Five Star Hospitality

This past winter, barely a month before the COVID 19 travel shut down, I experienced hospitality that truly came from the heart. It could not have come from a place of abundance except for an abundance of the heart. The hospitality I experienced defies a suitable adjective.

I had traveled to this country a few times. Before I left home I had packed things that would be of use to the local residents. I had gleaned from my abundance of things. I had observed on previous trips the type if items that would be very much appreciated. No I didn’t bring what was necessarily most essential.

The people I visited live in the poorest province of their country. As they await help for basic infrastructure or daily needs they are regularly told that the government has run out of money. So they have learned to make do.

Given my Canadian lifestyle we had assembled a suitcase full of things that would be appreciated.

  • knapsacks (essential when you walk everywhere)
  • baseballs (it’s their national sport)
  • T-shirts (still need clothing in a warm climate)
  • bath towels (always appreciated)

On my most recent trip I learned that there are various other items that are now in short supply. The US trade embargo had been eased under President Obama. After he left office the embargo had tightened up considerably. So many necessary items were in short supply:

  • personal hygiene products
  • shampoo, tooth paste, toothbrush
  • pens
  • bicycle tires and tubes
  • tube patch kits
  • beer

I decided one day to travel inland. I had been into the interior by 4X4 a couple years back. This time my most suitable means was to go by bike. Except for the first kilometer the bike was not too helpful. I walked most of the way in addition to pushing a single speed bike up the mountain with me. It meant almost 1000 meters of climbing for an 11 km trip. The climb was even too steep most of the way to ride my bike down on the way back.

The 26 C heat of the mid morning sun against the south slope I was climbing was enough to make me consider more than once to abandon the climb. But I knew I just had to get to the top of the first crest and things would be better. There would be some shade and the road if you want to call the mountain track I was in that compliment, would level off enough to resume biking.

I was not disappointed. The scenery became spectacular. The variety of vegetation amazing. The sounds of birds when one is biking is not drowned out by any other sounds.

I passed several homesteads. There was no one in the yard so I kept going. After reaching a small crest of the road I could enjoy a few minutes on the bike as I coasted down. It was near the bottom of this long hill that I approached a couple of homesteads with definite signs of life.

I should mention that I do not speak Spanish and once one is off the resort no one speaks English. However, the language gap was not a problem. I had with me a few baseballs and a couple baseball caps. With the few greeting words I know in Spanish and a knapsack with a few ‘gifts’ I found a great opener. The baseball and cap I offered brought a huge smile. I asked if he had a child. He said yes so I told him the cap was for his son.

After talking with the young man (well I had no idea of his age) he invited me in. It was close to noon. He introduced me to his wife. After complimenting him on some of the things in his sparsely furnished house he wanted to show me his television. I assumed it was a black and white model. I couldn’t tell because only the audio worked. He was proud of his concrete living room floor. When he had poured the concrete he had used the bottom of a drinking class to create a texture in the finish. A technique not unlike stamping concrete to make it look like textured rock, except on a much simpler scale.

He called me into his backyard to show me the coffee beans he was roasting on a fire pit. When I stepped back inside his wife had set out some food for me. A bowl of bean soup, some rice and a glass of water. I declined the water by pointing to my camel pack. I had always been advised to be cautious about drinking water from unfamiliar sources.

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It’s not the extravagance of the kitchen that counts.

When I was finished my lunch I was given a largish glass of expresso coffee. Now I’m not a  coffee drinker and so I first declined the coffee. Then I kicked myself for turning down the offer of hospitality. I quickly changed my mind. While I’m not a coffee drinker I did very much enjoy the coffee.

To keep the conversation going I shared some of the pictures I had on my cell. It provided a great back drop to sharing family and things related to daily living in a different country. It provided me an opportunity to learn more about their life. During my visit a neighbour and her daughter stopped by for a visit. They too were intrigued to have a visitor from Canada.

When I was ready to leave they wanted to take a picture of me with the family. As a parting gift I gave each of them a lapel pin of the Canadian flag. Just as I’m ready to walk back to the road I was offered a plastic bag of roasted coffee beans.

