23 September 2012

Truth decay.

Hamilton dentist Dr. Steve Tourloukis, who practices Greek Orthodox Christianity, wants to keep his kids in the dark.  He has a problem with pluralism, or at least at how it's practiced in his local public schools, and he's filed a lawsuit to try to defend his God-given right to keep his children from learning, well, it would seem pretty much anything he might disagree with.                                                                                                                
Supported by a Christian body calling itself the Parental Rights In Education Defense Fund (PRIED), he's claimed in recent news reports that he "is not an extremist" but that he nevertheless "must ensure that (his) children abstain from certain activities that may include lessons which promote views contrary to (his) faith."

Such lessons, according to a September 11 article filed by Toronto Star education reporter Louise Brown, include "topics ranging from homosexuality and birth control to wizardry, evolution, and environmental worship." 

One might infer that self-styled non-extremists like Tourloukis seek to challenge comprehensive sex education, Harry Potter novels, and science in one swift stroke while also insinuating that practitioners of earth religions have an agenda to infiltrate public schools.  

How ironic.  Perhaps, along with J.K. Rowling, he might like to take a stab at Dr. Seuss.

Reactionary, knee-jerk attacks on secular, public education by some conservative Christian groups is nothing new.  Never content with the provincially-funded Catholic education system, some factions within the Ontario Christian community tirelessly poke and prod at secular curricula either by attempting to alter classroom activities, institute Christian school prayer, or to (as has been the case with the Durham District School Board) aggressively seek to instill anti-pluralistic candidates in public school trusteeships.

But what makes Tourloukis and PRIED's argument interesting is, in a move one might characterize as the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, the support collected with some Hamilton Muslim families and to issue a "Traditional Values Letter" to seek exclusionary privileges.  The Letter, used before by other families during a past swipe against sexual education programs, was drafted by yet another Christian conservative group, Public Education Advocates For Christian Equity (PEACE), who is now supporting Tourloukis in a lawsuit filed against the Hamilton school board.

The "Traditional Values Letter" (circulation of which has been "few in number" according to news reports) requests that "traditional" families with children in public school receive special notification if class lessons involving sex education (including orientation), human evolution, and other activities they deem as "humanist" are part of the curriculum.  It also seeks to allow parents to receive a "warning" if lessons "place environmental concerns above the value of Muslim or Christian principles and human life."  If so, such parents request the right to have their children excluded from those class activities.  And the schools are granting the privilege.

'PRIED' away, as it were, from a complete, inclusive, pluralistic education.

"(Environmental) principles are often presented from a humanistic (for the benefit of man) or a naturalistic world view (deifying the earth)," the Letter asserts, "which is in conflict with our teachings. Conservation (should) be more... connected to... being respectful of their Creator's creation."

Perhaps these folks are unfamiliar with the Song of Solomon. But I digress.

The Letter is a reaction to the Accepting Schools Act, or Bill 13, the pluralism-minded legislation promoting acceptance and diversity in public schools that followed tragic gay-bashing incidents in Ontario and was enacted this year to protect children from bullying. And yes, it was protested by some families who tried to claim that their parental rights were being usurped by the school system.  Because, you know, being able to instill bigotry and sexism and homophobia and religious intolerance in children is a parental right.  But I digress again.

Bill 13 stipulates that "education plays a critical role in preparing young people to grow up as productive, contributing and constructive citizens in the diverse society of Ontario; that all students should feel safe... and deserve a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting, regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability; (that an) inclusive learning environment where all students feel accepted is a necessary condition... (and) that students need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitude and values to engage the world and others critically, which means developing a critical consciousness [emphasis mine] that allows them to take action on making their schools and communities more equitable and inclusive for all people... that a whole-school approach is required, and that everyone — government, educators, school staff, parents, students and the wider community — has a role to play...  (and) to assist (students) in developing healthy relationships, making good choices, continuing their learning and achieving success."

