Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Turning Points

November 4, 1967, four days after I turned 21 and didn't need my parents' permission, I took a Vermont Transit bus to Boston, walked from the old station carrying a fairly light suitcase to 17 Louisburg Square, and rang the doorbell. The door was heavy oak with a grill at eye level. Sister Emily Louise opened the door and invited me into the parlour at the top right of about five stairs. St. Margaret's Convent smelled of a combination of candle wax, floor wax, incense and other scents that still stir me when I encounter them. All was quiet. Sister Eleanora, who was novice mistress at the time, must have taken me to my room. I was wearing a navy skirt, a lovely white and blue flowered blouse Mum and Dad gave me for my birthday, and a wedge wood blue sweater.


Front door - St. Margaret's Convent, 17 Louisburg Square


What is now # 19 was the main door at # 17.
Trying to make my scanner work with better images, but it's not willing.
The convent was first 3 townhouses, and then # 13 was added.
For the next two weeks, I did what I was asked, settled in to some extent, and at Vespers on November 20th, I walked down the aisle in my little and long black dress with the Peter Pan white removable (for laundry purposes) collar and black cloth belt, a tiny white veil, black socks and shoes, genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle on the altar, turned right and knelt in the postulants' stall. I was received as a postulant and began my journey in the Religious Life 46 years ago this evening.


Chapel - 17 Louisburg Square

What is it that aches still? A longing that Ken Genge, our parish priest in St. Lambert in the early 80's, said meant I still loved God.

I was so young. Immature even, though I didn't realize it of course. I was terribly homesick for months, and yet also settled in to my new home as if I'd always belonged there. I'd sit on the roof at night and imagine that the same stars were shining over Montreal. And I missed playing street hockey with my brother, Jim. I had always been terrified of going away from home - as if someone would die while I wasn't there to protect them ... or ... as if I might. 

Still, it was right. 

I was a little startled by the little wooden stool we were required to sit on at the feet of the novice mistress for our Sunday afternoon conference. How are things going? Spiritual and otherwise? I felt like a fish in water - I belonged. Always terrified of making mistakes, of course - that's normal - or was in those days - terrified of being sent packing. 

Sister Eleanora had me cleaning guest rooms. It's one of those conundrums - I can never remember which was the right way and which was the 'wrong' but whatever, I did it 'my' way which of course made more sense. Do you dust first and then dust mop the floor after stirring up the dust - or do you dust mop the floor, stir up the dust, and then wipe the window ledges and such? Well, it was important - and she told me I was stubborn - with a twinkle in her eye - and thus came into being one of the sayings I still use with great regularity: "Stubbornness can become perseverance." And I persevered. For a long time. Some of the most wonder-full years of my life were lived as a Sister of St. Margaret.

Sister Eleanora was an upright, tall, large-boned woman who wore glasses, could be quite serious, and who also had a sense of fun that kept developing. Over the years, working with her at Trinity Mountain Camp in CT and at the convent, she was a model for me in some ways. She and Sister Felicitas I think of as being two of many, really, who could hold onto what was most important in the Religious Life and who could let go when times a'changed. 

Sister Felicitas - ahh - Mother Mary Agnes had told her once (or more than once?) that she was a rebel. Or was it another word beginning with 'R"? Radical! that's it! At any rate, she took it as a compliment, though it probably wasn't meant to be. She was tiny, feisty, spoke her mind, stood firm and bent when necessary. She was the first Sister I met - as she was in charge at St. Margaret's Home in Montreal. I remember going over for a meal and services - and the first one was a Friday dinner. Urrgghh. Silent Friday dinner. And FISH. In those days, the sister-in-charge dished up our food. So, I had a plate full of dry white fish, (I don't like fish, dry or not), white boiled potatoes, and probably some vegetable. Well, I struggled on... and on ... and on ... while the Sisters finished and sat politely. Sister Jane, Sister Juliana, and Sister Rosemary, I think. Sister Felicitas must have had pity on me and ended the meal, or I'd still be trying to swallow that pesky dry fish and dry potatoes.

Sister Eleanora went on to be in charge in NYC in February 1968, and Sister Rosemary became our novice mistress. One of my favourite people ever, anywhere. Sister Rosemary was nutty. The very best kind of nutty. She often spoke before putting her brain in gear, and sometimes acted impulsively as well. A story is told about her giving away a Sister's pair of boots to someone who came to the door needing boots. And I think she gave knitting away as well - not her own. She had a heart as big as the ocean. She loved Jesus. She was generous and loving. Whenever I hear Canada geese flying over, I feel her reach over to touch my shoulder and whisper, "Listen!" Geese were flying over the convent as we knelt in the dark silence of evening chapel before Compline at 9:00. 

