Saturday, December 20, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
25 hrs sitting in hospital with people
11 services including 3 out of town, 2 funerals, 1 wedding and 1 baptism
2 Bible studies
2 theology reading group meetings
1 pool and pizza party
1 turkey dinner for 400 students
250 campus care parcels collected, sorted, and distributed to students
220 little Christmas treat bags for residence students assembled and distributed
Peter Erb's visit including his 3 talks and 2 dinner parties with him and Betty
1 talk at the public library
2 trips to Calgary
and a whole bunch of meetings, coffees with folks, emails, shopping, photocopying, and general admin stuff
I'm tired but boy I am having fun! And if it wasn't for a huge crew of volunteers this wouldn't have all happened. I am truly blessed in my ministry by wonderful people.
Monday, December 1, 2008
a c c w e b n e w s
The Anglican Church of Canada
Archbishop of Canterbury's World AIDS Day video
Anglican Communion News Service
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams has recorded a video message to mark the 20th annual World AIDS day on December 1, 2008. There are currently 30 million people worldwide living with HIV.
The video sees the Archbishop talk about the Church's worldwide involvement in care and education surrounding HIV and AIDS, and calls for faith leaders to "encourage and support" what is being done by listening to those who work on the front lines. He says "Our hope and our prayer today is that the excellent work that's done, not just in developing countries but here at home too by the Churches will continue and deepen and be strengthened by our prayer and our commitment."
"Recognizing that people living with HIV is us not them, whether it's leaders and congregations, congregations and 'outsiders'-it's us. It's all of our business...Church leaders and Church congregations taking responsibility for educating the wider public."
Prayer for World AIDS day
Pray for greater awareness of HIV and AIDS,
For greater dignity and rights of people living with HIV and AIDS,
For more compassion and care,
For the rejection of discrimination and stigmatization,
For wider prevention activities that address root causes of vulnerability,
For efficient mobilization of resources and treatments,
For increased access to treatments and care,
For support for those left behind to grieve the loss of their loved ones,
For trust and hope in our God.
Lord hear our prayer.
(Taken from: The Mothers' Union, Living Positively, "Prayers and Reflections")
However, I did find time to read some blogs this morning and found it pretty disturbing. Here is evidence that our culture is pretty messed up. The link came from a blog I hadn't read before but which is up for a Canadian Best Progressive Blog award. It is the Galloping Beaver and is worth a read.
On other fronts I've been listening to Christmas music, and yes I do know it is only just Advent and this is a very bad Anglican thing to do. Thanks to itunes I'm listening to Steeleye Span's album Winter and enjoying it a lot. Now back to work.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Here is a great article on his latest work on Christianity and murder mysteries. How wonderful to know that reading mysteries isn't a waste of time!
Here is his schedule here:
Sunday, November 16th
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
2406 11 Avenue South
"Ecumencial gift exchanges: What Lutherans and Anglicans have to offer the Church at large -- a Roman Catholic perspective"
Monday, November 17th
Lethbridge Public Library
"Christian Killers and Atheist Heroes: Religion and Detective Fiction 2008"
Tuesday, November 18th
University of Lethbridge, Turcotte Hall 277
"Can Christians be Citizens?” A Victorian Debate in a Twenty-First Century Setting
Sponsored by Ecumenical Campus Ministry, the Office of the President, Lethbridge College, the Office of the President, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge Public Library and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Today would have been Dad's 70th birthday. I don't know which is harder to get my head around, that Dad isn't with us anymore or that he could have been 70. Here I am approaching 50 and my Dad still seemed to be in his 50s to me.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
To the Minister of Health and Wellness: why is the minister allowing this situation in Lethbridge, where Extendicare is closing 120 long-term care facility beds in spite of his statement that long-term care facilities are needed in the province?
Mr. Liepert: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member is correct that the facility in Lethbridge, which is quite aged, is going to close. However, what the hon. member did not mention is the fact that there is a replacement centre going up. It’s a designated assisted living centre. As a matter of fact, the former Chinook health region has one of the leading models on how we can have seniors live in facilities that are not always long-term care.
Ms Pastoor: Definitions are clearly needed to be understood in this province. DAL is not long-term care. Is this what the minister was referring to on May 20 in ’08, when he said that “we need to look at removing barriers that exist today for private operators to also participate in the delivery of long-term care?”
Does the minister want to shut down the pre-existing facilities in order to create more demand for profit long-term care?
Mr. Liepert: Mr. Speaker, I know where this member is coming from. This member believes in a philosophy that as soon as you can, you stick a senior citizen into long-term care in an area that they don’t necessary feel the most comfortable in. It’s a philosophical difference. What we are going to do in this province is provide facilities, a variety of facilities, where our seniors can live in dignity where they want to live, not where the opposition wants them to be.
Ms Pastoor: Absolutely, totally wrong. You’re not getting it.
When long-term care was deregulated – housing and care are two different things. I’m talking about care. What is the minister’s response to the residents of the current long-term care facility who were assessed as needing care beyond the level that can be delivered by a designated assisted living facility that won’t even be completed by the time the long-term care facility closes?
Mr. Liepert: Mr. Speaker, this member can get all worked up into a sweat about it, but there are other long-term care facilities in
Lethbridge, so the health region has said that they will ensure that these particular patients are looked after. There are many facilities in southern Alberta that can accommodate the needs of these citizens.
Alberta Hansard, October 22, page #1473
What are the implications of this policy?
1. LTC facilities have RNs, LPNs, a Director of Care, social workers, dieticians, physical/occupational therapists, rec therapists, and Personal Care Aides (PCAs) - DALs have PCAs and may have an LPN.
2. In LTC residents meds, incontinence products etc are covered. In DAL the resident or their family pay for them.
The rationale offered for the policy is that not all seniors need a nursing home level of care so the building of DAL facilities offers a medium step between a lodge and LTC. Fine. But once Extendicare closes its LTC the only nursing home left in the city will be Edith Cavell. I've spent a lot of time in nursing homes and I don't believe that there is any way that one 80 bed facility can handle the nursing care needs of seniors in our community. This isn't about creating more options. This is about slashing the cost of caring for seniors with significant nursing needs and transferring those costs onto the families. This is about warehousing seniors. I find it an appalling policy.
