So you’ve been persecuted…

church-christian-persecutionLately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America.  I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for.  Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her.  My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far.  The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ.  When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now?  Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine.  I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance.  I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles.  That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:

  1. not-persecutedThere is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment.  Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern?  If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others?  If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most?  And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel.  Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that.  All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs.  It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion.  We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
  2. In a transcript of one of my favorite speeches given by Douglas Adams he says the following:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

I think this is a very real thing to remember.  Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not.  It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas.  I think it’s a good thing.  Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”.  That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others.  Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories.  There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution.  And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words.  The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others.  So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past.  Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools.  Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected.  Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office.  And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity.  In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay?  How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?

  1. And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran?  How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game?  How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work?  The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege.  Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country.  Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges.  When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Can a push from one direction go too far?  Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check.  Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege.  So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing.  And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint.  Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.

Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?

Tolerance

One of the common words that we hippie-type people like to use is the word tolerance.  We need to be more tolerant.  I said it myself in my last post, but based on a discussion on that post I decided that it was worth investigating this concept of tolerance.  While I think many people derived a theme of being more tolerant towards Muslims, what I really meant to look at is what are better and worse ways of dealing with a difficult situation.  I’ve come to realize that often when I use the word tolerance, the meaning I hold to it is different than others.  And so maybe what I am suggesting is not tolerance at all, but something else.

Ahirhsa refers to non-violence

What I think we can agree on, is that tolerance is definitely not something we should always be doing.  We live in a very PC culture where we are being told constantly to be tolerant, but tolerance can lead to passiveness, and there are some things we should not tolerate or be passive about.  One could say that being intolerant has led to many important social changes.  When laws are unjust being tolerant of them isn’t getting you very far.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr are good examples of historical figures who were not very tolerant and accomplished great things for their people in the march towards equality and self-determination.  But then I also thought about the importance of context.  If laws are unjust, if there is oppression, then it is these practices that are intolerant.  And shouldn’t we be intolerant to practices that are intolerant.  For instance, if black people are not allowed to sit in certain restaurants this would be an example of a system which is not tolerant towards different races.  White people would not tolerate a black person sitting next to them while eating.  Did black people owe it to white people to be tolerant of their practices so as to not make them feel uncomfortable?  Of course not.  On the other side we could point to Kim Davis.  She doesn’t agree with a law that allows gay people marry.  The law is just because it gives equal rights to people of different sexual orientation, and doesn’t infringe on anybody’s ability to practice their own religion.  Thus we would ask Kim Davis to be tolerant.  Of course, whether it is people not wanting blacks in their restaurant, or gay people to marry, what we are really saying to those people is “you’re wrong, get used to it”.  We’re saying, your “intolerance, will no longer be tolerated”.  And I believe this is fair and this is right, but there is a little bit of a subtext there that says “You really should change your mind and agree with us, because other ways life is going to be pretty annoying for you”.  And again, I’m not saying this isn’t fair, but to the other person they would easily say that we are the intolerant ones of their views and why do they have to show tolerance and we don’t?  The word “tolerance”, at least to me, is sort of a confusing word when you think about it.