"Competing rights can be complex issues," stated Ontario Minister of Education Laurel Broten in a recent Toronto Star report, "(but) a little person can draw a picture of her two Moms or two Dads and feel safe and accepted.  That's what happens in classes across Ontario and that's what should happen."

Having finally been thwarted by Bill 13 to insinuate religious doctrines into secular, public education (and despite the argument that Jesus never made a peep about homosexuality in the first place), some conservative Christian groups are now attempting to legally exclude their children from any class activity that, in their view, conflicts with their religious beliefs.  Tourloukis and his supporters also seem to be coat-tailing older debates, such as human evolution and those demonically successful Harry Potter novels, in his suit opposing Bill 13.  For the people at PRIED, Bill 13 represents "a belligerent government ideology... determined to eradicate all traces of Judeo-Christian morality from society."

And Phil Lees, a former teacher whose so-monickered PEACE group drafted the "Traditional Values Letter", takes the argument a step further, insinuating in recent press reports that its his and Tourloukis' position (supporting the exclusion of children from portions of class curricula), and not that of Bill 13, that is the pluralistic one. In a clever spin that might remind some of  "war on Christmas" arguments, Lees stated to the media that "if we're really a public education system, we need to be pluralistic and embrace values that go beyond the humanistic approach of Ontario schools that's based on the belief that there is no spiritual being."

Translation: 'our doctrine defies pluralism and we're arguing for exclusionary privileges in public schools, so the schools' pluralistic and inclusive-oriented legislation deserves to be challenged because now we feel excluded from being able to engage in our anti-pluralism.'  Yeah.

For some, withdrawing children from classes that seem problematic to a family might appear to be a common sense approach.  If you want to raise your kids within a certain worldview, it certainly seems like a pro-active solution.  For many families, this in itself is a key reason to choose homeschooling for one's wee ones, but what if you still intend to send the kids to the local public school?  If, as a parent, you do this and wish to see your children acquire an education that trains them to be fully functioning, capable adults, several questions are being begged for.

Why is it, for example, that we never hear stories of outrage from families of other faiths when it comes to school curricula?   "I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, but your class' reading of Orwell's Animal Farm and Golding's Lord Of The Flies is an affront to our family's Quaker principles to non-violence. We must insist that the school remove these titles from your English class reading list immediately."  "Mr. Jones, I'm afraid that we must withdraw Sarah from your home economics class because we believe that there aren't sufficient kosher provisions within the curriculum and we believe that exposure to anything treif will only confuse her."

Could it be because most people have the common sense to recognize that secular, postmodern Western life is teeming with messages and influences of all kinds, and that their family's spirituality is something they can and do enjoy without feeling thwarted by global diversity of thought?  Or is it simply that they practice a doctrine that doesn't include the anti-social, often violently presumptive insistence that everyone else on the planet amend their ways to suit their whimsy?  Exactly how weak does one's participation in a belief system  have to be in order to take a "conflicting" point of view as an affront?

Frequently, these voices attempt to argue for an apparent supremacy in public consciousness to hegemonize their own worldview.  We see this by the use of the term "traditional," applied as a conceptual weapon to undermine the values of other points of view. If it's "traditional," we're taught to accept, it must be "good," or more to the desired point, "right."

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the use of the term "traditional values." 

Arguably, the LGBT community's struggle toward acceptance, same-sex marriage, and equal protection is this decade's civil rights movement.  Reactionary groups, almost exclusively Christian-based, cite terms like "traditional marriage" and "traditional values" to support their arguments against this.  

If we're going to accept terms like "traditional," meaning something old, historic, the-way-things-get-done as a legitimizing quotient to support the supremacy of an act or idea, then what if society also explored stepping back to, say, "traditional employment" such as child labour or even black slavery, or "traditional medicine" including leech bleeding and trepanning? Surely, the traditional-values person might also find equal and preferred legitimacy in these approaches, no?