It was by now 2:00 pm. As I started back I realized how hot is was outside. I was even more aware how the generous lunch and the break gave me the energy and sustenance I needed for the trip back. The trip back while mainly downhill was almost as slow as coming up. With the road being steep and the surface of gravel, dirt and boulders I could not trust the brakes on the bike to get me down safely. On a few stretches that were less steep I did attempt to coast down. After experiencing two spills I thought better of it. Not till I got onto a hard surface where I could get proper traction did I once more attempt to ride my bike.

I arrived back at the resort quite animated. My travel companions were quite amused and figured it was the double sized serving expresso coffee. They were partly correct, but for me it was the overwhelming generosity and hospitality from a family in the mountains.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

What had me animated was not from entertaining strangers unawares but from having received hospitality from angels unawares.

The Emperor has no Clothes

I watch an unbelievable development recently. I can’t believe how people of power and influence would belittle and insult an 18 year old. Greta Thunberg has been the brunt of vicious attacks for speaking about what concerns her. Some of the responses to her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 were personal attacks, not challenges to what she said.

A guest on Fox News attacked Greta Thunberg by calling her ‘mentally ill’. The president of the United States making what are considered sarcastic comments about Greta Thunberg.

Greta Thunberg apparently has an Asperger diagnosis which is on the autism spectrum. That is not a mental illness. Being on the autism spectrum means she is neurologically atypical. Being neurologically atypical does not make her message less valid. As a neurologically atypical person I am apersonally quite insulted by the comment. Maybe we need neurologically atypical people to raise the specter and make some prophetic statements.

What I find interesting is how her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 has touched a nerve. She would not have received such a strong response had there not been truth to her message. When people of power and influence feel exposed and embarrassed they either admit or go on the attack. They have no other defense.

People of power have one of two choices, either admit the emperor has not clothes or insult and belittle the person who dares to point to what scientists have already been observing and reporting for more than a generation.

What people of power and influence have a hard time dealing with is having someone point out the deep disappointment in seeing leaders let a whole generation of opportunity be wasted. Their guilt is evident in seeing people attack the person rather than challenging the information Greta is sharing. She is sharing information she has learned from the same sources that every leader has had access to for a generation.

Is she emotional, is she angry, is she alarmist. She has every reason to be raising the alarm as should the rest of us. The damage that has occurred in the past generation is astounding. When viewed day by day it doesn’t seem like much. When one actually sits down and makes a comparative list it is very noticeable.

My List

I have a small list that I started based on conversations I’ve had in the last little while.

1. Forty years ago an early morning drive in the car would result in a windshield splattered with dead insects. Sometimes so bad I would have to turn on the wipers. (When scientists tell us that insect populations have been reduced by 70% since the 1970’s – the evidence is seen on our cars, or the lack of it.)

2. Thirty years ago I would do my last lawn mowing sometime in September. Now my last lawn mowing is usually some time in November. (The few extra degrees are most evident at the end of the growing season.)

3. Fifteen years ago it was possible to make a backyard ice rink. Once it was put in, it was good for the winter. Now it’s no longer feasible to build a back yard rink. Those who do build one use plastic to form a three inch deep pond that they hope will freeze and if it thaws the water stays there to hopefully freeze again.

4. Fifteen years ago we did not need a protocol to check for ticks which carry lyme disease. With the warming climate they have moved further north and have brought health challenges to a whole new population.

The list is from personal experience which supports what climate scientists have been pointing out. What does it take to realize on a larger scale what is happening? Where I live in the mid latitudes the changes apparently are least noticeable. That means things are much worse in the northern latitudes and the equatorial areas of the world.

What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grand children if we don’t take drastic action while we can. I shudder to think how bad things have to get before we realize we are in a climate emergency. Individual action is important but it won’t have the same effect if we don’t move things into communal action.

When I hear the young generation speaking about the world they would like to live in I’m reminded of a poster I saw years ago while living in Alberta. Since I can’t find the poster I will convey the message using two contrasting pictures:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Matthew 7:9 NIV

Who if the next generation asks for a liveable planet will belittle and insult them?

Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk

Kinew Wab The Reason You WalkWab Kinew’s book, The Reason You Walk, Viking (Penguin Group) 2015, is a read that will give you a deeper appreciation for the experiences and eventual resignation tendered by The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould. (February 12, 2019) As an indigenous member of parliament much of what it entails being a member of the Liberal Party of Canada went contrary to her cultural roots. Kinew also gives some insight into why she did not simply sign onto another party despite being warmly invited.

