Sprit Quest - Envy is not a factor

Spirit Quest

It's not envy that prompts us to insist on sharing the wealth

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
“Location, Location, Location!” the realtor assured me as we discussed the relative merits and costs of certain properties in our neighbourhood. These words of course have become a cliché in the real estate trade. They came to me again as I leafed through my daily newspaper one Saturday morning. 
A headline grabbed my attention: “Reserve School Can’t Pay Teachers” (Globe and Mail, Feb. 4) The Waterhen First Nation in northern Ssakatchewan, has one of the most successful schools. “But now that progress is threatened. Waterhen Lake School can’t afford to pay its teachers,” the article claims. Accompanying the story is a picture of a teacher, herself a First Nation, with several of her students from the reserve. 
The school at the Waterhen reserve has achieved a high standard. Its students have done well. Its teachers have not done nearly so well inasmuch as the federal grants for education have not kept pace with the union pay scale in the province.  Some teachers stay and take a salary beating because of their commitment to the children in their charge. Many other teachers with little experience stay only long enough to find a better position elsewhere. Evidently a reserve is not a great “location.” 
NDP MP Charlie Angus told reporters in Ottawa the time for study is over because the futures of children are at stake.Their futures are being squandered … There’s not a lot to study. This is something that’s been known for a long time. We need to see action now and we need to see it in this budget with a firm commitment to start closing the funding gap.”
Some years ago I came close to buying a  beautiful cedar cottage in the Thirty-thousand Islands of Georgian Bay. It was quite affordable, unfortunately not for me . When I inquired about a bank loan which are usually readily available for real estate the manager was negative. The cottage stood on land leased from a First Nations band.  According to him this was not a “good location.” I could not buy and thus have never owned a cottage.
Poverty on some reserves is legendary. Living condition are often poor. School buildings have been closed because of mold infection. Hopelessness is rampant among youth manifested in drug and alcohol use. 
As I turned the page of my paper I was suddenly confronted by a huge picture spread across a double page, of a modernistic house perched high on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron.  This is the home, parttime, of  Mike Lazaridis, the former CEO of Research In Motion (RIM), the glory of the Canadian electronic industry that produced the world renowned BlackBerry.
One gets a better look at this fantastic piece of architecture from a boat or walking on the beach. Its windows look to the sunset to view an everchamnging vista. From the access road on the highway you will see only a mail box and a location number and a road into the woods. 
The accompanying article tells the story of Lazaridis, who came to Canada with his parents after fleeing from the persecution of Christians in Turkey. He started on a successful career. The recent problems at RIM is a well-known story. It was and still is his intention of making this beautiful mansion, 40 meters above the shoreline, known as Solaris or RIM House, into more than a home but also a kind of a retreat centre for his colleagues and others who want to be inspired to think big and out of the box, as he had done. Doubtless the ever changing visions from the glass walled rooms can lift ones spirits to dream impossible dreams and then dare to make them come true.
The juxtaposition of these two articles, The Waterhen school and theLazaridis nest, hit me hard — on the one hand abject poverty, and on the other what seems like boundless wealth.
Mit Romney, the GOP presidential contender made no bones about it that they who are critical of such wealth and success have simply succumbed to the sin of envy. And, any effort to narrow or soften the gap between the rich and poor is an attack on capitalism per se and must be vigorously resisted especially at the elections come next fall.
Talk about location, I have recently read an excellent book called  The Glass Room by Simon Mawer.  It is the story of a beautiful mansion in Brno in the Czech Republic. It was not the intention of the writer to reveal its location, however, I know Brno, the capitol of Moravia, well enough to recognize its venue. 
Villa Tugendhat, as it was known, was built by a very successful entrepreneur before WW2. Designed by the famous Mies van der Rohe it was located on a prime piece of real estate on a hill in the middle of the city using exciting materials such as onyx and Italian white travertine, and a wall of Macassar ebony and much, much glass. The story of this building was also in the same newspaper that I was reading.
In 1939 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia the owners, who were Jews,  managed to escaped to Switzerland to wait out the war. Later they managed to make their way to the United States. The German military recognized the value and the beauty of this residence and turned it to their use.  Shortly after the defeat of Hitler the ethnic Germans  of Brno and Czechoslovakia (3 million) were expelled and the owners of Villa Tugendhat, were unable to return and reclaim their wonderful home.
Russians moved in and used it and abused it, even stabled horses in it. Later it was used as a clinic by the communist Czech government. Now after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 the building has once more been recognized for what it is. The city has taken it over and is putting it together again as a historic museum.  The building will soon be ready to open to the public. The book based on this house and its family is a truly fascinating read.
My argument is not to question beautiful, awe inspiring constructions but rather about the toleration of the other extreme as is seen on our reserves or in the ghettos of large cities the world over. If it is possible to create places of great beauty it must also be possible to provide education, health and homes for those of “the least of these, my brethren” as that prophet of long ago called them. Jesus was well acquainted with poverty. He walked the land with unshod feet. And when his followers marvelled at the magnificent temple in Jerusalem constructed by Herod the Great he dared to suggest its temporary nature, ”not one stone will be left standing on another that will not be cast down.”  His prediction came true when in the year 70 CE, abiout 40 years after his execution, the Roman armies invaded and turned ancient Jerusalem into rubble. 
His philosophy was of one of equalitty. Whatever your faith, or none at all, it is incumbent upon people to strive for a greater measure of equality. It is possible. Indeed, there is a Spirit deep within humans that urges us to seek justice, to deal with a situation where some enjoy opulence while others are barely able to survive .
It ought not to be  envy or fear that compells us to share the wealth but an awakening to the potential of creation.  The school at Waterhen First Nation cannot be allowed to succumb to debt and the neglect seen in so many of our aboriginal settlements. We can build beautiful mansions, but we must also help develop the potential of all humankind.
Let not that Spirit languish.  
Hanns Skoutajan
SQ 17/02/12