The more immediate issue is the decision to close Extendicare in July and farm 120 residents out to the existing DALs in the region until a new DAL facility is built. So people will not only lose their home they will be separated from the other residents and from the staff who are like their family. They may find themselves placed in Taber or the Pass and their families will not be able to visit as often. It may mean they will see much less of their husbands or wives. It is a horrible decision with grave implications. My letter to the editor appeared in the paper this morning. You can read it here.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Then a hearing was held concerning the rezoning necessary to move the Native Women's Transition Home into the old Netherlands Reformed Church. It was tough to sit and listen to people raising their concerns about the home moving into their neighbourhood and then have one of the women from the Transition board cry asking the neighbours to please just accept them.
But today was a good day. The City Council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning so the Transition Home now has a new permanent site!
Now we have to do what we can to convince the powers that be to postpone the closing of Extendicare until the new facility is built.
Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...
You Are a Doris!
You are a Doris -- "I must help others."
Dorises are warm, concerned, nurturing, and sensitive to other people's needs.
How to Get Along with Me
- * Tell me that you appreciate me. Be specific.
- * Share fun times with me.
- * Take an interest in my problems, though I will probably try to focus on yours.
- * Let me know that I am important and special to you.
- * Be gentle if you decide to criticize me.
In Intimate Relationships
- * Reassure me that I am interesting to you.
- * Reassure me often that you love me.
- * Tell me I'm attractive and that you're glad to be seen with me.
What I Like About Being a Doris
- * being able to relate easily to people and to make friends
- * knowing what people need and being able to make their lives better
- * being generous, caring, and warm
- * being sensitive to and perceptive about others' feelings
- * being enthusiastic and fun-loving, and having a good sense of humor
What's Hard About Being a Doris
- * not being able to say no
- * having low self-esteem
- * feeling drained from overdoing for others
- * not doing things I really like to do for myself for fear of being selfish
- * criticizing myself for not feeling as loving as I think I should
- * being upset that others don't tune in to me as much as I tume in to them
- * working so hard to be tactful and considerate that I suppress my real feelings
Dorises as Children Often
- * are very sensitive to disapproval and criticism
- * try hard to please their parents by being helpful and understanding
- * are outwardly compliant
- * are popular or try to be popular with other children
- * act coy, precocious, or dramatic in order to get attention
- * are clowns and jokers (the more extroverted Dorises), or quiet and shy (the more introverted Dorises)
Dorises as Parents
- * are good listeners, love their children unconditionally, and are warm and encouraging (or suffer guilt if they aren't)
- * are often playful with their children
- * wonder: "Am I doing it right?" "Am I giving enough?" "Have I caused irreparable damage?"
- * can become fiercely protective
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The heart of the concert for me were two operatic pieces. The first was from Massanet's opera Le Cid. It is this beautiful prayer - the lines that especially moved me were "O sovereign, O judge, O father, always hidden, ever present, I loved you in times of good fortune and I bless you in times of sadness!" The piece that did me in though was the next aria from Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano. It is an indictment of French nobility who turn their backs on the plight of the poor and the final line is, "love is a gift divine, do not despise it, the moving spirit of the universe is love!" Dad was very present to me while Dr. Heppner sang that piece. I wish it had gone on a lot longer.
Today I was very proud to be associated with the university.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Daily Reading for October 16 • Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishops, 1555, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1556
But one word is left, which we must needs consider; Noster, ‘our.’ He saith not ‘my,’ but ‘our.’ Wherefore saith he ‘our’? This word ‘our’ teacheth us to consider that the Father of heaven is a common Father; as well my neighbour’s Father as mine; as well the poor man’s Father as the rich: so that he is not a peculiar Father, but a Father to the whole church and congregation, to all the faithful. Be they never so poor, so vile, so foul and despised, yet he is their Father as well as mine: and therefore I should not despise them, but consider that God is their Father as well as mine. Here may we perceive what communion is between us; so that when I pray, I pray not for myself alone, but for all the rest: again, when they pray, they pray not for themselves only, but for me: for Christ hath so framed this prayer, that I must needs include my neighbour in it. Therefore all those which pray this prayer, they pray as well for me as for themselves; which is a great comfort to every faithful heart, when he considereth that all the church prayeth for him. For amongst such a great number there be some which be good, and whose prayer God will hear. . . . So that it is a great comfort unto us to know that all good and faithful persons pray for us.
From Hugh Latimer’s “First Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer,” in The Works of Hugh Latimer, ed. G. E. Corrie (Parker Society, 1844).
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Fr. Bert Foliot was the pastor of St. Ignatius RC Church in Winnipeg when I was a young Christian. I haven't seen him for years but a week doesn't go by that I don't think about him and wonder what he would do in some situation. He is the model for me of what a priest is about. He is prayerful, dedicated and compassionate. I still remember sermons he preached almost 30 years ago and I am still challenged by his passion for marginalized people.
The folks at Church of the Ascension in Coaldale are a wonderful community of prayer and they have challenged me to live more simply. They have taught me so much about being open and to put people before everything else. This is cheating a bit since they are a group but at the heart of this community is an individual who has had a huge impact on me. The Rev'd Marjorie Kennon was one of the first women ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada and was the first woman priest in this diocese. She has given her whole life to service to God and to God's people. She is prayerful, thoughtful, faithful, hardworking and kind. I have learned a great deal from her and value her friendship and example very much.
The Venerable Sidney Black was the curate at St. Augustine's when I first moved to Lethbridge and now he is the rector of St. Cyprian's in Brockett and the archdeacon for aboriginal ministry in our deanery. Sidney is a powerful example to me of faithfulness and perseverance in the face of discouragement and difficulties. He also makes me laugh and has encouraged me often.
Peter Erb was my MA advisor at Wilfrid Laurier University. Peter is an incredible scholar publishing innumerable articles and books, giving lectures, teaching students who think the world of him. Peter was raised Amish and then his church joined a Mennonite body so for most of the time I've known him Peter was a Mennonite. But six years ago he was received into the RC church. He has taught me much about the value of study to the Christian life over the years, has introduced me to so much of the Christian tradition and through his example has taught me not to take myself too seriously.
These are all people I've known personally and I feel a little overwhelmed trying to think of who I would single out among the writers who've influenced me. Graham Greene was so important to me as a young Christian and I still adore Monsignor Quixote and reread it often. Chaim Potok's novels have had a huge impact on me. Eugene Peterson's books have taught me a lot about ministry and thinking of Peterson I could have also included Pastor John Dozois in my list of influences on me. John was my mentor for several years and gave me a new love for St. Paul and introduced me to Peterson's books. James Alison's books have helped me deal with my anger at times when I've been treated unjustly and so have had a significant impact on me. One of my great heroes is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who models faithfulness, courage, compassion and great humour. And then there is Henri Nouwen who taught me a great deal about vulnerability and grace through his books. And then there are the martyrs Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero who have encouraged me to have courage in the face of violence.
