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Archive for February, 2015

Hi everyone:

It’s a cold Wednesday morning here in downtown Hamilton as I get ready to begin another day at my “home away from home”, the Hamilton Public Library. I’m sitting at a desk on the fourth floor as I type this entry and it’s a great place to work from. I am so thankful to those who run the Library that this place is here. It’s an important and valuable part of our community. But today is more than just your normal Wednesday. That’s because today is Ash Wednesday – which for Christians means that it is the first day of Lent, a time of what I call the “four R’s”. As in “repentance”, “reflection”, “renewal” and “reconciliation”. It’s also a time for penitence and self-examination, a chance for us to look at our lives in the light of the Gospel and what being a Christian means. I think Lent is very much like similar observances in other religious and spiritual traditions, such as the month of Ramadan for our Muslim friends and Yom Kippur for the Jews. Even in our increasingly secular and fast-paced society, there is still a place for Lent. That’s because we all need to keep doing a self-inventory of our lives, to reach out to those we may have hurt or caused pain, but perhaps most of all to be accountable to our fellow human beings and to remind ourselves that we are all on this planet together and that we need to help each other.

This season brings to mind many images. For example, did you wake up yesterday morning and have a sudden craving for pancakes (with or without sausages, maple syrup and related elements)? It might have been because it was Shrove Tuesday. Which takes its name from “shrive”, an Old English term which refers to the absolution of one’s sins through confession as well as doing penance. Obviously this can be done at any time of year, but in medieval Europe it was especially encouraged on this particular day because it was immediately before the start of the Lenten season. When a Christian did this, it was said that he or she had been “shriven” and was now spiritually prepared for Lent. And a prominent feature of Shrove Tuesday is pancakes. Although this food can trace its ancestry all the way back to ancient Greece, pancakes play a prominent role here because it is said that its ingredients include fats and other products that by tradition had to be used up before Lent began. While I don’t know for sure, I also wonder if the reason why they are often paired with sausages, especially on Shrove Tuesday, is because Christian tradition stated that we should not consume meat products during the Lenten season. This tradition also explains why almost every church in town hosts a Pancake Supper or similar event on Shrove Tuesday and why many people, especially non-Christians, refer to it as Pancake Day.

But there is also another term for Shrove Tuesday that I will bet you have heard many times before. And that’s “Fat Tuesday”. Or as its more commonly known, “Mardi Gras”. Not only does this tie in with what I wrote above, but most people associate it with carnivals and other festivals around the world, such as those in Rio, Port of Spain, Quebec City and perhaps most famous of all, the festival of the same name in New Orleans. Just as the idea of pancakes was to use up all the fats on hand at home prior to Lent, carnivals such as Mardi Gras were designed as a final chance to party and live it up before the more austere time of Lent began. As an aside, the Lenten season takes it name from an Anglo-Saxon term referring to the lengthening daylight hours associated with the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

It would be very easy to keep talking about Lent and its meaning for us as Christians, but instead let me close this entry by returning to where I started. That the Lenten season means a time for me and millions of other Christians worldwide to observe what I called above the “4 R’s”:  reflection, repentance, renewal and reconciliation. Those four elements are the themes and concepts which I plan to explore over these next 6 weeks, leading up to Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week (the most sacred period of the Christian calendar), which eventually culminates in the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There are countless elements involved in achieving these “4 R’s”, such as participating in a Bible study or similar exercise (as I plan to do starting tonight and over the next several Wednesday nights – thanks to my friends at Church of the Ascension, an Anglican parish a short walk from my apartment in downtown Hamilton). They will be conducting a Lenten series based on the BBC Four program – A History of Christianity hosted by noted historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, and which allows us to examine not just the origins and subsequent history of Christianity, but also what it means to be a Christian in an increasingly secular society. I am looking forward to it. To those of you here in Hamilton and area, if you read this on time and want to join us tonight and the remaining five weeks, we would love to see you. We’ll start each Wednesday night with a short celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 7:00 pm, followed by watching a one hour episode of the series and a time of discussion. Hope to see you there.