Wab Kinew has given us a book with profound insight into living as an indigenous person in a dominant culture in which the quest for mutual understanding can be a life long quest. In the process he shares some insight that is applicable across cultural lines that forms the building blocks for a strong community, namely a strong family.

Excerpt #1

I asked him to repeat himself.

“If a son helps his father when he is sick, then his son will help him when he is old.”

Ndede had stood by his father in the residential school cemetery all those years ago. In turn , his son and daughters has stood beside him as he walked to the spirit world. Standing for him there, waiting on that side, were his two eldest boys. Now, in this place near the Gulf of Aden, on the other side of the planent from Lake of the Woods, another child stood beside his parent.

We stand by those who came before us, hoping that those who ome after us will honour us in the same way. We love, and we hope to be loved.

Whether we are young or old, whether our skin in  light or dark, whether we are man or woman, we share a common humanity and are all headed for a common destiny. That should bind us together more strongly than divisions can push us apart. So long as anything other than love governs our relationship with others, we have work to do.

When the division s win out, we need to work hard and bring that which has been broken apart back together again.

 We ought to recognize that our greatest battle is not with one another but with our pain, our our problems, and our flaws.

To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world leaving only love.   (page 268 Wab Kinew 2015)

Excerpt #2

Wab Kinew explains the title of the book with four interrelated ideas:

In the little roundhouse in Wauzhushk Onigum, I had been taught the song when I was young. Kwekwekipinessiban explained the lyrics in Anishinaabemowin, and Ndedeiban (‘iban’ is added to the person’s name in referring to them after they have died.) translated the teaching to me. I had been told the four layers of meaning to the words “I am the reason you walk.” delivered as though it is God speaking to you. Now the Creator was speaking to my father.

I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk this earth.

I am the reason you walk. I gave you the motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.

I am the reason you walk. I animated you with the driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.

And now, my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk home to me on that everlasting road.

With a loud, echoing drumbeat, I brought the song to an end.

(page 252 Wab Kinew 2015)

Excerpt #3

Wab Kinew’s vision for the future against the background of colonization and the attempts to take the ‘Indian out of the person’ by way of the genocidal policies of the Indian Act that resulted in the ‘residential school system’  is a complex issue that puts a lot of responsibility on indigenous people.

Challenges remain. First Nations children begin life facing longer odds on the road to success than others, because they lack equal access to education , health care, and social services. We must correct these problems where they exist. Indigenous people must also take more responsibility for our own affairs, which is something most members of my generation strongly believe.

As a result of colonization, many Indigenous peoples have been prevented from contributing fully to our globalized society. Consequently, the Indigenous cultures practised by thoses peoples have not been able toshare their stength, wisdom, and beauty with the rest of the world.

I envision Indigenous people rising above their challenges to become the leaders this world desperately needs. I see them helping to chart the way to a more sustainable society and a more meaningful way of life.

Many solutions to the challenges of our time – from income inequality to environmental degradation – can be found in Indigenous cultures. If we start to see the earth as our mother, we will likely chart a course to a more environmentally friendly way of life.

If we grow up hearing that the chief ought to be the poorest member of the community and that true leadership is about service and sacrifice, we might think harder about income inequality.

And if people on opposite sides of seemingly intractable showdowns over land and resources began to take one another as kin, perhaps we might find peace in situations that we currently consider lost causes.

While there are political and economic lessons to heed, we cannot forget that, at its core, reconciliation is a spiritual and emotional journey.

My heart still aches for the man who walked ahead of me on this path, that man I see now only in visions. (page 266-7 Wab Kinew 2015)

 

Invitation or Inclusivity

 

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Alderville First Nations War Monument Restored in 2011

As citizens of Canada, where do we stand when it comes to acknowledging the indigenous peoples of Canada? As a nation we have gone through the healing process with the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission of Canada, having completed stage one of it’s work and having put forth 94 Calls to Action.

How will the Calls to Action change the general mindset of the average Canadian towards the indigenous peoples of Canada. The actions of government leaders often fall short of taking the 94 Calls to Action seriously.

Recalling a personal discussion

I spoke with an electrician who was transplanted to Fort MacMurray every two weeks. I asked him whether any aboriginal workers were part of the labour force with the Tar Sands project in northern Alberta. He told me that part of the contract is to have aboriginal workers make up ten percent of the work force. When I asked him if that was a reality he confirmed it.