So going back to the issue of “banning the burka”, if I say tolerance is prudent, what does that mean?  First I think it’s important to note that tolerance of an action and condoning that action are different.  But if you are really against something, being tolerant and thus passive can be seen as equal as condoning it.  I think there is some truth to that, but it’s important to remember that not all people would fight a battle in the same way. Some methods of fighting are more effective and/or cause less overall harm. Kim Davis’ beliefs may make her decide that she should not tolerate what she’s sees as an unjust law and she is welcome to fight it.  However there are better and worse ways to do such a thing, and the choice she has made is ultimately ineffective, and denies legal rights to fellow citizens.  The burka or niqab is a troubling practice.  Women have become so oppressed in some countries that many of them are even complicit with that oppression and would feel real spiritual pain by not following what they believe to be true regarding their value compared to men.  Should we tolerate such gender equality?  The answer once again is, of course not.  However should we be tolerant towards women wearing the burka?  Then I would say yes, but I would say that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.  So maybe when we ask for tolerance, what we really mean is patience and careful thought.  Let’s not have knee-jerk reactions that are governed by our fears, but let’s take actions that are based on our love and compassion.  The fight for gender equality is really one about love and compassion.  Telling women that they have equal freedom and value as men in society is just that.  Freedom of religion is also one of love and compassion because it says to people that you are allowed to keep your beliefs and that the law will not dictate what you must believe.   No one else wants their beliefs infringed on so why should we pass laws that infringe on others? Of course that doesn’t mean that you can come into a country and expect that a belief structure that by design causes harm to another group will be easily tolerated, especially when that country has fought long and hard to try and erode the traditions you still hold on to.   At the same time, you may also expect that new laws shouldn’t be passed that specifically target you for doing what you were raised culturally to accept as normal.   I think it’s also important that when we oppose certain cultural practices that we consider immoral, that we don’t reject an entire a culture.  Cultural practices are not homogeneous and thus are not all bad or all good.  At the very least some practices may cause no harm at all and thus we should be tolerant of those.

What we are really after, therefore, is a way in which we can present a group of people who have morally unsound practices with a better way of living.  In the case of the severe oppression of women in some Islamic countries, a proactive way of doing this is to empower women.  Self-determination goes a much longer way in affecting change than oppressive laws.  And while it would be nice to have men on the same side, many will resist due to the fact that they will be losing a position of privilege in their society, but ultimately just as the fight for equality here in the U.S. has required the support of men, so will it need to be the case in Islam.  One possible way in which we can appeal to the rational in both men and women would be to offer education into the development of children.  This article was shared with me by Victoria over at VictoriaNeuronotes and discusses the important of babies being able to see facial expression in their mother.  From the article:

Teacher Maryam Khan, says: “Working with young children, so much is read just from facial expressions, you don’t have to speak to a child.

“If they can’t see your face, they don’t know what you’re thinking – a glare, a smile.”

Psychologists agree. “It’s particularly true for children under five because their communication is non-verbal, they’re much better at reading it than adults,” says Dr. Lewis. “If they’re denied these signals they become quite confused.”

If, when in public, the mother’s face is always covered, this has an adverse impact on a baby’s mood and reactions to situations.  The YouTube video below demonstrates this impact clearly.  And there may be other things that we can discuss with them such as the importance of sunlight to pregnant mothers and babies for Vitamin D.  Given that a love of children is cross-cultural and people generally want the best for children, this seems like a proactive way to change minds by connecting with men and women emotionally through the love they have their children, while presenting also a rational argument for the value of not covering your face.  What’s best is that is also reveals the best about us.  We aren’t trying to persecute anyone, we are showing another culture, our value of education, our shared love of children and wanting the best for them, and that what we want is a conversation and an exchange of ideas, not forcing a behavior through a punitive law.  It also shows another culture that we have humility.  That we too had practices that were not always beneficial and through the act of investigation and learning we have grown to become more loving and compassionate.

As I ponder more about the word tolerance, the more it seems like a word that isn’t overly descriptive.  Because within the idea of tolerance is an implication that one isn’t happy or supportive of a particular behavior and that in some cases, when a particular behavior is harmful we would rather do something about that behavior.  What it does not imply is a hasty reaction.  We can be patient and thoughtful, and act in away that is inclusive and not exclusive.  We can act in a way that is proactive and not adversarial.  In the end, I believe, such tactics are more successful.

Banning religious practices – a bad idea

In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis the anti-Muslim propaganda has been coming out strong. And my home country of Canada has been no exception. It is personally sad for me to see this, because one of the things I most value about growing up in Canada is its tolerance towards other cultures and its celebration of diversity. As a result of this tradition I think it is no surprise that Islam in Canada is more progressive than any other countries. This declaration made by the Canadian Council of Imams speaks volumes to what Islam means to Muslims living in Canada. And I am sure you can make arguments about passages in the Koran supporting violence towards non-believers, and I can answer back with as many in the Bible so let’s put that aside and simply say that in the march towards a more humane society religion must evolve even if it doesn’t dissolve.