I believe that participating in something such as the MacCulloch series as well as related spiritual activities (such as prayer and Bible reading) can help me get closer to achieving two of my “R’s”. As in reflection and renewal. How about the other two – repentance and reconciliation? Let me say this in response, in part because there is always the need for these things. As we begin the 2015 Lenten season, I want to sincerely reach out to anyone reading this that I might have hurt or caused pain to, whether real or perceived. There is always room for reconciliation and renewal, not only for second chances – but third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. As many chances as necessary. That’s because I believe that one must always reach out, and make the effort to heal past wounds and to begin again. Whether the other party is willing to do that, of course, is up to them and one must respect their feelings too.

So if you are one of those people, please accept these words as a way of saying that I am sorry for my part in creating this situation (repentance), and that I would be pleased to dialogue with you, either here online or in person at any mutually agreeable time and place (reconciliation) with an open mind, a contrite spirit and the willingness to forget the past and begin again. I don’t like being at odds with people, and I would like to think that it’s only a small group out there who would relate to what I am saying. If that’s you, then let’s work together to achieve not just these 2 “R’s”, but also 2 “H’s”: hope and healing. Not to mention a fresh start to our friendships. I welcome the opportunity to achieve all this and more as appropriate.

That’s it for today. As with all my blog entries, I want to sincerely thank all of you for reading this. May each of you reading this observe a holy and blessed Lenten season and give you the opportunity to use these next few weeks to draw nearer to God and to each other. May God bless you, enrich you and fill you with His Holy Spirit, not only during this Lenten season, but all year long. Have a fantastic day – see you again soon.

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Hi everyone:

As I write this blog entry, it is the evening of Monday, February 16. Also known in this neck of the woods as Family Day. So let me start by wishing all of you a Happy Family Day. At least for those of you who are in provinces that are celebrating it today. Or if you are in a province that does it at another time (such as last Monday out in British Columbia). I’m still getting used to this one, we’ve only had it here in Ontario since 2008, no doubt the rest of you here in the Toronto area and across our province will feel the same. But it’s not a holiday in all our provinces and territories. According to a Web site that talks about Family Day and how it is observed across Canada , some provinces (such as Quebec and New Brunswick) don’t have this holiday, and the same is also true for our three territories. So if you live in places like Whitehorse, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Dawson City, Sherbrooke, Montreal, Moncton or Fredericton, sorry folks, but today is just a normal day for all of you.

I do like the idea of a holiday like this one, even if as I noted above we’re still getting used to the Family Day concept. Encouraging everyone to spend time with their families, especially at events organized by our cities and towns (such as a skating party at the local outdoor rink, or a hike through a Conservation Area, complete with hot chocolate or other goodies) is highly commendable, but it saddens me that our society has become so fast-paced and high-pressured that we need to set aside a “Family Day” at all. Let me now take a moment to elaborate on this idea a little further.

There was a time not so long ago when we had a “Family Day” every week. It was called Sunday. Now for those of you who think I am going to drift off on a long rant about the “good old days” when the vast majority of our society was Christian, when everyone went to church on Sunday morning and then spent the remainder of the day engaged in quiet activity at home with their loved ones because all the stores were closed, and no organized sports or other activities could take place on what was commonly known as “The Lord’s Day” (although things like a family walk through the neighbourhood, a chat with your brother or sister while you sat on the front porch on a lazy summer afternoon, that skating party or hike I noted above, or of course the all-time favourite – the Sunday drive, which just might include a stop for ice cream or hot chocolate were never frowned upon), you will be sorely disappointed. It would be easy to look at the issues generated by the above word-pictures, such as the decline and fall of organized religion in our society, how Sunday attendance has dwindled in most Christian churches and related activities, but that’s not what I want to explore now. Perhaps another time. Instead, let’s try the following.