I owe so much to these people and to so many more that I could go on for pages. Instead I think I will return to the person who first taught me that Jesus loved me, who first taught me that I could never get so lost that he wouldn't find me, who first taught me to love Scripture, my grandmother Molly Phillips, of blessed memory.
Now I tag Aaron, Kevin, Lindsey, Kathryn, and Paul
Years ago my teacher Peter Erb opened up the world of Iris Murdoch, and through Murdoch Simone Weil, to me particularly their notion of the need to pay attention. Later I would read Danny Gregory's book Everyday Matters about how his return to drawing, particularly the drawing of his surroundings, helped him to find meaning and purpose and joy after an accident left his wife in a wheelchair.
It is hard work, paying attention. And it takes time. And it means learning to turn away from distractions. And it requires patience. In Thomas' teaching on prudence he talks about the need for docilitas, docility. Docility is a bad word in our culture but Thomas said that if you were going to make right judgements you couldn't prejudge a situation, you needed to allow the situation to inform you first. And that required being docile.
I taught for a year at a Catholic college where students were required to take a course in ethics and we read Josef Pieper's wonderful book, The Four Cardinal Virtues. One of the most delightful moments of the year for me came when I read a student's reflection paper on his experience volunteering in an after school programme for predominately African American children. He wrote that he had never thought of himself as prejudiced but that he really had never spent any time with people who were black. In spending time with these children he had come to realize that prejudice can also mean prejudging people even if those judgements aren't negative. He said that he had learned he needed to practice docilitas so that he might come to understand people different from himself.
This thanksgiving I give thanks for Kyle Childress, Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch, Peter Erb, Norman Wirzba and Rick for teaching me to practice a little more docilitas as I pay attention that I might understand and love my community truly.
More on that another time. Tonight, as I go to bed, I am reflecting on where Norman began his talk: "Gratitude is the heart of what it is to be a good person."
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Archbishop Tutu is one of my heroes in the faith. I was fortunate to hear him preach the week he was given an honourary doctorate by Oxford University in 1990. He was an incredible preacher, captivating the packed church.
There is a wonderful story about him on Telling Secrets. Enjoy!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Nice idea but as I was driving home I realized that in our church some of us are eating steak while others are eating worse than hamburger. Some of our parishes have beautiful buildings, resident clergy, and resources for music and children's programmes. Many of our rural parishes and especially our aboriginal parishes struggle without regular clergy, have old buildings they can't afford to maintain, and have few resources.
Worldly economic theory says that these parishes should close, that their members are few, that they aren't self-supporting or anything like self-supporting, and that the resources of the church would be better spent on building or expanding churches in the booming suburbs of our cities or their satellite communities. But what of the people in these communities?
I have spoken to people working in our rural communities, people aware of the rural crisis, the closing of post offices, schools and community centres. They speak of the pain in many rural communities as people lose family farms, as they see their children leave the community never to return except for a visit. I was preaching in one small church where there are about 20 people on a Sunday morning but where the church is used almost every day by community groups who couldn't afford to meet anywhere else. I spoke with one young woman after the service about the future of this little church. Where will these people go if the church closes their doors she asked. Good question.
And what about our reserves. There are four reserves in our diocese, each with a long history of Anglican presence, each still with functioning Anglican parishes. Yet we have one full time priest to serve these four communities. And these are hurting communities. They need help, they need support, they need the church.
This isn't just an Anglican problem. As a chaplain for four denominations I get to visit many of the churches in South Alberta and I know it is a problem for other denominations as well. So what are we going to do? Are we going to continue to eat steak while our brothers and sisters struggle to put something, anything on the table?
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I went to a funeral recently expecting to find it difficult but it wasn’t. It was sad. I liked the man who had died. It was obvious his family really loved him. Afterward I realized that I had been bracing myself for extreme emotion but it hadn’t come. I was glad I went.
The first week of classes I went to the university to pick up my mail and start getting ready for a new school year and I was so overwhelmed by an awareness of Dad and of grief that I couldn’t wait to get off campus. It was partly the pile of sympathy cards in my mail which I hadn’t checked all August. But mostly it was seeing all the students walking around. I hadn’t realized how much my sense of Dad is tied up with the university, any university.
My relationship with Dad has been shaped from the very beginning by the university. He and Mom were students at the University of Saskatchewan when I was born. I was raised on stories of their student days, the poverty, their involvement in the Folk music revival, the many moves. We lived in Saskatoon, London (the real one in England), Vancouver, Victoria, and then Vancouver again before finally settling in Winnipeg when Dad got his first permanent teaching position at the University of Manitoba.
The Economics Department was a wonderful place to be in the early ‘70s. My sister and I seemed to be the only kids our age in the department but all the adults seemed to take us under their wings. And we saw them a lot. Those early days were filled with toboggan parties, and skiing parties, first down hill and later cross-country, and corn roasts and Grey Cup parties. Always it seemed these events were followed by chili and onion soup mix dip with crinkle chips and Dad’s home made beer. Dad also played on the departmental hockey team and then curled in the Saturday morning faculty curling league. We seemed to socialize a lot with Dad’s department and when I asked him about it recently he said my memory was correct. He said that Clarence Barber, who was then chair and who had hired him, had brought together a really interesting department of people from diverse backgrounds and approaches. He really enjoyed being a part of that department and although there were opportunities for him to move to other places over the years I never had a sense that he seriously thought of leaving.
As I grew older I became more interested in the academic side of Dad’s work. Dad thought of academics as a form of craft and believed in the old guild system when apprentices worked alongside masters to learn their craft. So he apprenticed me. In those days before computers he would sometimes have me do calculations for him of columns of figures or mark the true or false and multiple choice portions of his exams. Later he began to teach me how he graded essay questions and have me read answers and tell him what I thought they should get and why. He began to explain to me how he did research and gradually gave me little projects for him. I would take his library card and go over to Dafoe Library and find articles or Statistics Canada tables for him. I loved to go to his office at University College on Fridays because the college had a lunch in the Senior Common room and then every one would sit and talk about their work and ideas and things they were reading. Even though I didn’t understand much of what they were talking about I loved the atmosphere and longed to be a part of it when I was older.