Of course there is much that is troubling in terms of the practice of Islam worldwide. You can find countries where people are killed for simply expressing dissent against the Islamic government, committing blasphemy, committing adultery, being gay, etc. There are of course the acts of terrorism which seem at times unending and of course have impact European countries and the U.S. and a big way. And of course there is the oppression of women, which is horrible and profoundly sad that we still must contend with such disregard for the rights of 50% of the population in this day and age. Some Islamic apologists will argue that this is not the way of Islam, but that being said it is certainly part of the cultural practice in many Islamic countries and I don’t hear a lot of Muslim clerics or imams in those countries saying “Hey let the women go to school and drive, this isn’t what Islam is about!” There are perhaps a lot of reasons to be worried about extreme Islamic practices, and keep in mind that many of the things that we think are extreme such as the oppression of woman, is common place in some countries.

So the question becomes, what do we do about it? Even though most Muslims are not violent and never will be, they have some very unsettling practices that they think are justified according to their religion. Many of them are just as indoctrinated as any of the evangelical community here in the U.S. when it comes to their views on women, foreigners, homosexuals, blacks, etc. So there are some people everywhere who could use some enlightening and so how do we go about doing that? And can in happen sooner than later?

Let’s start by identifying what doesn’t work and that is the banning of religious practices. Though France has banned the burka or niqab, and Switzerland has banned minarets, these practices have not been shown to impact cultural shifts in Islam and have only served to alienate and discriminate portions of the Muslim population, not only in those countries, but have angered Muslims in other countries as well. Isolating and alienating religious communities only builds resentment and will only increase the danger from Islamic groups that the laws seek to avoid. This blog post does a very good job of laying out the argument and I don’t want to repeat too much of what is said here, but any laws restricting religious practices at best do nothing and at worst, make the conflate the problem with archaic religious practices.

If history has taught us anything it is that oppression of a religion is a bad idea if we want to actually stop it. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and Europe. At least some of that may be due to the attempts at suppression of religious practices. Anti-Christian laws during Roman rule shortly after the time of Jesus actually led to an even faster spread of Christianity throughout Europe and Asia. It’s human nature that once you start persecuting somebody or some people for what they believe it causes a lot of people to start to ask questions, especially those who don’t trust the government. What is so dangerous about these ideas?  Why should we fear them? In general we are compassionate people, and when we see people suffer by not having the freedom to practice their beliefs (regardless of whether such beliefs are just) we tend to side with them. The last thing we want is a lot of people being on the same side of some unjust ideas.

I know for many of my readers, you have gotten into some arguments with people who have strong beliefs. How did those discussions go? We often think the more brilliant and final are arguments are the more impactful we’ll be.  As I wrote before this tends to not work so well because of the “backfire effect” and so if it doesn’t work very well on an individual level, such things tend to not work so well at a group level either. If our western society is to have any superior morality it comes from practicing the values that we think our important. If freedom is one of them than freedom of religion must be part of what we embrace. Giving people the freedom to practice their religious beliefs is something we want, because if the state starts making laws to ban religious practices, there is nothing to stop them from banning yours if they see fit. By valuing freedom we set an example that as a society that we respect other people and want them to enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoy. And of course there are other important values we must practice to which is tolerance, equality, compassion, justice, etc, so that if religious practices don’t value you those things we can show them how well it can work. If we want such people to convinced of a better worldview and a better way to live, we need to show that our values leads to a greater empathy, less suffering, and an overall increase in happiness. No words or laws are going to convince people unless they are shown. Part of why they may believe what they believe is that they’ve been indoctrinated against other cultural practices and have never seen any other way of life work.

Racist, and not a particularly helpful solution to terrorism.