I fully respect that in today’s society, Sunday tends to be just like any other day. Except for the fact that our economy still mostly runs on the “Monday to Friday” model and that most people have Saturdays and Sundays off, there really isn’t much to differentiate Sunday from any other day. I have no problem with how the day has evolved in recent years, especially with the arrival of Sunday shopping and related matters (although if I do shop on a Sunday, I do it only if it is absolutely necessary and if the items I need to buy are things that can’t wait until Monday). I realize that we live in a multicultural society, that people have come to our shores from all parts of the world, bringing their own cultures and traditions with them. And that’s wonderful for many reasons, in particular because each ethnic, cultural and religious group enriches our society and makes us all better. Within the context of this discussion, all this is important when you consider that many other religions and spiritual beliefs don’t worship on Sundays. How about our Muslim friends who do so on Fridays. Or Jews who attended their local synagogue on Saturdays, just to cite a couple of examples. Or to put this another way, it means that the Christian idea of Sunday as a common “day of rest” observed by all of us may have been taken for granted even 50 or 60 years ago, but in today’s society it is no longer viable.

Which brings me back to where we started and the “Family Day” holiday. As I have already stated I like the basic concept behind the day. And an added bonus is creating a mid-winter holiday so that you don’t have to go something like three months or longer between the end of the Christmas/Holiday season in early January and the arrival of Easter (depending on when Easter takes place, we all know it changes from year to year). But what about the rest of the year? Did you spend quality time with your family today at the local skating rink or ski hill? Perhaps the latest movie at your local theatre? A family dinner or other social time around the table at home, or maybe at the local pub or restaurant?  How about a walk through the neighbourhood or maybe even the equivalent of the “Sunday drive” (hmm – I think that old tradition died out when rising gas prices discouraged “non-essential trips”)? If you did any or all of those things today, good for you. But why stop there? OK, so most people don’t observe Sundays as we once did anymore, but I think our ancestors had the right idea. They believed that “The Lord’s Day” should be a day of rest. A chance to slow down and enjoy life. A reminder that nothing was that important that it really needed to be done now. That we could slow down the pace of society and recharge our batteries.

And I think they were onto something – which we would be wise to continue today. In other words, it wouldn’t hurt to keep that basic concept of a day of rest to slow down and share our time with family and friends. It doesn’t have to be Sunday. Especially for those of you reading this who are not Christians, and for you Sunday has no special meaning. What about Saturday, a weeknight or other suitable time that works for all of you? Do we really need to live at a million miles an hour every day? Does everything have to be done yesterday? Do we really need to work a 60 or 70 hour week because our job is that demanding? I say no. Instead, I submit to all of you that we should observe the spirit of Family Day as you feel appropriate. Slow down once in a while and enjoy life. Take time for your family, friends and others who mean so much to you. Put down the smartphone or turn off the laptop. That text message, e-mail, tweet, Facebook posting or LinkedIn message can wait for another day. Go for that skate at the local park or arena. Call a friend and suggest you have lunch together. Or if it’s a warm and sunny summer afternoon, get out a couple of chairs from the garden shed, sit out in the backyard and have a good old-fashioned chat with a family member or friend. I could offer more examples, but I think I have written enough for all of you to get the basic idea.

In closing, Family Day doesn’t have to be once a year. Let’s take the concept and make it a regular part of our lives. We don’t have to life at warp speed all the time. Let’s take it down a notch and appreciate the blessings that life can afford us. Just think of the benefits you can accrue (such as improved physical and mental health, for example). We’ll have a better world if we do. As always, thanks for reading my blog entries. I really appreciate and value every one of you. Time to close this off. Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

Friday afternoon here in Hamilton. I guess I am feeling creative because this will be my second blog entry today. This morning, I wrote one about respecting our differences and that instead of “trashing” those who hold a different view of the world to ours that we should embrace and reach out to them. You can read that one either by using the link at the top of this page, or by clicking here: Reaching Out to Others

