Spirit Quest

Spirit Quest

History matters simply because it's a learning tool

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

Among the “stuff” I inherited from my father was a cardboard box that contained 18 volumes of journals covering as many years. They were written by my father who died in 1985. Most are handwritten, some typed, the earliest in German but most are in pretty good English considering that he was first exposed to this language at age 40. His writings are much better than his spoken word. He retained a strong accent and seemed to stubbornly refuse to pronounce some words as they should.

Recently my daughter has shown a great interest in these writings and is slowly making her way through the record of his thoughts and views  that cover the years from 1962 to 1980.

Felix, my father, was a keen observer of world events. My parents  lived in the beautiful Trent Valley in eastern Ontario and from their house they looked down the valley, a scene that bore some similarity to the Czech countryside in which I lived for the first nine years of my life.

But their home was more than an outpost of rural Canada. His writings, as my daughter is discovering, deal with the political turmoil of those years. He makes rather caustic comments about politicians, Canadians, Americans, and world leaders in general, whom he felt were shortsighted or downright narcissistic.

He disliked Diefenbaker, was suspicious of Trudeau especially his “theatrics”. His favourite was Tommy Douglas, which betrays his ideological preference, not that he ever attempted to hide it. Nixon was a nasty explicative and he deeply mourned the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King. He despaired of a civilization that murdered its prophets. I can well imagine his views on the present political scene in Canada.
Father, although baptized a Catholic, was confirmed in the Lutheran church, then left the church altogether but later found his faith-home in the United Church of Canada. The very idea of being ”united” rather than being splintered into a multiplicity of denominations, impressed him. But even in this church he found simplistic theological ideas quite intolerable.

In church courts, in the local congregation as in the wider councils, he was ready to stand up and speak his mind. Someone said to me that, “ Felix didn’t speak often but when he did we listened.”

He was particularly active in the ethnic ministries committee of the United Church where he worked with others who, like him, had come from other countries, such as Italy, Hungary, Japan, and Korea.

In his youth he had learned to organize and was a natural teacher. He worked for a time as a journalist and editor. These qualities of observation are very evident in his journals.

Most interesting is his account of his first and only visit  to Germany in 1970 when he attended a large gathering of Sudetens (Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia until the end of the war). He was resentful of the fact that those who had fled before the war and came to places like Canada had been excluded as speakers, whether intentional or not. My daughter and I agree that his prophetic voice would have been appreciated by some but not by others.

He believed, as did Tomas Masaryk, the founding president of Czechoslovakia, that the problems of a multiethnic state would be resolved given fifty years of  peace. That, of course, was not granted by the world powers.

His political comments were interspersed with comments about the family, but he doesn’t dwell on this. I was more than pleased to read his comments on a sermon that he had heard me preach. It was in his opinion “unorthodox, progressive and passionate.” For his latter days, beyond those recorded in his journals he lived in Toronto and attended worship in my church. Seeing he and my mother sitting in their accustomed pew listening carefully cautioned me in my proclamations not to be simplistic. The Gospel had to be relevant to the time.

My daughter won't find it in the journal but I recall that my father saw Jesus as a humanitarian whose death on the cross was not some sort of backroom deal with the devil for the souls of sinful mankind. Rather he was a teacher and prophetic voice reminiscent of the prophets of the Old Testament calling on people to live justly. Such voices usually are punished. He had a first-hand experience of this as he himself had barely escaped that fate at the hands of the Nazis.

Those boxes of books are a treasure of wisdom and truth and reveal the heart of a thinking person. He did not write them for publication and I have often asked myself whether anyone beyond my family will come to appreciate them, or will they wither away under a coating of dust in some archive?

As I said at the outset, history is important. The spirit of which I write so often is not confined to the human individual but rather is alive in the affairs of this world. History is a learning tool and those that do not learn by it, as the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it.

Mea Culpa: The Daffodils referred to in my last article about the death of Stella Weil, was written by Wordspear not Shakesworth. I beg forgiveness for this Faux Pas.
— Hanns Skoutajan

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