I believe if anything is going to erode fundamentalism from any religion it is by showing those people the effectiveness of the values that we hold most dear. It is about embracing those people while at the same time showing them diversity of thought and ideas. It is about offering them a high level of education for their children, to help them think critically about the ideas that have been indoctrinated into their culture. It is about being humble enough to recognize that even if there many values that we do not share, they may even have something to teach us. We say we want these people to respect the laws of our country and yet this seems like much to ask if we exclude and not include. So instead of memes that enhance Islamophobia, why not spread memes that empower those that are oppressed to take advantage of the freedoms they would have in our country? Why not merrily shout out what rights they game by coming here? Why not greet them as friends instead of treating them like the enemy?  It is likely that to truly raise the consciousness of many of those indoctrinated it will take the course of a couple generations as children are born into a freer and more equitable society.  So let’s those children also growing up seeing the compassion and tolerance their parents did not have the freedom to enjoy.

Maybe a more positive meme as a way to empower Muslim women

Christmas in times of war

What is this war on Christmas I keep hearing about?  Is it real?  And if so, how will it lead to the downfall of the United States?  My feeling is that both sides of the argument are both a bunch of scrooges, so let’s take a look.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I am not going to spend a lot of time going into the detail of the origin of Christmas.  And when I say origin I don’t mean the birth of

From BlogSpot.com

Christ.  Scholars agree that he was not born in December.  Using December was classic early Christianity.  A time when many already celebrated the solstice, Christianity took the day to celebrate the birth of Christ to make it appear as though everyone was celebrating it.  A celebration in December goes far back into human history.

Moving closer to the present we see the celebration of St. Nicholas’ day in Early December where gifts are given starts to overtake Christmas as a popular holiday.  Martin Luther, hero of the reformation and part-time door abuser, decided that the celebration of St. Nick be moved to Christmas eve, and even suggested that instead of St. Nick bringing presents it was the Christ Child (ChristKindl).  I find it interesting that Santa has been usurping Christ for some time.  The attempt to have a cherub-like Christ Child deliver gifts didn’t really work.  Unknowingly many North Americans mock Martin Luther’s attempt to keep the focus on Christ by calling Santa, Kris Kringle.

It’s important to remember that historically, wishing someone a Merry Christmas was only done on Christmas day and not in the weeks preceding.

Fast forward to the recent past what was life like in America before this war on Christmas?  Well anybody who has been around long enough can tell you that corporate America and marketing has been taking over Christmas for some time, and this trend has only continued.  The way Black Friday has become so ridiculous in terms of now trumping Thanksgiving is a good example of what I mean.  Jesus Christ and St. Nicholas would be turning over in their grave (or heavenly cloud shelter) knowing that the kindness, compassion, and generosity they tried to live their lives in accordance with has been replaced by the stress and greed.  So if you haven’t noticed Christ disappearing from Christmas slowly over the past 50 years you haven’t been paying attention.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

So we now live in this age of political correctness and people being easily offended.  We also live in a country that has been dominated by

From http://www.dsscorp.com

Christianity for some time and has been used to justify slavery, segregation, preventing interracial couples from marrying, and most recently homosexual couples.  We’ve never had a non-Christian President, nor does one appear to be electable in the near future.  So it’s perhaps not completely out of the question that people might be worried about Christmas being shoved in their face.

That being said, should wishing someone a Merry Christmas really be offensive?  In India, even many Muslims celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights) and wishing people a happy Diwali is not a national debate even though there are certainly a diversity of people in that country who may celebrate different holidays.  As the American population grows it makes sense that businesses should try to not be exclusionary around this time of year.  Hanukah and Kwanza are around this time and you are likely getting time off from work for so this does represent the holiday season.  So if you don’t know exactly who you are addressing as a business why not try to be more inclusive in your marketing and advertising.