By the time I was in high school we lived on an acreage outside of Winnipeg so sometimes I would drive into the university with Dad in his ugly turquoise Mazda diesel truck. We’d talk about his work and my classes and sometimes he’d lend me books to read about things I was interested in. It must have been really annoying to teach me history in High School, particularly anything that related to a left-wing topic. I was the one who caught the errors in our grade 11 textbook’s treatment of the Winnipeg General Strike and I had a lot to say about Franco when we covered the Spanish Civil War too.
In those days Mom and Dad had a tight circle of friends who sang folk music together. Dad taught labour history and John taught war history so once a term they would do a history of the labour movement in song and war songs for their respective classes. It was my responsibility to help carry their instruments and remember the words when they forgot. When I sing to my classes or use music to bring religious history alive I’m conscious of carrying on a family tradition.
When I was an undergraduate his publisher told him that he needed a woman to co-author a book he proposed to them on women in the labour force so he asked me to write it with him. I was finishing my degree in Religious Studies with a minor in History and had done some work in labour history. Dad proposed that I write the historical sections and he would write the economics sections and I would do a lot of the research for his sections since they were about 75% of the book. Theoretically it meant we were dividing the work in half but in reality he was mentoring me through the whole process. It was an incredibly generous opportunity to give a young student. From the early research to proofing the galleys he pretty patiently guided me through the writing of the book and it was an incredible experience. Then when it was published we flew to Toronto and did a day of media interviews. At the beginning of the day I was so terrified I could barely talk but he knew when to step in and bail me out when an interviewer put me on the spot. By the end of the day I was an old hand at it and we had fun switching who answered which questions. We did two more editions and worked on another couple of projects together.
Recently we had worked with another friend to try to get a project going on employment issues in the church. The project didn’t get off the ground but it was fun to talk about it with Dad and plan how we might approach it. And I enjoyed being able to initiate projects with him now. He had treated me as a partner in the writing of the book and it felt good to have grown into that role.
In recent years we’ve talked about our projects when we’d get together. We managed to drive everyone away from campfire at a family reunion by getting into an animated discussion of church state relations. And I’d send him postings from the blogs I read and he reciprocate by sending me discussions from his Progressive Economist listserve. It is hard to get my head around not being able to do that any more. I still read something or hear something on the radio and think, I have to tell Dad about that.
I learned a lot about university life from my father. He worked hard and he worked long hours. The two of us were the family night owls and I would often come down at night to find him reading at the kitchen table. He also took his briefcase with him on holidays and while we read mysteries or played cards he’d be reading a book he was reviewing or using in a class that fall. Yet when I said how much I loved Paper Chase with its depictions of students pulling all nighters he told me that that was unhealthy. He always managed to combine his academic work with a wide variety of hobbies and community involvements.
He also told me once that there were two kinds of scholarly writers. There were the ones who wrote one book, often some seminal study, but only the one book because it had to be perfect. He admired a number of scholars who were these kinds of perfectionists but he also lamented that their ideas didn’t have the broad impact they should have because they weren’t accessible enough. The other kind of writer was the kind of writer he was. They published often knowing that there were more things to consider, other things to read, because what they published was part of a conversation. Those other things would be integrated into the next article or the next book. Dad saw the intellectual life as a communal life, and he was very much a part of that community.
That community also included students. He was generous with his time, and kind to his students. He wasn’t impressed with students who cheated but he was gracious to students who made mistakes or ran into troubles. And he never spoke badly of poor students although he was impatient with lazy students. He was tolerant of many of his colleagues’ foibles but he was completely intolerant of those who abused their authority over students.
His sense of community included secretaries and staff. He told me how frustrated he would get with some of his colleagues who would talk about solidarity with the working class and then treat the secretaries badly. His sense of community reached wide and included many people of different disciplines and politics. When he retired I wrote some words of tribute for him and asked a mutual friend to read them for me. When I told the chair of his department who I had asked to read it, he was surprised. He said it wouldn’t have occurred to him to invite this particular fellow. He and Dad were in different academic areas, were members of different colleges and had rather different politics. Yet I knew how much Dad liked him and how he would think to include him even though the department chair didn’t.
After Dad died I was checking his email for Mom and letting his colleagues and students know that he had died. I was struck by how many of them spoke of his graciousness and generosity. Of all the things I learned about the academic life from my Dad I think the thing that I will always value most is that it is a life lived in community, a diverse community, held together not only by a shared concern for ideas but a shared concern for the welfare of others.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday evening Dad's friends in Winnipeg held a service for him. It was at the Ukranian Labour Temple in the north end and the Opera Chorus and the Labour Choir, both of which he sang in for years, sang. A number of his friends spoke. Our dear friend, Peter Usher, had this to say about Dad:
Paul Phillips’ memorial – 26 September 2008
Our friendship took root in a few years in Vancouver in the mid-60s. We met at the Folk Song Circle, and we soon found we shared a love of singing, particularly in the British tradition; the songs of Ewan McColl and Bert Lloyd (notably sea shanties which Paul could bellow out with the best), along with Phil and Hilda Thomas’ discovery and setting to music the lyrics of BC working people. We had lots of music parties, which were conversation through singing, often at Paul and Donna’s flat in Kitsilano where a lot of us lived. These parties were fueled by enthusiastic music, lively talk, Paul’s home-made beer, all under the gaze, from a poster, of a female Swedish athlete completing a long jump with the message “look what socialism did for Sweden.” It didn’t take long for us to find we also shared a passion and commitment to democratic socialism and political action, inspired by such figures as Tommy Douglas and the great Welsh socialist, Nye Bevan, much influenced by the fact that both of us had spent time in Britain.
In those few years together in BC we forged a friendship that, despite living thousands of miles apart ever afterwards, deepened and strengthened. Such was the bond among the four of us that, for a time, we agreed that should through sudden misfortune our own children be orphaned, the other couple would become their guardians. Shortly after I moved east, Paul sent me a copy of No Power Greater, which he inscribed “Remembering the many hours of song, talk, and intellectual discourse”. That book, still remembered and appreciated by many, was an inspiration to me of how an academic could contribute to the struggle. Our conversations and common concerns came to encompass the political economy of the hinterland, property and markets, free trade, the direction of the NDP, and in its early days, the latest issue of Canadian Dimension.
Fortunately for me, my work often took me to Vancouver and later to Winnipeg, so that we continued those many hours of song, talk, and intellectual discourse -- at the house on Oak Street, at the A frame at Oakbank, and at the house on Machray. In the years my son was growing up in Winnipeg, I always had a place to stay when I came here, and I am eternally grateful to Paul and Donna for putting me up so frequently in those days – good food (often Donna’s Chinese food), good drink, good song, good talk, good company. Those evenings invariably ended with a session of darts in the basement – our talents being equally mediocre, we were evenly matched.
