Old-Stock Canadians

An open letter to our nation’s prime minister.



Dear Mr Harper
My personal ancestry search uncovered the shocking truth that my daughters’ paternal great-great-grandfather fled to Canada to escape prosecution for theft and murder (the Australian arm of the family counts that as proud history, the Canadian arm hid it with such care that neither my children’s father nor their grandfather had a clue).  Nonetheless, this makes my husband and his family old-stock Canadians.
On the other hand, I have, until very recently, been proud to call myself a Canadian, even though I came to this country as a 2-year-old and became a citizen as a 10-year old. I have volunteered as a campaign pollster, volunteered at voting polls, contributed as a member of neighbourhood volunteer organizations of several kinds.
I have never once evaded or cheated on my taxes; I have been called to serve on juries and been tapped to run for two different political parties. When we opened our doors to the desperate immigrants of the 70s, I went to the local college to learn how to teach English language and culture – for FREE to these refugees and taught for two mornings a week for the next two years without receiving any compensation for helping these people become better citizens of their new country.
I wonder how many of the “old stock” can claim even a fraction of that.

Your own ancestral history, Mr Harper, is most interesting.
Your Canadian roots begin with Christopher Harper – born in a small village in Yorkshire in 1730 – emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1774, during a time of great rebellion in the Atlantic.
History goes on to record:

“Two of the most vindictive in their attitude toward the former rebels were Christopher Harper, a Yorkshireman, and parson John Eagleson,” writes Snowdon. “With the eruption of hostilities Harper had taken an active and determined stand against the invaders, and on November 7, 1776, had entered the fort with his family. The burning of his house and outbuildings forced him to remain in the fort for two years. While rebuilding, he and his associates had to remain in arms until the end of the war on account of ‘the rebels being so much incensed against him.’ Harper’s unpopularity had arisen from his claims for compensation of his losses.”

Christopher Harper, writes historian Clarke, “was accused of having abused his office of justice-of-the-peace. He was guilty, found the judges, of violent and oppressive measures and they recommended his removal.”

“In order to further the aims of the government in creating a spirit of reconciliation,” Snowdon wrote, “Harper was dismissed from ‘every judicial power that he [held in order to]quiet the minds of the inhabitants.'”

I concur with writer Roy MacGregor’ penultimate statement: “It is, of course, ridiculously unfair to presume that the small-minded Christopher Harper has returned to life in an ancestor who likely doesn’t even know the Original Harper exists – just as it is absurd to accuse Ignatieff of having royal airs before he even reaches the office to which he aspires.” (source:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/…/tracing-th…/article4274405/)

But, according to your term “old-order Canadian,” I am a second-class citizen. I feel personally deeply betrayed by this increasingly elitist increasingly xenophobic government.

I find myself asking one last question: My daughters are descendants of a 19th century criminal and a 21st century immigrant. Are they “old stock Canadians?” And should they be more proud of their “old stock” roots or their immigrant roots (over five hundred years of legitimate business men on my paternal side and academics on the maternal side)?

I realize, of course, Mr. Harper, that you are far too busy keeping more of my ilk out of the country.
So I can only offer the farewell of my forefathers: “Mr. Harper – Geh mitt Gott, aber geh!” Oh, right! Of course, Mr. Harper – I forgot that you would not deign to read anything except English – so allow me to translate that for you: “Go with God, but for God’s sake GO”

Clinical Pastoral Education isn’t just for Chaplains

Jesus reaches out“This is mine. You can’t have it.
This is me. I like who I am.
THIS is who goes to the bedside.
I am the best tool I can bring.”

The Chaplain's Report

Back in seminary I had the opportunity to do CPE at a local hospital in New Haven. It was a great facility and a prime opportunity – the slots fill up fast. But I didn’t take it because I planned on doing more traditional church ministry, not chaplaincy. While some of my classmates jumped at the opportunity to get CPE, others, like myself, said “why bother if I’m not going to need it?” Looking back I can see that I missed out on a great opportunity.

So do you need Clinical Pastoral Education if you’re planning on traditional ministry? Is it really only for hospital chaplains or navel gazers? Absolutely not. 

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Desert Reflections

We are, I think, by our very nature, a meaning making people.

And yet, I find myself looking back at the meanings my ancient ancestors made with an occasional raised eyebrow – especially given that we can see what is happening thousands of light years away.

Our rental car was hot, despite the air conditioning. The blazing August sun over the Syrian Desert seemed to reach in through the glass with fiery fingers. My neighbour, sitting on the west side of the car leaned uncomfortably toward me, and away from the sun’s searing grasp.

As we drove north on a narrow ribbon of black through the dry red land, it was clear that something was afoot in the nation because we passed several very large army convoys going in the opposite direction.  Soldiers clung to the long khaki tarps that shielded the machines of war from the sting of the desert sand.

The red-brown cloud off to the northeast made me VERY uncomfortable. It looked at first like smoke fuming across the plain. The colour reminded me of dried blood – and I could almost feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up despite the heat.

The cloud came closer and closer, apparently travelling towards us even faster than we were travelling towards IT.

All of a sudden, the first fat drop of rain hit the windshield – rain? In the desert? In August?

I stared at the land we were whipping past and suddenly realized that as each immense gobbet of water hit the dry red earth, it sent up a puff of carmine dust. The distant red cloud, that was now almost upon us, was in fact the churning earth itself, roiling up to meet the lowering sky.

In that moment, I understood the primeval conviction that it was the mating of Mother Earth and Father Sky that gave life to the dry world.

Yes – there are other connections that can be made to a cloud of dust, the colour of blood. As Christians, we can make the connection to the blood shed by Jesus on the cross. As citizens of the world we can also make the connection to the blood of shed by modern Christian, and non-Sunni Muslim martyrs for their faith. The rest I leave to you and your own religious imaginations.


Some months ago, one of my former students in Damascus reminded me of a discussion we once had when I was teaching him English. He had tried to convince me that I was mispronouncing “chaos” because all the words he knew that started with “ch” had a “soft” start, like “church” and “chimney.”
In my letter back to him, I reminded him that English can be such a complicated language because it is the child of many many fathers, with all the problems of its mother’s complex relationships.
I probably called it a “bastard” language back then, with all the wryness of someone who had herself only recently learned of the depths such a status could indicate: a chasm between self and family, between self and community.
Chaos comes to English from Latin, but it is a bastard in itself, coming into Latin from Greek. It comes into English from the Vulgate where it was the word for the vast open unformed emptiness that preceded the seven days of creation.

Chaos stands against cosmos 
As bastard stands against family
As order stands against disorder
Ahh — but think!
Think of all the creative potential
Think of what happens outside the walls
There in the borderlands
Lies all the possibilities for change and growth
Let me, O Lord,
Be the bastard
Who finds how chaos
May yet change
Th’imperfect order
Of the church.
What a funny chaotic language English really is: not empty at all, but very disordered 🙂
Ahhhh – the possibilites