member of our family and now it shines here. It brings all the memories with it. Good memories of a person that shared a simple Christian outlook on with all of her friends, neighbours and family. This is what builds hope, even in today’s world.”
Marg Tribe: “Thank you for mentioning Rev. Gordon Nodwell. Gordon was a family friend, who attended and graduated Queen's Theological College in the early '50's with my Dad, Doug Shanks.
“As for Lorraine -- prophets and teachers come in all shapes, sizes and guises. She was surely one, and she lives on in your heart, your memories, your words, and your front hall tree. And now, Lorraine lives in the hearts of all your readers.”
Robert Caughell: “I have a similar ceramic Christmas tree that sits on a table in my living room. It is white and was made by my sister as a Christmas present for my mother who is 96.”
Tom Watson: “It's interesting the things we remember. Many of them are not big things, rather the little things that happened along the way. At the time, they may have seemed insignificant but we talk about them from then on...get them out from time to time, shine them up, in the same way you bring out that ceramic Christmas tree every year. With them come a memory that sits on our shoulder, bringing a smile or a tear, and thoughts of a person who was significant in our lives and left something of themselves with us.”
Anne McRae: “Memories are precious. The one I use most -- after my husband died a friend sent me a letter and one thing she said still helps me -- you never forget but you learn to cope. 32 years later I still remember, and I guess I have learned to cope.”
Isabel Gibson: “What a lovely image for what we might aspire to in talking to each other: To shine. Not to persuade or convince or correct: Just to shine.”
The column the week before – on Hope – and my further comments on it last week, continues to generate responses, both in person and by mail.
Bruce Thomas wrote, “I enjoyed your comments on Hope and eventually run them into a touch on death. I think we need both kinds of hope. The external kind that creates great expectations in life through our faith -- always looking ahead in search of greater meaning and awareness. It’s difficult where one kind of hope is distinguished from the second kind -- internal hope -- where one starts and one stops -- if you believe that one can exist independent of the other. When we focus on death as the topic to make mature our thoughts on hope, you’re right to suggest that this isn’t closure. Rather, it’s just the beginning of what the Great Mystery has in store for us.
“That’s why Jim Hannah’s thought is right -- the relationships in life with others continue and we haven’t really come to the end of those relationships. We simply haven’t come close to the endpoints here and hope is like the key used to constantly unlock the doors ahead of us through our faith. Hope, externally and internally, leads us to embrace, what ‘eye has not seen, ear has not heard.....’. that much we leave to our Creator knowing that ‘we truly are not alone.’”
I've never been poor and homeless at Christmas. The ostentatious flaunting of wealth and family must be very painful for those who have neither. This paraphrase of Psalm 80 tries to see Christmas through their eyes..
1 Can't you hear us knocking on your door?
You stand inside, laughing in the firelight with your family;
You toy with your tinsel and your ornaments.
Can't you hear us?
2 We are the lost and the lonely, out in the cold.
3 We long for something to celebrate too.
4 How long can you ignore us?
How long can you close your eyes and ears to our situation?
5 Hunger gnaws on our bones;
we sip the salt of our tears.
6 We are an embarrassment. People turn away from us.
People laugh and joke; they don't even see us there.
We are invisible.
7 Let us live too.
17 We have nothing with which to thank you.
But God will reward you in ways you cannot imagine.
Through us, God will heal your blindness;
You will touch a world you have never imagined.
18 You will not want to go back to your old ways.
Respond to our pleas, and see for yourself.
19 Let us live too.
Please, let us live.
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)