But as I write this, I am also very mindful that tomorrow is February 14, 2015. You guessed it. Valentine’s Day is making its annual appearance. And that’s the subject of this blog entry. For several years now at this time of year, I have put a message on my LinkedIn Profile wishing all the women in my LI network a Happy Valentine’s Day. It’s meant to be something fun and light-hearted and every year my message has always been well received. I really appreciate the kind comments some of those women have chosen to offer me in return. This year, I expanded the concept to include similar messages both on my Facebook page as well as on my Twitter page. Again, nothing but positives and that’s great. Now I am adding another element by doing this with my blog. So to all the women out there who are reading this blog entry, let me wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Just as I have noted in those other messages, I hope that each of you has a special someone to share the day with. Each of you is a special person and a gift to those who love and care for you. I hope you enjoy the day and the celebrations that go with it. You deserve it.

Now it would be very easy to leave the whole Valentine’s Day thing there. It’s fun to offer greetings as I did above and I trust that the women who just read my comments above will see it that way. But there is another angle that I want to explore and that I always add when I do those messages every February. I “get” the idea behind Valentine’s Day and why people like to set aside this one day every year to give lots of TLC to that special someone. Even if the cynic in me says that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a big commercial racket designed to sell lots of chocolates, flowers, cards and related things. Not to mention that lots of restaurants, pubs and other eating establishments see an increase in their business every year. Hmm – have you booked your reservation for tomorrow night? Might be tough to get a table if you don’t. Before I go further, let’s do what they call “full disclosure”. I’m a single guy and I am happy to stay that way (although I do admit that I enjoy the company of women, and there are a few female friends that I enjoy giving “friendship” cards to on Valentine’s Day – I won’t name them but if you gals are reading this, you know who you are!), so for me February 14 is no different from any other day. But I do understand the basic premise behind it all. And if many of you reading this are indeed doing something special tomorrow, even if it’s just a little thing, I hope you have a wonderful day.

Having said all that, however, here’s a different spin for all of you to consider. Why can’t we make Valentine’s Day every day? Why don’t we tell those special people in our lives that we love them and our lives are so much better because of them every day? Do we really need to wait until February 14 each year? No. Any day can be the right day to show our love and appreciation to those special people. And it’s not just for our spouse or other special someone that we honour on Valentine’s Day. Let’s take some time every day to reach out to everyone who makes our lives better. So it’s not just our spouse. It could be our kids or another family member. A close friend. That colleague at work who walks in every morning with two coffees because they get one for you too. Someone who gives you a hug when you’re feeling down and you’re having one of those days. There are many more examples, of course, but you get the idea. Anyone who brings a ray of sunshine into our lives and makes our world that much better can be someone you can show some love and thanks to.

And I think those types of gestures count for a lot and should never be underestimated. After all, I wrote a blog earlier this morning about how we seem to delight in “trashing” people who hold a different opinion to ours. Let’s face it folks, the world can be a very cruel, dark and forbidding place. Especially when you consider that there are times when it seems that as human beings we are better at hurting people instead of helping them. Wouldn’t our world be a whole lot better if we spoke words of love? You can call it my “Valentine’s Day Challenge” or similar wording if you like, but if the spirit of Valentine’s Day could live all year round, wouldn’t we all feel better? Isn’t it better to walk around town with a smile on your face – especially because someone just told you that they love you and that their life is a million times better because you are in it? Or as Gene Kelly so famously put it in “Singin’ in the Rain”: “I walk down the lane with a happy refrain”? And wouldn’t you want to tell those same things back to them?