Anthropologists will demonstrate that, in cultures, a thing becomes a tradition when, over time, a body of habits or practices continue over several generations because of meanings or beliefs attributed to them have persisted within a community.  But for this to be so, for a tradition to ultimately persist, participation must ultimately be voluntarily accepted.  The meanings behind a tradition must continue to remain relevant and useful and desired-for among individual to individual over time, or else the tradition will have to face change in the wake of new and different ideas.  A tradition can be forcibly imposed however, but then the very act of imposing a tradition demonstrates that the principles behind the tradition were already being challenged by those who are influenced by it.  To forcibly impose a tradition is to illustrate its impermanence.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Catholic parents have attempted to exclude their children from classes that taught about other religions.  Arguing that these programs "interfered with their ability to pass on the Catholic religion to their children," and that "exposing their children to various religions was confusing," they claimed their children would suffer "serious harm from contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family."  The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against them.

In Brampton, student Jonathan Erazo is currently being denied exemption from religious studies courses at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School since making his choice to break away from the Catholic faith.  Claiming "denominational rights," the school and its board are refusing the request, filed by Erazo's parents.  

There is an expectation, the Quebec school officials reply, that students enrolling within the Catholic school board system attend faith-based courses, regardless of whether such students are practicing Catholics or not, even if members of other faiths.  

Christian schoolchildren in Ontario may be removed from science, biology, and English classes if the topics are deemed offensive by their parents, but non-Catholic schoolchildren in Quebec are not extended the same option when it comes to religious studies classes. 

"It's part and parcel of coming to a faith-based school," stated Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board spokesman Bruce Campbell in recent media reports.  

Is it then unreasonable for Christian families in Ontario to expect that a fully secular education, including comprehensive sex education, human evolution, and popular literature that has a proven track record to encourage children to read is part and parcel of coming to a public-based school?  

For some religious groups, humanism is the new heresy deserving of Inquisitorial pogroms.  Rational thought, rather than religious faith, is fundamental to humanistic principles.  Having eschewed things like faith and doctrine, some religious communities argue that humanism in itself is a religious (or rather, anti-religious) movement akin to their own, as if it were an organized opponent fighting for the hearts and minds of all humanity, rather than simply a growing, contemporary awareness in culture that stems from the Enlightenment period. 

But, in the end, when all the debates about "denominational rights" or "environmental worship" or humanism or pluralism are said and done, there is one cornerstone that remains unarguably fundamental to what people like Tourloukis and Lees are advocating, and that is the right to hamstring their children.  By seeking to prevent them from being fully immersed in what contemporary education systems can offer, with all of society's developments in science and literature and everything else that is available to learn in the 21st century, they are guaranteeing that their children will not be as aware, prepared, and sophisticated as their peers when they reach adulthood.

These voices are arguing in support of ignorance.

Whether homeschooled or as a part of an education system, any person lacking in any field of knowledge will ultimately find him- or herself at a disadvantage.  Tourloukis styles himself as a "not an extremist," but the intent to knowingly so control a child's awareness of the world defies that description, especially since it's ultimately doomed to failure.  That same child is bound to socialize with class peers who were present during those allegedly offensive classes, and sooner or later is going to ask or hear about what was missed.  There will likely be some exam or quiz that covered the heinous material.  And even if that child is "successfully" "saved" from being exposed to such heretical thinking in that class on that day, that doesn't mean that this child isn't going to see or hear or experience something else through reading, or pop culture, or being on the internet, or even overhearing a conversation between strangers while riding the bus on the way to Sunday school. 

So, if you're a conservative, "traditional values" sort of Christian parent who feels slighted and thwarted by the "humanist," pluralistic, inclusive-minded path that public schools take, what are your options?  What to do?

You could always be thankful that, as a result of the weird history of Canadian colonization, the government offers you a funded Catholic school board system.  No other religious community in the country can claim such a privilege, and (pardon the expression) God knows many of them would love to.  And if this Catholic system isn't "Christian enough" for you, well, suck it up.