And the music parties continued, often well-attended. One particular occasion at someone’s house here in Winnipeg in the mid-70s stands out in my mind. It followed, as I recall, the founding meeting of the Public Petroleum Action Committee of Canada (perhaps some of you were there). The singing went on for hours, fuelled again by much beer. It sounded great at the time and people seemed to like it, but it’s probably just as well it was never taped for posterity.
What I came to appreciate about Paul over the years was that he was a man of keen working class sensibilities with a drive for knowledge, learning, and its practical application to human well-being. It is sometimes said of economists that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. This was most certainly not true of Paul. His values and his intellectual work were driven by his passion for social justice and well-being. He was an idealist but not an ideologue. He was not one to select the facts to fit the theory, but was always prepared to confront uncomfortable truths squarely and in a practical way.
Here was a man small of stature but also of extraordinary vigour. His musical tastes were broad – he sang in the opera, the Welsh choir, and the labour choir. He was physically active – polo, golf, sailing – but these were not the solo pursuits of the weekend warrior, they were just another way of doing things with other people. Paul always seemed to know how to balance work with so much else – music, play, travel, and community events such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival, as well as his family. As a secular socialist he was at first bemused by his daughter Erin’s religious conviction, yet I think he came to appreciate that social science and political action do not invariably provide all the answers and explanations that we seek in life.
He understood the working man’s pride in craft, which he carried into his own life as an artisan in wood and soil, evident especially in the environment that he and Donna created at their place in Vernon after his retirement. He honoured the past and had an eye for the future. He was the first of my friends to get a computer – an Osborne if any of you remember this machine, with a tiny screen that you had to scroll not only up and down but side to side to view the page. I learned a lot about living from Paul, not by his instruction, but by his example.
Unfortunately we saw little of each other after he and Donna moved to Vernon, although we always exchanged musical gifts. Yet as I contemplated the events and issues unfolding over the last decade I often asked myself, what would Paul have to say about that? We might not always have agreed, but his thoughts would certainly have enlightened me. So when Donna told me he was ill, I resolved to visit. Sadly, by the time I arrived, the planned music party was not to be. Yet even in his last days he was keen for us to catch up with each other again, and we talked and sang. Engaged to the end, he came to the breakfast table and asked Nicky about the news, and albeit with difficulty on his part, we talked about both his recent column for the Vernon newspaper, my current work, and questions of sustainability, living standards and social well-being.
There is no such thing as a good death, but the manner of our dying can signify a good and virtuous life. In his last days, Paul was surrounded by family and friends, their love and support of him obvious. His daughters applied their special capabilities to care for him in body and spirit, and he accepted that with dignity and grace. They are a tribute to him and Donna. And so in the end Paul also taught me about dying.
One of the joys of very close friendships is that no matter how long you are apart, the conversation is so easily and effortlessly resumed upon meeting again. The pain of a close one dying is that the conversation suddenly and permanently ends. But the memories do not. I will remember Paul’s personality and friendship always, and will remain always grateful for both.
Peter J. Usher
Thursday, September 18, 2008
It is hard losing heros.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The latest issue of Christian Century just arrived and there is an article on AIDS orphans in Zambia. These statistics broke my heart:
These Grandmothers groups have formed in communities across the country - maybe there is a scrabble tournament in your community you can support.
THE AIDS epidemic in Zambia is expected to leave 1 million orphans in its wake--almost 10 percent of the country's population. If one adds to this figure the number of children who have lost one parent to AIDS, the total number of grieving children in the country is staggering.
Like most nations in southern Africa, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) is mired in poverty. The average family survives--barely--on $300 per year. Most Zambians are undernourished. The HIV infection rate is still high--16 percent, down from a high of 26 percent thanks to massive education efforts undertaken by the government and an array of nongovernmental organizations, including churches.
Zambia's orphans must rely on the good will of their extended family or the charity of well-meaning people in their villages. Forty-six percent of Zambian families are caring for orphans. That means that people who are already barely surviving must add another mouth to feed. It's a heroic act for families to take in these children. Families often have to decide between feeding the orphans and paying the fees for their schooling. As hard as life is for these orphans, they are better off than the many who live in the streets and steal food to survive.From Shattered hearts. By: Matteson, Richard E., Christian Century, 9/9/2008, Vol. 125, Issue 18
Saturday, September 13, 2008
My parents, Donna Speers and Paul Phillips, were married fifty years ago today. I'm sad my Dad didn't live to celebrate today but I'm grateful for all the opportunities he had to give thanks over the 49+ years he did have with Mom.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
An example of this is comments left on the blog What I Saw in America. John writes:
I have real problems with some of the reasons that McCain nominated Palin (her inexperience, the loose ends that she has in Alaska, her lifelong membership in the NRA), but when those who identified themselves as liberal commentators mocked her family size, her pro-life stance, her faith, and her small-town origins, it touched a nerve. So much so that I will probably be voting for John McCain in the fall, despite the fact that I share most of Patrick's concerns about the McCain/Palin ticket.
He is echoing comments by Eric who raises concerns that Palin represents small-town values he holds and yet Republican economic policies undermine those very small-town economies:
The specific policies mentioned here (restrictive zoning, gas taxes, public transportation) are all Democratic territory, are they not? I work for local government and, at least at that level, they are. When we try to restrict land use to encourage infill development and prevent suburban sprawl, it's the republican land rights absolutists that are against us. When we try to move the county farmers' market to local, sustainable produce, our supporters are democrats. When we try to force the local Wal-Mart to stay in its existing building, rather than move two miles further out and leave another deserted strip mall behind, the local Chamber of Commerce republicans wear us out. When we complete a public transportation center to get people to work, the disgruntled residents are republican tax hawks. And so on, on things from afterschool mentoring to sidewalks to green space in low-income neighborhoods. The point is that whenever we take action to create a uniquely local, self-sustaining, pedestrian accessible community, it's Palin's party that obstructs us. And I didn't hear anything in her speech to make me think she is different.