So how about it gang? Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. By all means treat that special someone to some TLC and show them how much they mean to you. Buy some flowers. Take them out to dinner. Do something really nice tomorrow and show that special someone that you really love them. But what happens on February 15? Or the other 363 days of each year. Why can’t we treat those special people in our lives with love and affection all year long? Do something special every day for the people who mean the most to you. It’s very much like the “pay it forward” idea, and in fact can supplement it. The “pay it forward” concept means that when someone does something nice for you, instead of repaying them for their kindness, do something nice for another person. It’s the same thing here. If we do nice things and show those in our lives how much we love them every day, and not just on February 14, I really think our world would be a much kinder and gentler place. Thanks for reading this blog entry – until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s Friday the 13th here in Hamilton, also known as the day before Valentine’s Day. Not only that, but it’s also rather cold out there this morning. Indeed, depending on which media outlet you listen to or watch, it’s something like minus 15 to 20 degrees out there, with a windchill of about minus 30. As one example, I’m watching CP24 a Toronto news channel as I type this blog entry, and right now (ca. 9:10 a.m.) they are showing a temperature of minus 24 with a windchill factor of minus 35 for us here in Hamilton. So it’s a good day to stay somewhere warm and cozy. This is one time when I am glad that I am a freelancer, because thanks to a laptop I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. Today, that place will be my own living room. Even though I often enjoy working from other locations in Hamilton and surrounding areas, this day will not be one of them. Another time will be better.

It’s been a while since my last published blog entry – and this will in fact be my first one for 2015. Today I wanted to talk about a development in our Canadian media that happened today, and what it’s ramifications might be for our society. I am actually going to base this on something I wrote on my Facebook Page earlier this morning. I hope you enjoy it, and will share this with anyone you like.

As noted in an article from The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business section Sun News Network signed off early this morning. This wasn’t a surprise in that its demise had been rumoured for some time. Although the TV channel debuted in 2011 with much fanfare and promise, it never really did find a niche in the Canadian broadcasting marketplace.  I’m not sure why this was, I will leave it to those who have expertise in broadcast media and related issues to debate. Part of it may have been due to its controversial nature. Even before it was launched, some Canadians, especially those from the liberal/progressive/left side of the political and social spectrum decided to “trash” the station, even claiming that it was designed to spread false news, lies, propaganda, rumours and other negative things. Some even called it “Fox News North”, a shot at Fox News, the American news media outlet that also offers a conservative /right wing view of the world (and which I suspect isn’t much to their liking either, otherwise they would not claim that Sun News was a northern equivalent of same). I find that so sad, and difficult to understand, that people who keep telling the world that they want an open, tolerant and inclusive society would not only say nasty things about Fox News, but also practically declare war on a station like Sun News because they had a different view of society than their own. I’ll bet this morning that many of those people are very happy to see the end of the channel. Rather than a long essay here, let me share with all of you a terrific article on this subject by a Canadian journalist, Warren Kinsella, which I actually found on my Twitter account when I logged in this morning. And as I noted above, I also posted it on my Facebook account and offered a commentary there which will serve as a basis for what you will now read here. I hope all of you reading this blog entry will do so with an open, honest and respectful understand of my feelings about this issue, and that you will also give his article the same treatment. Thanks for doing so, it’s much appreciated. If only for ease of access, I will put a link to the article to start the paragraph below, and a second link at the end of my comments.