Or, if you really feel ambitious, feel free to homeschool your kids.  Just know that if you do, you might well feel completely pleased with yourself that you "rescued" your children from the "evils" of society, but you may have also managed to stunt their awareness, and possibly even their sense of compassion and other social skills, by excluding their consciousness to the workings of the rest of the world.  

For any family, the merits of a religious upbringing will become apparent as a child grows to adulthood.  If a religious life is healthy and positive in that family, religious teachings will likely thrive and continue on its own merits regardless of what other ideas or concepts a person might be exposed to throughout one's life.  Many families manage to live religiously, and happily so, in a world where contradictory messages are abundant; those who attempt to control what outside ideas may or may not influence people only demonstrate their own insecurity at the questioning of their predisposed ideas.  They fall back on terms like "traditional" to assert a sense of supremacy in a world that, like it or not, is becoming more and more pluralistic and multicultural and, yes, humanist.

The days of Christian hegemony are long over.  Still, Christianity survived Galileo's realization that the sun was the center of the universe, and it will survive this decade's growing movement toward acceptance and inclusivity of the queer populace.  Just as racist and anti-Semitic Christian "Identity" churches are regarded as extreme and illegitimate by most religious people in 2012, the time will come when the same will be said for general Christian relations toward homosexuals.  Or people who read Scientific American more frequently than the King James Bible.  Or who think being in an old-growth forest can be a spiritual experience. Or believe that just because their kids understand that the human species evolved over time from other bipedal creatures hundreds of thousands of years ago, that doesn't have to conflict with the idea that life is a glorious experience worthy of sacred celebration and humbling respect.

02 August 2012

The harvest within.

One at each knee, calicoes purr beside me as I sip a glass of wine and enjoy the sight of the fullest moon in the sky over the deck of my home. I pause, and think of rites I've celebrated, facilitated, danced with in the past. I remember the faces of the people, eager-spirited and anxious for the joyful feasting table, who attended those various Lammas rituals I'm pondering upon at this moment.

 I'm getting older. Those who were my students, old friends, have since moved on, ahead, are elsewhere now. My sabbat celebrations are more private, more personal, and often involving a few candles (if that), a whiff of incense (if that), and me with a horn or glass or sometimes even just a pottery mug of something lovely and a few moments of silent meditation on that same wooden deck under a canopy of clouds and stars.

 I wish I were baking bread. A voice tells me that I "should" be. I wish my home were full of good, stout, hearty heathen people. A voice tells me it "should" be. I miss the conversations. I miss the laughter in the kitchen. I miss the slightly drunken awkwardness, the tender moments of understanding, the embraces from people one loves and only manage to see at particular times of the year. I think of them often.

Lammas, for many, is the first of the three great harvest rites and celebrations for Paganfolk. Right now comes the harvest of the grains, where many of us are enjoying the sensation of pummeling our fists into yeasty masses of dough and enjoying the fire of our household hearths to see them rise and bake as bread. In this way, many of us contemplate the successes, the failures, the circumstances... that is, the harvests that we are sinking our teeth into at this moment in time. What did we hope for during last winter, when all was dark? What did we seek to create when it was spring, when we set out to plant newness?

The maypole has since been danced and we've had the embraces of our lovers. The summer is almost passed, and now we stand before the feasting table and see before us the results of all of our labours and desires and developments and trials and wishes that we may, or may not, have entirely worked for.

What have you worked for? Is it here? Can you bite into it now, like a roasted corn cob with butter seething down your happy chin, or are the apples from your orchard withered and dry for lack of rain?

The great feast, the autumn equinox, is coming. Do you have time to catch up on your goals? The feast of souls, Samhaintide, looms after. When the need for winter's contemplative darkness returns, will you be able to tell yourself that you met your challenges with zeal and purpose? When you mark the harvest of flesh, will there be salt to preserve the meats that you'll need to sustain on as your move toward another year of living, hoping, being, doing?