As individuals though should we really be that offended if someone wishes us a Merry Christmas and we aren’t Christian?  Should we call the emergency number at Fox News because our favorite department store now says Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas?  Perhaps I know all the wrong people but any time someone has wished me a Merry Christmas I never got the impression that the subtext was apparently “convert to Christianity you heathen pond scum”.  People seem sort of friendly when they say it and have good intentions.  I am an atheist but I grew up in Canada and my mom celebrated Christmas so we all did.  My memories of Christmas are filled with warmth, togetherness, lots of cookies and chocolates, presents, and decorations.  There wasn’t a lot Christ mentioning at Christmas for me but my parents were charitable people, and we often had wayward international students who couldn’t go home for the holidays at our Christmas dinner.  I’m pretty sure Christ would be pleased at the way we celebrated his day.  One of Jesus’ big things was tolerance.  Perhaps getting easily offended isn’t the best way to keep Christ in Christmas.

And here’s the thing war on Christmasers©, how is your Christmas going to change in anyway?  Is the day going to be less fun?  Are you going to love Jesus less on that day?  Are you going to give or get less presents?  Are you going to have to drink even more now to tell your sister she is too fat and that’s what she gets for getting knocked up when she was 16?  You can still have the best Christmas ever without nativity scenes on your capitol building lawn.  And since it tends to be Fox news and other conservatives carrying the banner of this war on Christmas you might also take a look at your own hypocrisy because you also support corporations, capitalism, intolerance towards minorities and other religions, and turn away from the plight of the poor.  These are some very non-Jesus-like qualities.

Holidays are about relaxing.  This is something we desperately need to do in a society that doesn’t value leisure time in favor of the pursuit of money.  This is a shame because the pursuit of happiness is far more fulfilling.

The Ghost of Christmas Not Yet To Come

So there are two possible futures my dear Scrooges.  One involves many angry atheists and other minorities being wished a Merry

From http://www.andrewbradley.com

Christmas by well meaning people.  The years of offense that these poor souls who have been wished a Merry Christmas endured will lead to aneurisms causing us to marvel at the power of two simple words.  The angry secular battle will win out in the media, business and government.  Everywhere you go there will be signs that say Happy Holidays and you will look up in despair because you know that even though it is the holidays, Jesus has all been forgotten by everybody, except for all the millions upon millions of families who will still be celebrating Christmas in this future which still makes calendars available to the general population.  These will not be happy Christmases though because you won’t get to hear about Christ because whenever you turn on the TV it’s just filled with advertisements, trying to convince you to spend your money on presents you don’t really need by a rotund man with a beard that has got to make it difficult to drink a bowl of soup.  People in need of help around Christmas won’t get it because after all it’s only the holidays and not Christmas.  And since there is no love for Jesus anymore (except for about half of the American population) what is really the point of being nice anybody anymore?  What day is it today?  The 25th?  Oh whatever.

The second choice is to remember that Jesus was a good human regardless about how you feel towards his divinity.  He cared for the poor, showed tolerance towards others, and was kind.  We should be like this all year, but these qualities are worth celebrating at least once a year.  Peace on Earth and good will towards men (and women).  What more can summarize the Christmas spirit better?  What could honor Jesus better if that is what you believe?  Shouldn’t such words be the central tenet of everyone regardless of race or religion?  If Christmas is to have any meaning on the 25th or on any day of the year it is in what you do to make things merry for your fellow human and not just saying the words.

So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  Take time to rest.  Spend it with family and loved ones if you have them.  Help people as your time and budget allows.   If you are feeling sad during the holidays, giving is a great way to fill any emptiness you might feel.  Try to spend your time around joyful people, because in this cold and flu season joy is the best contagion worth catching. 🙂

