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’m not sure what I believe about life after death. I’m quite sure that I don’t believe in life before life.
When I was about ten, my mother told me that my father had proposed to another woman, before he met my mother.
He had finished his Master’s degree. He had signed up to go to India as a missionary with the United Church of Canada. He invited this other woman to go with him.
She said no.
By a fortunate coincidence for me, my mother went to India about the same time, as a Presbyterian missionary from Northern Ireland. My parents met at language school. Six years later they had me.
Even at the age of ten, it occurred to me that if that other woman had said “Yes,” I wouldn’t be who I was. I would be someone else. Maybe even –horrors – a girl!
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: birth, death, Souls, conception, predestination
Flakes of winter snow sift down outside my window as I write these words. Millions of them. Billions of them. Burying the bird feeder. Burying my driveway.
I go out to shovel. Each snowflake weighs next to nothing. It’s amazing how much a shovelful of next-to-nothing can weigh.
No two of those snowflakes are identical, I’ve been told.
Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. The only way to prove it, either way, would be to examine every snowflake that has ever fallen.
But if you lived in Australia these days, who cares? When summer temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius, when fires create their own weather systems, a snowflake wouldn’t have, umm, a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving long enough to be examined.
So many of the things that we humans argue about, divide ourselves about, even go to war about, are what a friend calls “head stuff.” Interesting, but irrelevant.
Tags: Rituals, Chesterton
The first phone call came at 7:05 a.m. I picked up the phone. “Dear Customer,” a recorded message began. “This call is to advise you that we have deducted $399.99 from your account to cover the renewal of your service policy. To approve this transaction, press one. To speak to a service representative, press two…”
I hung up instead.
I’m always tempted to talk back to recorded messages, the way I talk back to contestants on Jeopardy who know nothing about Canada. I’m even tempted to “press two” to see if I can tie the service representative’s mind into knots.
In philosophical circles, this practice is called the “straw man argument.”
Categories: Sharp Edges
Tags: straw men, scam calls
Here in the Okanagan we had nothing like the storms that have hit Newfoundland, or the American Midwest. But temperatures down to -20C, and snow that has fallen every day for more than a week, propelled my creative juices a little.
This is what musicians call “variations on the theme by…” Chopin or Mozart or…. In this case, the familiar Christmas carol by Christina Rossetti.
In the bleak midwinter
grey snow shrouds the ground
bare branches claw the sky while
overcast clouds crush spirits
Frosty wind made moan
arctic vortex strikes
a coiled serpent sinks
icy fangs into bare flesh....
Tags: Snow, winter, Christina Rossetti
The progress of civilization is not measured by democracy or economics, by health or wealth, nor by art or architecture. It’s measured by our reduction of cruelty.
I needed to state that thesis up front. To discuss it, I have to cite instances of cruelty that will turn your stomach. If I started this column with them, you’d probably quit reading.
Let’s start with Genghis Khan, who reputedly killed 40 million people in his 30-year reign. He executed one enemy by pouring molten silver into his eyes and ears.
Which is probably characteristic of his time. A rival tyrant boiled captured generals alive. Victims may have been conscious for several hours as they cooked.
Scottish explorer James Bruce became the first European to enter the mountain kingdom of Ethiopia. The emperor and his vizier entertained their visitor by putting out the eyes of a dozen slaves while they ate dinner.
Tags: Cruelty, Genghis Khan, Inquisition, torture, kindness
It is, perhaps, the most terrifying way to die. No one likes falling, not even off a footstool. But being hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky, and falling helplessly, is everyone’s nightmare...
But it wasn’t a dream for 176 people aboard Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 earlier this week.
Fortunately, these disasters don’t happen often. If you’re going to put your life into someone else’s hands, commercial aviation offers the safest, best regulated, way of travelling. Ian Savage of Northwestern University calculated fatality rates per passenger of various forms of transportation. Airlines came in at 0.07 per billion passenger miles. Bus, subway, and train all ranked below one per billion miles.
Cars were seven times higher; motorcycles more than 200 times higher.
Setting aside a plane’s greenhouse gas emissions, you’re safer flying across a continent than walking to the corner store.
Except that if something goes wrong at 35,000 feet up, you can’t get out and walk home.
Tags: Iran, Ukrainian Airlines, missile
Many Protestant congregations mark the new year with John Wesley’s Covenanting Service.
Wesley is, of course, the founder of British Methodism.
A “covenant” is like a contract, but more binding. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions -- if cynically, knowing that we will soon break them. But a covenant is more than a resolution. Once you make a covenant there’s no backing out.
Tags: Wesley, Covenant, New Years
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales said that he is "absolutely convinced" the United States orchestrated the military coup that removed him from power last November.
I believe him.
Not because I have any inside knowledge of Bolivian politics. Nor because I have back room connections in Washington DC.
I believe Morales because I have seen too many examples of the U.S. attempting to impose what it calls “regime change” in other countries. Bolivia fits the pattern too well.
The prime example is probably Iraq.
Tags: Bolivia, Brazil, Amerika, Empire, regime change, Iraq, Chile, Iran
n these months, as 12 years of Joan’s chronic leukemia move towards their inevitable conclusion, I have found it – as you may imagine – difficult to write poetry of any kind. And yet I feel that it is somehow important for me to try.
Something about the sheer sparseness of the haiku formula appealed to me: three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. The format leaves no room for maudlin meandering. I wrote about a dozen of them; after consulting with a pair of friends, four remain.
tides suck life away
anemones scrunch in pain
rocks rise wet with tears
The days are getting longer – had you noticed? Today will be one minute and nine seconds longer than yesterday. Sunrise hasn’t changed, but the sun now sets later. Soon the sunrise will accelerate too, and the northern hemisphere will hurtle towards summer.
Our grandson sent a photo of himself on a beach in Mexico. I must admit that my first reaction was not delight. It was envy. I looked at the sparking sand, the turquoise sea, the fluffy clouds. I could imagine warm sun on my shoulders. I wished I were there.
Why, I wondered, would anyone live anywhere but in the tropics?
But I know why, when I look out my window. Grey snow, piled along the roadsides. Brown grass. Bare tree limbs, black against a sodden sky…
I need these seasonal reminders so that I can fully appreciate summer.
Tags: summer, winter, yin/yang, contrasts