What, exactly, will be on your table? What, exactly, have you achieved thus far? What, exactly, can you drink to when you raise that dripping horn, that elegant crystal glass, that consecrated cup toward the gradually darkening sky?

I am getting older. My days are more quiet. I am contemplating future goals. Looking upon the table before me, I take in the full view of the present realities of my own personal world and existence. It shows me what dreams have not been fulfilled, what actually does presently exist, what it is that I actually "have." In that recognition, I breathe deep and consider what it is that could be built from where it all is at the moment. But not before I rationally See what stands before me, good and bad, rich and poor, fulfilling and lacking, joyful and sorrowful, resplendent and vacant, desired and lost, open and closed.

And what am I willing to sacrifice, with a handsome knife, to make future dreams come true? What is it that shall I cut? And do I have the courage to mark that cut with a harvest dance and tuns of mead and songs in the night wind to help drive home the fundamental message that everything changes, and that to fail to embrace the change is to fail to be present and open to taste Her future gifts?

18 December 2011

A son of Prometheus.

Described as a writer "in the tradition of Hemingway and Orwell," atheist Christopher Hitchens' voice might arguably have been among the most significantly articulate for earth-spiritual people to hear and understand. His recent death, at age 62 to pneumonia as a complication to esophageal cancer, robs enlightened people everywhere of a powerful presence.

Does it seem contradictory that a man who tirelessly argued against mysticism and belief and superstition might be praiseworthy among people who, to some, might be among the most mystical and, on the face of it, superstitious in all religious communities? Pause and reflect.

In articulating how organized religion has become an abhorrent threat to thinking and free people the world over, and how religion arguably is the primary source for most hatred and violence in the world, Hitchens did more than petulantly thumbnose the icons of religious doctrines. Perhaps it was not so much that "God" was his enemy as it was what he described as the "theocratic fascists" of the world, those people whose alleged devotion to any variety of a Supreme Deity brought them down the path toward hurtfulness, hate, and control. His enemy was the institutionalization of faith and the violent discord, from any number of doctrines, that such organization seemed to inevitably let loose upon the world for centuries.

Judeo-Christian theologians, particularly fundamentalist Christian media pundits, loved attempting to take Hitchens to task. Consistently, they found themselves intellectually unarmed however, as Hitchens' humanistic genius found itself coupled with his inexhaustible literary experience as a journalist, critic, essayist, editor: an analyst of words and its power. But as they attempted to defend the merits of their beliefs, many of these same monotheist theologians seemed to miss a consistent underlying point within almost all of Hitchens' arguments: that it is the imposition of belief, not the individual presence of belief, that is a danger to society.

This is a point which, I desperately hope, all Pagan spiritual people can agree with.

Hitchens was not, as some of his detractors would have you think, entirely unawed by what some people might characterize as sacred. In one interview, he agreed that holding his infant children filled him with enough awe that he asked himself if it were possible that some supernatural comprehension could exist. Speaking during one of the many symposiums he gleefully participated in, he implied that any belief that could found itself on the empowerment of women might actually succeed in bringing more good than harm into the world. In both voice and written word, he reminded us, again and again and again, that any institutionalization that contributes to divisiveness, discord, and disharmony in any way whatsoever ultimately only contributes to anguish in the world.

No community of religious or spiritual people is entirely homogenous in its understanding and celebration of whatever it is it identifies as "sacredness." Even among One True believers, there really is no such thing as a one true belief, as the feral complexity of both the human spirit and imagination is simply too expansive. Hitchens himself, a militant atheist, did not acknowledge any sort of anthropomorphic personified divinities, and he happily ridiculed that any such personification could be acceptable to intelligent people. Most theists would cry out in angered frustration.