Sincerely,
Jacob Marley

For my parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

Though you are divorced now, you are still my mom and dad and thus I address you together as the parents who raised me.  Of course with my own child on the way my mind has drifted many times to the type of parent I will be.  There are plenty of people who have advice for you when you tell them you are expecting a baby.  A lot of it is good advice, some of it seems strange.  Some advice I imagine might make more sense once the child is an entity outside the womb.  Ultimately you can never really know exactly how good any set of parents are without seeing them in action, and there are few parents that I have seen  as intimately as I have seen my own.  As I look back on who I was and who I am today, I am proud.  I think I was and still am a good person.  I hope that doesn’t sound egocentric to say, but I also know that I am by no means perfect.  I have made mistakes and still do, but I have learned well from them.   I have strength, compassion, love, and try to be humble (even if this doesn’t sound very humble right now).  It would be foolish to think that any of my qualities that I am most proud of are simply some genetic trait, even though I know that those things do help shape you.  Ultimately I know that it is my upbringing that has had the largest impact on who I am today.  I then ask myself, what is it that you did that made me into someone that I am proud of today, and that for the most part, have always made me feel free to be who I am?  What are the lessons that I must make sure to teach my son so that at the very least he can become the man I am, even though I hope that he will be even more than I can dream.  I am not sure I know the answer to this, because I think a lot of the answer is just working hard to be the person that I want my son to be.  So instead I am writing this letter so I can let you know what things you gave me that I am so thankful for and that I hope my son will also be thankful for.

I first wanted to thank you for the things you both gave me, which was extreme amount of dedication to providing me with a life you could not have.  You wanted better for me, and you worked so hard to get it.  I am probably not even remotely aware of all the things that you denied yourself so that you could give me something that I wanted.  You cut corners everywhere to save money for your brothers and sisters, your parents, and for your children.  You gave me my undergraduate education, you helped me even afterwards when I had unexpected large expenses.  Your kids always came first in some way or another and I am so grateful for that.  You always showed a tremendous amount of confidence in me.  You’ve trusted me.  You have never tried to interfere and make decisions for me and have let me make my own decisions. And if after I made mistakes you’ve always been there though to help pick me up.  Even now with a child on the way, a situation in which many parents become over involved you place so much confidence in me and it is a source of strength. You’ve also taught me great lessons in tolerance.  Through mutual respect of each other’s cultures and other ethnicities you have made me extremely respectful of people’s differences.  More importantly though you showed me that despite the color of skin or particular beliefs there is nothing to fear.  We all just want good company, a good meal, and to learn from one another.  You’ve taught me the value of togetherness.

I also wanted to thank you for valuing education.  Even though both of you did not have a lot of education post high school, you recognized its importance.  More importantly you taught me to love learning.  It would have been very easy to work your jobs knowing nothing more about the world than you already did, but you always enjoyed reading and learning more or watching documentaries, nature shows, playing scrabble, boggle, doing puzzles etc.  You both enjoyed learning more about the world and challenging your minds, and made me feel like it was natural to do so.  This in turn made me value all people a lot more.  Not many in this world have a Ph.D. and it is easy for the educated to turn up their noses at those who aren’t as educated, but you taught me the value of every job in this world and that having a job that doesn’t require much education doesn’t mean that you have to stop learning.  And you exposed me to so many good people from the places you worked and made me appreciate the goodness in people from all walks of life. You always saw the positive in what you did.  You always wanted to do your jobs well even if there was some other job you would have rather had in life.

There were also things unique to each of you that have meant so much to me and so Dad I will start with you.  There are two things that you always said to me that are so important.  “I just want you to be happy”.  It’s simple but so important.  These weren’t just words to you either, because you made them the truth by how you acted.  And I just want you to know that I do have happiness and so if my happiness is the thing you wanted the most for me, then you can say that you have successfully completed that mission.  Also, although I have just mentioned education there is one line that sticks out in my mind, “Don’t get grades for us.  Get good grades for yourself.”  You always reinforced this selfless notion and as a result, ironically, I wanted to make you guys proud of my success in school all the more.  But you made me recognize that letting yourself down is ultimately harder to overcome than letting down others.