He then went on to explain that while ten percent of the labour force is aboriginal, in his experience they were on the payroll but weren’t expected to work. In other words they were hired, got their pay cheque but they weren’t expected to be integrated into the work force.

The letter of the  contract had been met, but in reality it was a sham. I guess with the high profits it was not considered a hardship for the company to have ten percent of the workforce add zero percent to the productivity.

Moving to a public discussion

I was reminded of the above discussion during an interview on CBC January 21, 2019, The Next Chapter, with David Johnston former Governor General of Canada. Johnston made a distinction between inviting someone to the dance or dancing with someone at the party. The one is an invitation while the other is inclusivity.

It is only through inclusivity that we begin to understand another person. Given the enormous challenges that Canada’s indigenous people have faced due to colonialism, it is not enough for indigenous people to be invited to join the work force when contracts are set up. They need to be engaged, they need to enjoy a sense of inclusivity.

Taking personal steps

I realize I am looking at this from a distance, living three provinces away from Alberta. Though I live within 20 km of the Alderville First Nations, a local indigenous community where I occasionally buy cheaper gasoline. That hardly counts for interacting with my indigenous neighbours.

How do we develop and sense of inclusivity with our indigenous neighbours? What colonial attitudes are biasing our view of indigenous people? What colonial residue underlies our comments and attitudes?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a clear statement. Without a willingness to developing inclusivity we will simply perpetuate the colonial mindset and issue apologies as needed.

The promise of reconciliation, which seemed so imminent back in 2008 when the prime minister, on behalf of all Canadians, apologized to Survivors, has faded. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission Volume 6 pg 11)

Every new law or  policy that the federal and provincial governments of Canada introduce should move one step closer to a working relationship grounded in reconciliation. As Reverend Stan McCay of the United Church of Canada, himself a ‘survivor’ has stated, both perpetrators and survivors need healing. That healing can only happen in a posturing of humility and search for understanding.

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Canada each carry their own responsibility to work towards reconciliation. How do we most effectively do that? What does that mean for me?

Imagine Living on Sacred Land

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Had the opportunity for a scenic hike recently. The trail was near an aboriginal sacred site. The trail head had a sign that reminded hikers that Eagle’s Nest is an Algonquin sacred site. To preserve the integrity of the area and the environment hikers were asked to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

20180516_124640Hiking in the early spring means seeing many early spring flowers. They are visible because the undergrowth has not filled in the way it does later in the summer. What was also visible was garbage along the trail. By the time I had covered the 1.5 km I had collected three dollars worth of empty beverage container.

When the cans and bottles were tossed into the bush they might have been out of sight. But early spring, after the snow has melted all is revealed.

 

 

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One of a dozen stranded inukshuks

The short hike included an interesting side excursion. Some one or more likely several people over the years had decided to leave their mark. Out in the tundra these could have been life-saving direction markers. Here it was interesting to see the different creations made by earlier hikers.

 

 

 

 

The summit was truly worth the hike. At only 1.5 km I would have gladly hiked 15 km given the view that met our eyes. Not a cell tower on the horizon. Not a single hydro tower. No guard rails. No reminder signs to stay back from the edge. No motorized noises. Simply the wind sighing through the trees.

On a warm day one could sit here and enjoy the sounds of nature and the panoramic view for hours.

 

 

The hike back was downhill and went very quickly. We were back at the car before we realized it.

Unfortunately the dog walkers seem to not understand what it means to …leave just foot prints.  They could have taken their dog off the trail a few paces and buried the business when their pet had relieved themselves. It’s possible that many dog owners were doing that. There was clear evidence that there are plenty of dog walkers that thought ‘poop ‘n scoop’ was the responsible way to conduct themselves. That would be fine except for the fact that their trail etiquette left something to be desire.

Actually they left something others did not desire. All I could think of is, “Your mother is not here to pick up after you.” Not sure who they thought would clean up.

I don’t think extra signage would have made a difference. City parks have a clean up crew, the wilderness does not.

Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Eagle’s Nest Sacred Site signage:

In HONOUR of ALL People, past, present and future, and ALL that Exists: please see that Eagle’s Nest Sacred Site remains forever a True Place of PEACE.  Thank you! Miigwetch!