Here are good reasons for criticizing McCain, Palin and the Republican party. So why not stop there instead of going on to mock her for being part of a culture that hunts and cheers kids on at soccer games. My sister is a soccer mom. Some of my best friends are soccer moms, or hockey dads, or judo parents, or dance moms. In other words, my friends and members of my family love and value their children and make an effort to support them in activities that encourage them to be physically and emotionally healthy. And what about hunting. Unless the people making the snide comments are vegetarians they have no business attacking people who hunt. Some of my family and many of my friends hunt and fish. And they eat what they shoot or catch. In my neck of the woods having a freezer full of moose and venison is common and I know that those animals usually died cleaner better deaths than a lot of the cattle whose carcasses fill our freezers.
Years ago I was at a chaplains conference where a number of the chaplains made snide comments about 'conservatives' much like those being made about Palin. I finally got fed up with cracks about 'red neck' culture and started talking about what it was like working at a college where there was a gun locker in residence so that students could keep their rifles safely and still have access to them if they wanted to go out hunting after class. (I don't know if we still have the locker but it makes sense in a college where one of the big programmes is fish and wildlife). I got irritated at the assumption that right thinking on a host of social and theological issues also involved rejecting anything that smacked of 'traditional' values.
It is frustrating that this also plays into the Republican hands. McCain and his team can pursue policies which undermine small towns, families, and the hunting and fishing grounds of Alaska all they want if they can continue to represent themselves as the icon of traditional values. And the more liberals attack those values instead of attacking those economic and social policies the more successful they will be.
Friday, September 5, 2008
The Republican VP candidate seems to have a similar attitude towards those who work as community organizers instead of a 'real' job like being governor. Tim at Tale Spin has a great post about the response of a number of community organizers to her comments. Please read it here.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
And our theology reading group starts up again next Tuesday evening. This term we are reading Jurgen Moltmann's The Way of Jesus Christ. Everyone is welcome so let me know if you want details of time and location.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
Denny and I are home and doing a mountain of laundry after a week in south Saskatchewan sleeping, eating and reading. Well, Denny mended while I read.
Accomplishments of the week:
6 mysteries read
3 movies watched
90 hours slept
And Denny's big accomplishment - he's happy, healthy and bouncy!
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Denny has made it through another night and it looks like he is going to be okay. On Wednesday he was enthusiastically greeting someone at the door and he got stepped on. I rushed him to the vet and they pumped him full of steroids and lasix and kept him on oxygen. He made it through that night - I only realized from their comments yesterday that they hadn't expected he would. He came home with me yesterday at dinner and while he's still really weak and fragile he has eaten a little and peed and pooped. His lungs are big bruises apparently and it is important to keep him really quiet to let him heal. It isn't hard right now - all he wants to do is sleep.
I'm a basket case. I'm buying bubble wrap today. But I am also so grateful for the friends who came and sat vigil with me and who prayed for him and who have helped me feed and care for him. I am also more grateful than I can express to my vets. Northside Veterinary Clinic is amazing. They were so good to him and kind to me. And they went in three times in the night to check on him. They have been the most incredible vets through all of Robbie's troubles and now little Denny's misadventure. I am so very grateful.
Friday, August 15, 2008
It was a beautiful day the day I was confirmed. Blue clear sky, no wind, hot. A typical Winnipeg summer day. The confirmation took place at the regular 11:00 AM Mass if I remember correctly and afterwards there was a little party in the garden between the church and the rectory. My most vivid memory of the day is the smell of the chrism, light, sweet, fragrant, on my forehead.
As I said the office this morning I remembered the sweetness of that day and gave thanks....
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Monday, August 11, 2008
Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love and it would be wrong to try to find a a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first but at the same time it is a great consolation for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it but on the contrary keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other even at the cost of pain.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I am here today, on behalf of myself and my family, to share with you what it was like to have Paul for a close friend. We met Paul and Donna and their daughters Erin and Nicki, completely by accident (blind luck or fate?). In the spring of 1970, after travelling and working overseas for four years, our family moved into our first house in Winnipeg. We thought we were settling down to a comfortable bourgeois existence in a respectable neighbourhood. Much to our surprise, when we looked out into the neighbouring backyard, we saw the 26 foot hull of a wooden sailboat -- under construction. We soon learned that this was a little project that Paul, then a young economics professor at U. of M., had brought from Vancouver, just in case there were decent sailing waters about! Over the next few years, our family got quite involved in helping prepare the "Nis'ku" for her launch – Jeannette remembers following Paul around like a little puppy dog, picking up nails and fetching tools. Mike joined Paul and another friend on Nis'ku's maiden voyage down the Red River and into the waters of Lake Winnipeg. In subsequent years, all of us, including Eric and Colin, enjoyed many adventures sailing with Paul.
Well, we thought living next to a shipyard was a pretty unique experience, but the surprises didn't end there – there were no fences between our yards and since our back porches were about ten feet apart, we began to have many opportunities to get to know this exceptional family better. We discovered that Paul had many other interests and passions, including brewing his own beer, which he was eager to introduce to Mike, and that he was a handyman extraordinaire, who despite having a lifelong black cloud over his head regarding plumbing emergencies, could pretty well fix anything. Paul exuded enthusiasm and confidence, and even more importantly, made other people feel like they could develop some practical skills too! This had a profound influence on our children, who remember him as someone who didn't just talk about the things he would like to do, but just went ahead and did them!
Over the course of that first summer we shared many meals, friends and parties, always filled with music. Their household was a magnet for people who loved folk music, and shared a passion for political discussion. Paul played several instruments, but my most vivid memory is of his breakneck banjo introduction to Darlin' Corey, an Appalachian song about a backwoods moonshine maker! It just made you want to get up and dance, or start the revolution – do something radical, anyhow!
Paul's interest in folk music drew us into a circle of people who founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and later the West End Cultural Centre. He was a dedicated volunteer and board member of both those organizations. Later, when I was teaching Canadian history, he used to come and sing folksongs for my classes to illustrate some of the key events and issues in Canadian labour history. When the Manitoba Opera Association called for volunteers to form the chorus, Paul got involved in what became a lifelong passion – opera. He loved singing, and was passionate about his likes and dislikes – we used to have marvellous set-tos about the relative merits of English vs Welsh choral music, which Puccini opera was his greatest work, who was the greatest tenor, etc.
What really baffled us was how Paul managed to combine so many interests along with a full-time teaching and research career. Perhaps the answer lies in this little anecdote that Mike remembers from the early seventies. We occasionally used to go next door to watch episodes of the "Onedin Line," a wonderful British television series about a west country sea captain who founded a shipping line early in the 19th century. During commercials Paul used to jot down notes for a textbook on Canadian economics he was writing for his classes. He never wasted any time, and when he turned his attention to a task, his concentration was phenomenal. This ability to put his heart and soul into everything he undertook was inspiring. You have only to look at the garden and landscaping, including the fencing and the patio, that Paul and Donna designed and built for their house in Vernon, to appreciate his energy and creative abilities, which did not lessen in retirement.
