Spirit Quest - Thanksgiving


Fan the embers of love!

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

Two days before the tragic and untimely death of Jack Layton,” the best prime minister we never had,” he wrote a letter to the people. There is a paragraph in that epistle that has been and will continue to be much quoted.

“Love is better than anger,
Hope is better than fear,
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic,
and we’ll change the world.”

Those may seem empty words had not Layton himself embodied them.

Words often seem cheap. Indeed, those very words: love, hope, and optimism are overused and misused.

Love is best known in its romantic sense: we make love, we sing about it, we cry over it, we sentimentalize it  and reduce it to little more than a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach. Hope is reduced to wishful thinking and optimism to looking through rose tinted glasses. Yet all these words have far deeper significance and are very  demanding in their practice.

Layton set them against  anger, fear and despair. I admit that I am no stranger to any of them.

I get angry, very angry, when I see injustice. How can one not catch fire when confronted by the disparity not only in the world but in our own country. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer and the gap in between is widening almost exponentially, while the public don’t seem to care, at least we are told by the press. Are we offended by the oscene bonuses given to the corporate mandarins even when they fail?

I get angry when I read that some aboriginal people on reserves in northern Ontario are forced to sleep in shifts because of the crowded condition of their mold invested shacks. There are few jobs and the food imported by air is “fast food” with poor nourishment and exorbitant prices. The young people are suffering from hopelessness and committing suicide.  Fetal alcohol syndrome is rampant among the younths.

Jim Bartleman, the former lieutenant governor of Ontario, has written about this deplorable situation. Read his book, “As Long as the Rivers Flow” a novel but true in a powerful sense as  it reveals the drama of the people of the First Nations in Ontario. He has undertaken to personally collect books to take north in order to stock libraries and schools so that young people might broaden their horizons.

Anger can paralyze and prevent creative action. We gasp that its just too big a problem, what can I do about it , and withdraw into ourselves so we might  forget.

Helen Caldicott, the Australian physician who has deeply involved herself in the problem of aboriginal people as well as the health of the world, has coined the phrase “If you love this planet.” Loving in that sense demands that you transform anger into action, in other words become involved. Fortunatley there are many organization through whom we might channel our concerns, at least some funds.

The late Reinhold Niehbur, an American theologian, who once adorned the cover of Time Magazine as the “Prophet for  America,”  insisted that “Justice is the relative social embodiment of Love.” He states that you can’t love people without insisting on justice for them. You can’t love this planet without  becoming involved in preserving it. Where are the prophets today, one might ask.

I admit that I have experienced fear. In our financially uncertain times, when stock markets fluctuate wildly, when life savings are threatened, then fear is very real. I fear for the future of my granddaughter as I wonder what kind of world she will inherit.

Hope is not wishful thinking. In Layton’s case it was hope that energized him to fight the political battle  in spite of sensing the dissipation of his energy as cancer took over. With hope we struggle against debilitating fear.

There is despair in abundance - despair that we have gone beyond the point of no return in the process of global warming. Many simply deny it, or blame circumstances beyond human intervention, so  lets just “Keep on dancing.”

For Canadians the environmental is at the top of their list of concerns, nevertheless, governments and their corporate masters  downgrade the importance of the state of the biosphere. Economics, that is more wealth for the wealthy, is their top concern.  Can you hear my anger?

Rose-coloured glasses are not sufficient to deal with despair. In his election campaign Barak Obama energized the people with the slogan “Yes, We Can.”  Unfortunately since that heady time he has succumbed to “ “no, we can’t,” not without  losing votes which is unaccepotable of course. People who supported him and saw in him a beacon of hope have despaired of achieving a better country and a better world. Deep down they still believe that “Yes, we can.” However political systems are used to stand in the way, also in Canada.

More than a month has passed since this nation paid tribute to a great Canadian. We must not allow his passion to turn to ashes as did  his body. We must replace anger, fear and despair with love, hope and optimism.

I believe that there is a spirit that is very much alive , a spirit that can’t be quashed. Let that spirit live. Fan the embers of love, hope and optimism: something to do at Thanksgiving.

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