The sign at the Sacred Site gives some explicit instructions:

PLEASE: Listen to your HEART and RESPECT the NATURE of this site. No garbage or bottles – All you bring in, please bring out. Signed: Tchi Miigwetch Kichi Manitou, Mother Earth and ALL Relations Everywhere.

 

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It’s not just wilderness areas. All land should be regarded as sacred. All land should be used in a manner that promotes peace and friendship.

We need to treat all land as sacred ground. How would that change the way we use the land? Finding beneficial uses without exploiting the land. Caring for it so it will benefit future generations. Using land in a way the promotes peace and harmony.

What do you do with the land you live on? How do you use the land to affirm that it is sacred land?

 

 

 

Was our Prayer Self-centered?

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Salt of the Earth – Chaplin, Saskatchewan

Recently I was recalling the Canadian prairies segment of the Sea to Sea cycling trip. We had been experiencing headwinds and crosswinds at a much greater rate than tailwinds.

Each morning the chaplain had prayed for favourable winds to help us reach our next campsite without encountering undo hardship. We had arrived the day before in Chaplin Saskatchewan having battled headwinds and crosswinds on what had been a long haul.

That evening we welcomed a lone, self-supported cyclist to join us for supper. He gladly accepted. Just one of his many pleasant surprises he had encountered after several years of enjoying life on the road.

The next morning our chaplain was ready to share a prayer with the 70 cyclists.  He paused for a moment to contemplate the situation. How was he going to pray for favourable winds. We were cycling east while our guest was going west. We had a long day ahead of us to get to our pre-book campground. So, what to pray? The chaplain shared his prayer as a general petition for favourable winds and said, “We’ll let God figure it out.”

As this prayer was offered I was squirming a bit and feeling uneasy. Praying for favourable winds felt like we were sending God a Santa Claus gift list. It’s bringing our narrow desires for the day before God. Our narrow desires when there are more significant matters to pray for.

Being in a group of 70 cyclists, it wasn’t essential to have a tailwind. Rather than trying to bias God to send us favourable winds, maybe we should be praying for the cyclists as a group. In praying for success for the cyclists let’s pray for a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.

As a group we had the opportunity to cycle in a pace line. By riding in a tight line of, for example, six cyclist each cyclists would pull for a minute or two and then have an easier time drafting while the other five cyclists took their turn at the front of the line.

On the other hand, the lone guest would be out on the road with simply his own means to reach his goal for the day. He did not have any team members who could work with him.

The other side

Then I come across the verse listed below.

23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:23-24New International Version (NIV)

So what does it mean to ‘ask in my name’ when praying? How does that create a context for what we ask for? Is anything too trivial to ask for in prayer?

I don’t have additional insight into those questions. Yet somehow, I think we need to consider whether our prayers are self-serving or whether we pray in such a way that the answers to those  prayers bring honour and glory to God.

In the end I think we should have prayed for the needs of the lone cyclist. However, did we know him well enough to determine his needs.?Maybe a headwind was fine because he hadn’t intended to go very far that day.

If nothing else, the chaplain’s prayer in Chaplin Saskatchewan did get me thinking about how we pray and what we pray for.

One Chilly Morning

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An unusual bed?

Every day when I arrived at work I would park my car near the newspaper recycle bin. I would take a minute or two to clean up stray papers that had missed their target namely the paper recycle dumpster.

One particular morning I nonchalantly opened the lid to throw some paper into the bin. Instead of seeing newsprint and bags of shredded paper I found myself looking at a body. A body with an ashen complexion. A body with disheveled clothing. My first thought was, “This is a crime scene or the unfortunate death of a street person death”.

A moment later I was startled to see the body move. Slowly a thirty-ish young man sat up. My puzzlement faded into relief. Relief that this was not a crime scene.

On second look I had the impression that the bags of shredded paper might actually be comfortable. Definitely more comfortable than many places I’ve seen street people spend the night.

I was rather disoriented and so the only words that came out of my mouth was, “You don’t need to hurry. If you want to sleep for a while, go ahead.”

Instead he quickly scrambled out of the bid and headed down the sidewalk hoping to avoid any extra attention.

I realized later that it would have been more appropriate to have offered him a cup of coffee or my lunch to take with him.