Yet many deists (and here, arguably, I could include pantheists, panentheists, and henotheists) can appreciate the broadness of scope that arguments like Hitchens' could contribute to spiritual discourse. Even if one were to completely disagree with Hitchens' atheism, the bedrock of his arguments nevertheless aid enlightened and thinking people into powerful directions of thought. These directions demand that everyone, spiritual or nonspiritual alike, fearlessly examine the nuances and messages and repercussions associated with whatever belief system we've chosen.

Ultimately, how can any compassionate person anywhere, participating in any community, not find merit and importance in reflecting upon that? We may find ourselves uncomfortably "doubting" foundations of belief, but then that would beg the question: is it wrong to "doubt" a belief that, upon critical observation, is fundamentally hurtful or hateful or divisive? When does a healthy message become superceded by an unhealthy method? And if the message itself can be found to be unhealthy, how long can it expect to be sustained, and what might it suggest about the people who would choose to so sustain it?

30 June 2011

Changing the world.

I really like my 2004 Honda Accord sedan. I do. I like the leather seats, the sunroof, the kickass air conditioning, the barleycorn interior colour and the way it classily matches the rich phthalo green exterior.

I'm cruising around the city, running errands for a barbecue party that I'm planning for the weekend. It's warm, so that air conditioning is blasting away. ...Oh, wait: I need gas.

I pull into the nearby Shell station where I pump my $1.27 per litre into the tank. I tug my debit card from my wallet, insert it into the so-modern kiosk, ignore the brightly coloured advertising pleas encouraging me to buy some chips and candy as well, and enjoy the breeze after I punch the keypad so Shell can take my twenty dollars.

And then the little grey screen flashes just before posting a message before me.

help us change the world

My first reponse is to smile. Change the world? Sure! I'm all about that. Aren't I? Changing the world, yeah, that's a great thing. Damned right.

And then, just after I gun that fine 240-horsepower engine again, I start thinking. Help Shell change the world. Yes, I just did that, didn't I? After all, I just gave them my money in return for their gasoline product. For my car that I love.

I helped Shell change the world by selling unregistered pesticides that violated EPA standards. I helped Shell change the world by bribing Nigerian customs officials. I helped Shell change the world by stripping the Alberta tar sands. I helped Shell change the world by participating in our addiction to fossil fuels, raising global warming to such a threatening stage that polar bears, coral reefs, and Gods know how many other species are rapidly facing increased risk of extinction.

But man, I sure do love my 2004 Honda Accord. Did I mention its neato shade of green? Damned right.

I drive it down to the market next. I'm hosting this barbecue party this weekend, you know. It's Canada Day weekend. Yeah. So many Torontonians will be driving the cars that they love too, driving to cottage country where they'll be hosting barbecue parties also. All those cars driving to scenic, rustic cottage country because all those driving Torontonians want to spend time in those great outdoors. Yeah.

You know, those great, pristine Ontario outdoors that used to be teeming with black bears and wolves and mountain lions. But, hey, they're gone now because the little fuckers get into our trash, don't they? Like those goddamned raccoons back home in the city. Might as well beat 'em with a gardening spade, huh? Yeah, that's what that guy in Cabbagetown did. Damned right.

In Ontario, the stag moose and the saiga antelope are extinct. The Eastern elk is too. The Labrador duck. The Lake Ontario kiyi and several species of trout. But, hey, you've eaten one trout, you've eaten them all. Damned right.

I'm in the No Frills Market. I drove here. About five blocks from the Shell station. I'm squeezing lemons. Were these lemons trucked to this market from somewhere far off? Two young, probably non-union, workers are organizing the tomatoes. Where are those tomatoes from, anyway? I'm sure some migrant workers in some blisteringly hot US state were thrilled to make their forty cents, if that, to pick them for us folks here in Ontario. How many litres of $1.27 per did that trucker burn to get it here? Because, nah, we can't be growing lemons or tomatoes here in Ontario. Nah. Bad for the economy. Damned right.

"Heard you got your car back," one No Frills worker says to the other.