Mr. Kinsella’s article really speaks to me because I have been there. I have sometimes been “trashed” and marginalized by people because I do have traditional and conservative values, perhaps best expressed as a centre-right perspective on many social and political issues. I believe in things like smaller bureaucracy, less government interference in people’s lives, a free-enterprise economy, as well as greater individual rights and freedoms. I also have traditional social and moral values, such as on matters like sexuality, marriage and the family. While some might interpret that in a negative fashion, I have no personal animosity or issue with those who support same-sex marriages. If anything, I have always sympathized with and applauded the LGBT community for their courage in “coming out” and their struggles for acceptance and equality in our society. While I may not understand their sexual orientation and probably never will, I believe we are all God’s children and should be treated with love, compassion, dignity and respect. I have no right to sit in judgement of their sexuality and never will. If anything, I appreciate what our LGBT friends go through because of my own struggles with mental health. Just as they do, I think those who experience mental health issues should not be afraid to tell others about their issues. Since I have written other articles about this subject in various places online (such as on this blog), let me refer you to that material if you wish to explore my feelings about this further.  If the LGBT crusade for acceptance includes same-sex marriages,  I may not agree with them because I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, but I don’t oppose it either. I simply stay on the sidelines and let others who are more passionate on both sides of this emotional issue do the talking. But as soon as people read that I have a traditional view of marriage, the family, human sexuality and related social values, they throw what I just wrote out the window and claim that I am a reactionary bigot. The fact that some have chosen to treat me this way because I hold views such as what I just stated is not only very sad, marginalizing and hurtful, but something that I find difficult to understand. As I noted above, these are people who claim to want an open, tolerant and inclusive society. They keep telling us that we should accept people for who and want they are, and that they believe in diversity. But what they don’t tell you is that you’re free to express any opinion you want as long as it’s the same as theirs. So sad and I wish someday that these liberals/progressives would explain why they treat others in this manner. I find their attitude hypocritical, divisive and highly intolerant. And I also think they do causes like same-sex marriages and the overall role of the LGBT community great damage because of their intolerance and rejection of those like me who hold different views than theirs. It would be much easier for society to support and encourage LGBT issues if some of their supporters weren’t so cold-hearted. Tolerance, diversity, inclusiveness and related issues should work both ways. If you want people to accept your view of society, don’t mock and destroy your opponents. Try understanding and reaching out to them.

Let me expand on what I just wrote above a bit further. To me, the real test of an open, tolerant, and inclusive society is not how you treat your friends, but how you treat those who oppose you. Instead of “trashing” those who don’t agree with your viewpoint, why not reach out, dialogue, and try to understand those who oppose you. As others have said: “I may be your opponent but I am not your enemy”. You may think it’s obvious that the world agrees with your point of view. And if I might play sociologist for a minute, I think our “default” setting as human beings is to associate with others who are like ourselves. For example, have you ever attended a party and noticed that sometimes the men will huddle in one corner and the women in another? I think we also tend to associate more easily with people who share our religious, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. There is a tendency to take for granted that everyone feels the same way that we do. Well, here’s a newsflash. There are probably just as many out there who have a different or opposite viewpoint to yours, and who feel that their view of our world is the correct one. And who are just as surprised as you are that people don’t feel as they do. If you want an example of what I am driving at here, let me offer to all of you a wonderful book by an American social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt entitled The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. I read it over the Christmas/Holiday season a few weeks ago and couldn’t put it down. It really sums up how I feel about our society and its divisions.

In closing, I want my blog entry today to be a plea for tolerance, understanding and diversity from both sides of the spectrum. Liberals and conservatives are equally guilty of “trashing” their opponents or of thinking that their worldview is the right one and not understanding why everyone feels as they do. Let me offer a new way for all of you to consider regardless of your political or social stances. Let’s all try to work together, reach out to those whose opinions on societal issues are different from ours and in so doing, we can make this world a better place. I have often entered into these dialogues in the past and I really enjoy them. It helps me understand a different view of the world, and in turn I hope they appreciate my feelings, even if they may be the opposite of theirs. Instead of “trashing” our opponents and trying to convert them to our way of thinking, let’s reach out with compassion, love and understanding. Be open and respectful to what the other side is saying, and if in the end all we do is agree-to-disagree, there’s nothing wrong with that.  I have always done my best to understand and appreciate those I disagree with, and I hope all of you do as well. Now that you have read my “rant”, here’s the second link to that article. Thanks to Warren Kinsella for writing such a terrific article, which I agree with 100% and I hope you will too. Thanks to all of you for reading this blog entry and have a great day!

http://warrenkinsella.com/20…/…/dear-sun-news-network-folks/

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