You can imagine our joy when we found out that Paul and Donna had decided to retire to Vernon. Over the last five years, we've shared many meals, a lot of cross-country skiing, golfing, and sailing, and much music together. And always wonderful conversation – animated discussions about social justice, religion, politics, and the common good. When you were talking with Paul, it was never a polite, superficial exchange – inevitably, you found yourself embroiled in a vigorous, hard-hitting, and passionate debate. As a mutual friend put it, Paul defied stereotypes – a university professor who was not elitist, but a down to earth practical man; a folk musician who loved opera and singing in choirs. He was full of inconsistencies which were delightful and maddening. He didn't hide behind the trappings or conventions of whatever role he took on. He was unpretentious, unassuming, approachable, engaged and present. But what we remember above all is his great capacity for friendship – through Paul we experienced a vision of how life could be lived fully and with commitment; not at the expense of others, but in the hope of making a better world here and now, in this place, and with a deep conviction that everyone could and should take part in this great project.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Paul graduated from the London School of Economics in 1967 with a PhD in Labour Economics and Industrial Relations. He joined the Department of Economics, University of Manitoba, on July 1, 1969 having spent two years as the Research Director, BC Federation of Labour. He retired from the Department on January 1, 2004 and was appointed Professor Emeritus in 2005.
Paul was a prolific writer with a publications record extending over thirty years. His interests were broad, spanning labour economics, regional economics, political economy, Canadian economic history and worker self-management, a rare intellectual feat but one that he managed with ease.
His first book, No Power Greater: A Century of Labour in British Columbia, combined economic history with labour economics and remains the authoritative work in the field. This was followed by his Regional Disparities. His Women and Work(with daughter Erin Phillips) is required reading for anyone interested in the gender dimensions of the Canadian labour market and is now in its third edition. In addition, he published three other books and numerous articles in the area of both theory and policy of collective bargaining and industrial relations.
Paul was responsible for editing and publishing the seminal work of H.C. Pentland, Labour and Capital in Canada: 1640-1860. Once regarded as the most heavily cited, unpublished PhD thesis in Canada, this work has long occupied a central place in Canadian economic and labour history. Paul Phillips made it readily available for all and, in the process, contributed his own important analysis of Pentland's work. He played a similar role in rescuing, highlighting and critiquing the contribution of Vernon Fowke on the national policy and Canadian agricultural and regional policy.
Many of Paul’s publications have an economic history focus. He wrote on mining in BC, agricultural development in the prairies, prairie urbanization, the National Policy and the evolution of Canada away from a staple driven economy. Much of this work addressed important theoretical issues within an historical context. Political economy theories of development and underdevelopment, from hinterland/metropolis views to unequal exchange and the Staple Theory, from Innis to Marx, from Emmanuel to Frank, inform his writings but are dealt with critically and creatively. Theory has a strong presence in his work and his publications reveal a familiarity with a remarkably broad array of theories. He co-authored two texts on orthodox economic theory, with Jim Seldon, while publishing almost all his other works from what can be best described as a 'political economy' perspective.
More recently, Paul developed an interest in transitional economies and, encouraged by his friend and collaborator, Bogmil Ferfila of theUniversity of Ljubljana, he became a recognized expert on the economy of Slovenia.
Professor Phillips was a popular teacher who set high academic standards. He attracted students by his commitment to them and by his passion for his field. He wrote several books specifically to meet the needs of his students and was regarded by students and colleagues alike as a serious, demanding and devoted teacher. He played an important role in developing the Labour Studies Program and was a key teacher in that program. He was also very active in the formation of the Global Political Economy program. For many years he was the main advocate for and teacher of Canadian Economic History in our department. He was held in very high regard by students and colleagues alike and could always be relied on to teach whatever the department required and to do so effectively, to the satisfaction of his students. He supervised several graduate student theses, most recently in the areas of women and the unemployment insurance system, a history of First Nations' economic development in Manitoba and fair trade.
Professor Phillips also had an outstanding service record. Within the university, he was an active member of UMFA and served as Chief Bargainer during very difficult negotiations in the 1995 strike. Paul belonged to the group of left-academics who, in 1978, brought the Society for Socialist Studies National Office to the University of Manitoba, where it was given accommodation at University College. As Treasury and, later, Member at Large, of the National Executive, he served the cause of progressive research and teaching. With Cy Gonick, Paul organized the 1994 conference, on ‘The Rise and Demise of An Industrial Relations System: 50 Years of PC1003’, from which came a signed collection of co-edited papers published by the Society. Outside the university, his service to the community was remarkable. He was Chairman of the Milk Prices Review Commission and the Fluid Milk Commission, Chairman of the Milk Control Board and member of the Dairy Board. He chaired several Industrial Adjustment Committees, served as a member of the board of the Community Unemployed Help Centre and of the Manitoba Economic Development Advisory Board. He was active on the board of the Manitoba Opera Association and sang in the opera for many years. He was also a board member of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and an avid and accomplished musician. Paul also sailed and played polo. After ‘retirement’ to Vernon BC, he not only remained extremely active academically, but also sang in two choirs and became involved in theatre.
As his family stressed in their remembrance of him, ‘much of his academic work and community life was motivated by a deep and passionate commitment to social justice and a profound commitment to speaking for those who are left out of the economic, political and social conversation.’
Paul leaves to mourn him his wife Donna, daughters, Erin and Nicole, brothers David and Rhys, their families and many close friends.
John taught with Dad for many years and was a very close friend and colleague.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
After all the sorrow in my life these past few months it is with great joy that I introduce the newest member of my family....Denny Crane. Yorkies are friendly, courageous (ie a little in your face), social, high energy. Doesn't that sound like Denny Crane?
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Paul was born November 3, 1938, in Hong Kong, the son of missionaries. The outbreak of war caused them to return to Canada, to Victoria where Paul grew up. A graduate of Mount View High School in Victoria, Paul enjoyed his 50th high school reunion in 2006. He graduated with a BSc in Chemistry and an MA in Economics at the University of Saskatchewan. He obtained his PhD from the London School of Economics in 1967.