"Yeah," the second replies. "Didn't have it for a whole day. I thought my life was over."

Yeah. We're all doing our part to change the world.

Damned right.

06 January 2011

Don't you dare let go.

Recently, I found myself taking a look at a child's parochial grade-school notebook that had come across my path. To my surprise and amusement, this particular notebook included notes and lesson plans from a class on comparative world religions.

My first thought was how fantastic to know that a grade-school was offering such a course, and to see that at least some children in the region were being introduced to the ideas behind not only Christendom, but of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Paganism, unsurprisingly, was not included in these studies, although there were numerous references to "humanism," which really can't be all that bad.

But as I read through the child's chicken-scrawl and the assorted teacher's remarks more closely, I came upon a test essay question that raised my eyebrows. "As distressing as it is," read the question, "religion is in sharp decline. What outcome might we expect from this?"

What struck me was the completely subjective value judgment behind the query. Granted, the purpose of this particular class was to introduce youths to various theories and maxims of various world religions, that in itself being a huge leap in educational pluralism since when I was a kid... but the question's structure seemed to reify the concept that religion is a vitally necessary component to human society.

What if we disagree? What if 'the decline of (organized) religion' was not necessarily perceived as something "distressing"?

31 October 2010

Candles in a stranger's house.

I've long since reached the point where I haven't been a Roman Catholic for most of life. I left the church in my mid-teens, and have enjoyed the embrace of the ancient and elder Gods, in one form or another, ever since.

And yet, sometime over the last few years, my personal Samhain work has included at least two visits to Christian churches in the month.

And I've come to enjoy it.

In an odd way, it seems fitting to me that both of my parents died during the month of October. My father first, on the 29th, and later, my mother on the 15th. After most of their lives apart over irreconcilable issues that I'd never completely understand (and to my father's constant unhappiness), they both died within two weeks of the same season, albeit five years apart.

I go to honour them, in the sound heathen spirit of honouring one's ancestors, and in the houses they would have felt most appropriate for them. I don't feel at home there, but in desiring to light candles for them in their sacred places, it warms me.

I don't worship, but I do get to talk to the god who resides there. I tell him how pissed off I am that my mother suffered as much, and for as long, as she did. I tell him how my father deserved better. Then I reflect on the pervasive imagery that deifies death and celebrates suffering, makes an art of it, makes a faith of the capitulation to it, and I begin to understand.

Catholic funerary tradition prohibits eulogies, as they serve to recall and praise the deceased rather than the divine. But as I light their candles at one of the usually several shrines, I make certain to pronounce their full names aloud, and then sit to discuss their virtues with the icon of Mary, or Jesus, or whomever stands in artistic form as the messenger for the words.

Yet, returning to those houses also fills me with a pleasure. It's become my habit, on the anniversaries of their deaths, to find the nearest church I can wherever I might be so that I can be present at the very hour they each died. I go out of my way, twice a year, to do this, and the seeking has sometimes resulted in finding me in the most interesting places. A Catholic church is preferable, but in the last few years I've found myself in United, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox churches just because my self-imposed scheduling made it necessary. My more ecumenical and anthropological selves have enjoyed seeing the differences in worship style, in sacred space construction, among even these factions within Christendom. As a devoted heathen with a love of history, they intrigue me.

As the Fates would have it, this year both got Catholic places. My mother's spirit was celebrated this year in Toronto's St. Paschal Baylon Church, a modern church (only fifty years old) that was undergoing extensive renovation when I was there. My father made out a little better with his candle lit at St. Michael's Cathedral, erected even before there was a Canada, in 1848, and the closest Toronto has to St. Patrick's Cathedral back home in New York. I call my Christian godfather, my uncle Robert in Florida, and he's totally amused when I share how I actually went into a church. We laugh.

I can't be home to attend to their graves. Mom still needs her stone, and Dad needs much more. There are obstacles on my path to giving them what they deserve, but I hope to accomplish them.