Monday, July 17, 2017

Going to the Woods

In his iconic memoir, Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This same aspiration is what led my wife Cindy and me to acquire a cottage near Lake Winnipeg a dozen years ago – a country home that has proven to be a year-round retreat and not simply a place of summer respite. We both tend to work long hours and our modest cottage, which we dubbed Huldukot, offered the promise of a break from the pace and demands of urban life. Hidden in small grove of ash, birch, and spruce – a short walk from the lake – it is almost like entering another world.

Like Thoreau, I embraced our second home in the woods in an effort “to live deliberately” – to relax and regenerate, recover and be restored, and not, “when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” I had great plans to read books that had nothing to do with work, play my ukulele, visit with family and friends, ride my bike, and stroll along the water’s edge – maybe even dip into the lake from time to time.

The reality, though, is that I’m not very good at it – taking a break, that is. Every weekend, I tote my laptop computer along with me and, tethered to my phone, carry on pretty much the same as I do back in the city. I don’t disconnect much at all. At the same time, the satellite dish ensures that I can maintain a steady diet of cable news and mind-numbing electronic entertainment. During the summer months, I preach every second week or so at the nearby Unitarian church, which means that Saturdays are often spent revising and refining my sermon. I suppose that Thoreau had his own work to do – fishing, gardening, chopping wood – but a nagging voice in the back of my head tells me he was probably better at relaxing.

So this summer I resolve to do it right. If I’m going to go to the woods, I’m going to be there fully and not just carry on the same as I always do with a change of venue. I’ll continue to show up to lead church services, but the sermon is going to have to be done on Friday. I’ll still bring my laptop along, but I plan to leave it in my bag while the sun is shining. And this summer, I’m going to play the ukulele and ride my bike, but not at the same time. I’m going to live deliberately and relax with intention.

This post appears as the editorial in the July 15, 2017, issue of Lögberg-Heimskringla.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

150 Years of Confederation

On the first day of 2017, CBC ran a story headlined: “Canada is celebrating 150 years of … what, exactly?” It was accompanied by a short video asking, “how old is Canada, really?” The video reminded viewers that Canada’s Indigenous people have lived on this land for thousands upon thousands of years and then offered a series of milestone events in the evolution of the country we now know as Canada.

In 1701, the British Crown entered into the first of many treaties to encourage peaceful relations between Indigenous people and European settlers and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the principles by which the Crown could acquire land from First Nations. These milestones are of enduring significance but there was, as yet, no Canada. A few point to 1840, when the Act of Union brought together Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario) into a single Province of Canada as the real beginning of Canada, but I’m not convinced.

Most Canadians reckon 1867 as the year in which Canada was born and so, a century later, Canadians enthusiastically celebrated 1967 as the country’s centennial and, this year, most people will mark its sesquicentennial. Yet, Canada as we know it a far different country in 2017 than it was in 1867 – and not just because of the advance of technology and the accumulation of history. Canada is more truly independent today than it was then and, as significantly, the nature of its people and culture is markedly different. So it is that, while we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Canada remains a work in progress.

In the years leading up to Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald, who emerged as its leading proponent and became the first prime minister of Canada, addressing the many challenges then faced by the British colonies in North America, declared: “The only feasible scheme which represents itself to my mind as a remedy for the evils complained of, is a confederation of all the provinces.” His efforts, in collaboration with the other Fathers of Confederation, led to the passage of the British North America Act, which created the Dominion of Canada, a union of four provinces that has since grown to ten provinces and three territories.

Since then, there have been several milestones through which Canada became progressively more independent, including the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and the patriation of the Constitution of Canada in 1982. Along the way, British nobles gave way to Canadian citizens as governors general, Canada adopted a flag of its own, and O Canada replaced God Save the Queen as the national anthem. Canada became a self-governing country in 1867 but the process of becoming a country is something that has never ceased. This reflects the dynamic and evolving nature of Confederation itself. Like our personal identities, the development of a country’s identity takes time.

In his insightful book Blood and Belonging, Michael Ignatieff wrote: “Federalism is not a political ideology. It is just a particular way of sharing political power among different peoples within a state. But it is nationalism’s political antithesis. Those who believe in federalism hold that different peoples do not need states of their own in order to enjoy self-determination. Peoples who share traditions, geography, or common economic space may agree to share a single state, while retaining substantial degrees of self-government over matters essential to their identity as peoples. Federalism is a politics that seeks to reconcile two competing principles: the ethnic principle, according to which people wish to be ruled by their own, with the civic principle, according to which strangers wish to come together to form a community of equals, based not on ethnicity but on citizenship.” This understanding is behind the development of Canada as a unified and collaborative country with more than one language and a rich multicultural mosaic.

Ignatieff went on to assert that, “if federalism can’t work in my Canada, it probably can’t work anywhere.” This country is rich in resources, abundant in opportunities, flexible and pragmatic in its social attitudes, and possessed of democratic institutions that provide for the orderly and mostly fair management of competing interests.

Beyond all of this, though, there is a distinctive and unifying Canadian spirit that we often fail to appreciate. As Robertson Davies once said, “I am convinced that Canada has a soul, and should get on better terms with it, because at the moment it is a sadly neglected part of our inheritance.” Behind Confederation there is a spirit of hopefulness, tolerance, inclusivity, pragmatism, and a concern for the common good that, when practiced, gives strength and shape to our country.

In the early days of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald said: “No one can look into futurity and say what will be the destiny of this country. Changes come over nations and peoples in the course of ages.” For 150 years, Canadians have faced the challenges and negotiated the many changes that have been necessary to maintain the “peace, order, and good government” of this diverse but unified country. The efforts of past generations have shaped “the True North strong and free,” in reality as well as in song, and we continue to shape this inheritance and add to it as we move towards the unfolding future. This is an achievement worth celebrating.

This post appears as the editorial in the July 1, 2017, issue of Lögberg-Heimskringla.