A true renaissance man, Paul possessed an incredible variety of passions and gifts. As a scholar and teacher he wrote numerous books and articles on a significant range of topics including labour economics and labour relations, Canadian economic history and political economy, comparative economic systems and labour-based economies, and Yugoslavia and transitional economies. In recent years he has focused much of his work on environmental issues. He was also a dedicated teacher, taking great satisfaction in working with students and with his colleagues at the University of Manitoba, where he taught for 34 years and which conferred on him the honour of Professor Emeritus in 2005. He was also Adjunct Professor of American Studies at the University of Llubljana in Slovenia.
Much of his academic work and his involvement in political and community life was motivated by a deep and passionate commitment to social justice and a profound commitment to speaking for those who are left out of the economic, political and social conversation.
He had the same passion for his other interests: singing and acting, sailing, skiing, golfing, polo, gardening, cooking, beer and wine making, design and carpentry. Perhaps his greatest joy, however, came from music. A player of many instruments, Paul was active in folk music since the early 1960s, sang for 30 years with the Manitoba Opera Chorus and most recently sang with Aura Chamber Choir and the Vernon Welsh Men's Choir. So many of his friendships began with a shared love of music and it was a love he shared with and nurtured in his daughters.
Despite all of his involvement in groups and organizations, Paul was an independent thinker and unafraid to stand apart from a group. He took risks intellectually and personally and was not afraid to reassess a position. Yet in more trivial matters like taste in clothes or television shows he could be absolutely dogmatic and opinionated.
He will be remembered by friends and family for his fundamentally kind and generous nature, his great capacity for friendship and good humour, his dreadful puns, his steadfastness in any commitment, his willingness to stand up for what he believed was right, his curiosity and wide ranging intellect and his tendency to burst forth in song in just about any circumstance.
Cremation has taken place. There will be a memorial service Saturday, August 2, 2008 at the Schubert Centre, 3505 30th Avenue, Vernon, at 11:00 a.m. Please, no flowers. Donations can be made in his name to the BC Cancer Agency, Southern Interior, 399 Royal Avenue, Kelowna, V1Y 5L3 or the Vernon and District Hospice House, 3506 27th Avenue, Vernon, V1T 1S4. Arrangements have been entrusted to: Pleasant Valley Funeral Home 4303 Pleasant Valley Road Vernon, B.C. V1T 4M4 Phone: 250-542-4333
Four of my friends from Lethbridge came to the service and I can not express how much that meant to me. It gives you incredible strength to know that your 'peeps' are holding you up in their hearts when you knees are going weak and you are in danger of losing it. Yes, I know tears are okay. But I had spent two weeks writing my reflection and I wanted to be able to read the whole thing.
This is what I wrote for my father:
When it became obvious that something was really wrong Dad sat down and chose the poems and some of the music we are hearing today for his service. He has always loved Dylan Thomas – I remember being forced to listen to a Child’s Christmas in Wales when I was too young to appreciate it – but I wish now I had the opportunity to ask him why these two poems. The thing is that he didn’t seem to ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’ when he was dying. From when he was diagnosed until the doctor told him that he had only a week or two to live he was what he described as fatalistic. He explained to me that he didn’t mean this in the sense of thinking that there was no hope, but in the sense that he thought things would progress the way that they were going to progress and he couldn’t wish it away. He appreciate that people were praying for him, he appreciated the care that it was reflected in such prayers, and he left open the possibility that there may be someone hearing those prayers, but he didn’t rage against God or the unfairness of this disease. Or if he did he did it quietly where we couldn’t hear it.
So my first reaction was that this poem was inappropriate for him. But then a friend pointed out to me that it did reflect much of how he lived his life. For my father did rage against social, political and economic forces that worked to diminish the light in people’s lives. Much of what motivated him was outrage when people were not treated decently or fairly. His work, his political involvement and much of his community involvement was driven by a commitment to social justice for all, especially those who were marginalized or silenced. More recently he raged against economic and political decisions which threaten the environment and the lives of future generations.
Even his social activities, his involvement with music, playing polo, sailing, building things, working in the garden were not trivial endeavors. Although they offered relief from the anger he often felt about economic and political matters they were still matters to be pursued with intensity. Even his leisure activities were opportunities to build community, create beauty, encourage the human spirit. He did not go gentle into any good night.
His passion was not always easy to live with. There were times when rage spilled out over us and times when it felt like Dad’s commitments to these bigger causes took priority over his family. And yet we were drawn into and shaped by his passions. In our owns ways Mom and Nicki and I share Dad’s passion for justice and beauty and community. While we may have found him at times infuriating he was not a trivial or a boring man and we are immeasurably changed by our life with him.
Many years ago I first read Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen there was one part that reminded me strongly of Dad’s way of living his life. The main character Reuven is worried about that his father is working too hard when he should be looking after his health. His father responds,
“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?”…I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”
Dad’s life was filled with meaning and he was worthy of his rest. But his dying was not just an end to that full and rich life. Even his dying itself was invested with meaning.
Dad has never been one to talk much about personal feelings and for most of my life he wouldn’t talk about death. He didn’t visit friends when they were dying and he hated going to funerals. Something significant shifted in him, however, when his sister Ruth died and I think it casts light on his choice of Thomas’ poem “And Death Shall Have no More Dominion”. When his only sister was diagnosed with cancer he phoned and visited her often and the week she died he flew out to be with her. When he phoned me to tell me Auntie Ruth had died he told me all about the week. He described how people had come to say goodbye and how it all felt. He told me how he felt being in the house and being with her. So out of character was this, I remember thinking, “who are you and what have you done with my father?” For most of his life I think he feared death but in that week spent with Ruth and her partner Joy and all their friends something changed in him and death had no more dominion.
After that he visited his friends when they were dying. He told me of one visit, how they had talked about their friendship and what they meant to each other. He expressed regret when another friend died before he had a chance to say goodbye. He was a changed man, a better friend, and in his own dying he was able to be a better husband and father. For whatever fear he may have had about dying he was not paralyzed by it. His big worry was us and how hard this was for us looking after him. Yet he was able to accept our help. He was able to allow us to care for him. Death had no more dominion.
And I think I can say for all of us, for my Mom and my sister, for our family and friends, who gathered with him that week that something has shifted in us because we walked that final week with him. Afterwards I met with a friend who lost her father two years ago. We shared our stories of what it was like walking on that holy ground: she said, “your heart is breaking but it is also breaking open.” Dad allowed us to care for him in a way we had never done before and in the process our hearts were broken open to love for him and for each other. And Death has no more dominion.