I have already mentioned about your jobs, but I just wanted to make a specific mention about your job Dad as a machinist.  I can’t even count all the times you would come home and show Joni and I the new cuts on your fingers from shards of metal that would fly out at you while machining.  You worked your body hard and bled for us to have a better life.  I will always be thankful for that.  I have also already mention your appreciation for other cultures, but the stories of your travels always gave me a bigger sense of the world, and has made me feel like it is natural to go where the world takes you to try and make a better life for yourself.  You came a long way to make a life in Canada from India.  That journey is what made me, and that is wonderful story.  I also appreciate how you always wanted to take us to different ethnic restaurants because you have given me my love for good food.  But really what I value most about that is how you were always interested in experiencing the food of other cultures the way they experienced it, because you recognized that all of it is part of the cultural experience.  And your interest in learning about other cultures not only developed my interest, but seeing how happy you made people when they saw your genuine interest in who they are, made me realize that the world always gives back when you truly care about it.

Finally, the most important thing you gave me was the fact that you were affectionate and emotional.  A lot of fathers are not.  I have many memories of lying in bed with a cold or flu and you sitting at my bedside before going to work, putting your hand on my forehead and cheek and looking at me saying how much you wished your touch could take my sickness and give it to yourself.  That was so wonderful for me.  You also gave me many hugs and I remember many times lying on the couch together watching hockey games or movies together.  I don’t know if this is a lesson you intended on teaching me, but from you I learned tht there is nothing wrong with men showing love through affection regardless of gender.  Touches from men are often seen as sexual in our society and that’s simply not true.  Your feeling free to show your affection is also what let me know that you had a big heart.  Even though you didn’t share deep emotional feelings with me growing up, I knew you felt things intensely and could not help but show those emotions outwardly.  I am emotional too, and I am very proud of that aspect of myself.  So many men are distant towards their sons emotionally and affectionately.  You were never that way and I am a better man for it.

As I start writing the part of this letter to you, Mom, I find myself at a loss of words.  It’s not easy because when I think of you, what you have given me is harder to breakdown.  To say you weren’t also affectionate would be untrue, so I don’t want to minimize your outward displays of love but unlike Dad who I attribute what is outward and obvious about me, you are my inside.  You are my perseverance; you are my humility, and my compassion, you are the glue that holds me together when life throws things at you in an attempt to make you fall apart.  You were a safe harbor in a storm and a rock who kept shape against all the elements.  You were thoughtful, reflective, protective but without ever lying to me.  You were both honest and kind.  Although I don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, I admire who he was as a person, and I know of no one in this world who is more Christ-like than you.   All those things you gave me were not just words, but they were things you lived and still do today.  Even if we don’t share the same faith, you taught the value of faith.  Having faith that everything is going to be alright is because of you.  All of us fight and struggle, but you conquer, and it makes me always believe that I can conquer as well when I need to.   And all these amazing things about you and you still had all the boundless energy that mothers always seem to have.  For all the cleaning, laundry, sewing, cooking, helping with school projects, doing crafts, I mean the list goes on and on.  All this on top of going to job all day that wasn’t particularly stimulating.  You showed me that love is as much a function of space as it is of time.  When it comes to being a parent, I don’t know if I can compare to you.  I don’t know if I can be as amazing as you were and I’m honestly a bit scared, ut everything will work out.  I have faith.

I hope you will forgive me for posting this letter to you both publicly.  I do it in part to let people know where I come from.  I do it also to remember where I come from so that I might better see where I am headed next.  Most importantly I do it because I think you both were wonderful parents and that maybe there is nothing really magical about it all, it’s just hard work.  I wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world.  Nobody is perfect and you weren’t always perfect and that’s okay.  I don’t know if your jobs made you feel ordinary, but you will never be ordinary to me.  You both game me so much love and never asked anything in return.  The best way I know how to repay you is to give my child all the good things that you gave me.  I know you both live far away and won’t have the chance to spend as much time with your grandson as some other grandparents, but I promise you that my child will know you because of what you’ve given me.  I hope that I make you as proud of me as a parent as you’ve been proud of me thus far.  I love you both very much.