Sister Rosemary got rid of the little stool. First thing. She entered the community in March 1946, six months or so before I was born. She told us that at her first conference she thought Sister Eleanora was joking when she, a new little postulant, was told to sit on the low stool. Nope. Another one who could hold onto essentials and toss out things that no longer made sense. We were to sit on chairs, eye level, like the adults we were.  (Well, I did a good imitation sometimes of being adult - and it's not a put-down really - it's true - but I was much more than that. I loved and was loved - even though I couldn't take in love at the time. I gave of myself wholeheartedly to this new and challenging life.)

As a postulant I helped in the kitchen and pantry - and I'd end up running up and down the pantry stairs too often. Sister Louise (who was one of the Sisters from Canada) would say, "Use your head and save your feet." Still doing that - still saying that - still remembering Sister Louise.



BBQ at the beach at Duxbury c 1972
Sister Mary Alice at right (I thought at first it was Sister Louise)
Background - two of the three Syrian Orthodox Sisters from Kerala, India, who trained in our novitiate

Sister Eugenie worked in the sewing room. She was from Montserrat and her father must have been a seaman of some sort, as she loved to use sea terms. She had a small Union Jack in the far corner by the window. Imagine! In Boston, the land of the Tea Party - the original Tea Party - not the conservative mmmm... one of today. Her birthday was St. John the Baptist Day, June 24th for you non-Quebecers - and maybe her Profession anniversary as well. She used to take a silent retreat day on her birthday - and I, in my youth, couldn't imagine being silent on one's birthday! I couldn't have, but then mine was Hallowe'en. Still is, actually. :-)

Sister Eugenie was tallish, angular, spunky, and she liked my spunk. Funny how you know when someone loves you as you are. I hadn't even begun to love myself. When I was clothed as a novice on June 8, 1968, First Vespers of Trinity Sunday, Sister Eugenie had prepared my first habit, novice's veil, and all other necessaries. My name became Sister Roslyn Marie. I suppose now, I'd just go with the Roslyn, but then it was a way of staying connected with Quebec - Ville Marie having been an early name for Montreal.

One morning, I came down to chapel around 6am to find a notice on the door saying that Sister Eugenie had died suddenly in the night. Shock. Grief. She was one of the first of my Sisters to die. And I'd loved her. When they carried her coffin down the large curved staircase from the second-floor chapel after her requiem mass, we were all lined up in the front hall to bid her goodbye. My eyes filled with tears, and a novice motioned to me not to cry. We're supposed to be happy for her. In a sense, we weren't of this world.  Sadness and anger weren't open in those days. How different it was when Sister Mary Eleanor died many years later. 

So many stories. Sister Marjorie Raphael was the Mother Superior when I arrived, Mother Mary Agnes having been ill and died shortly before I came. She was (and is) grace-full and wise. A wonderful artist. She sent me to Haiti, even though I didn't want to go! (Well, I said I was immature - and spiders - never mind tarantulas are very high on my 'terrified of' list). How could I have known that another turning point had come, one that changed my heart and mind in unimaginable ways. I will always be thankful to her. 

One last story - more perhaps to come - of the trip to Haiti. October 15, 1971. Mother MR was away on holidays. Sister Rhoda and Sister Adele Marie took me to Logan Airport. No one thought that I might need money - and I wasn't used to having it. After they'd gone, I woke up. Well, I found a penny on the floor. Not enough to even make a phone call. The plane to Miami was very late coming in and therefore late leaving. We had a nice meal on the plane, including a small bottle of red wine. We didn't drink wine in those days, so I just packed it away rather than waste it. handed it over on my arrival. someone enjoyed it. :-) 

Miami. Huge airport. Very little time to make the Air France flight to Port-au-Prince. Ran carrying a long box with a huge paschal candle in it for Cathédrale Ste-Trinité, a violin in its case for the music school at Ecole Ste-Trinité, and my carry-on bag. (Imagine running through an airport today with two objects that look like they could have guns in them!)

Out of breath, made the flight. Took off. Not used to flying. The plane went silent when it reached a certain height (This was 1971, not a high-tech jet of today). Panic. I thought it was the end. It wasn't. We flew in over Ile de la Tortue and south to PauP. Mountains. L'Artibonite. Excitement. Anxiety. A new world.

The plane landed. We de-planed on the tarmac. I got to customs and found that my bags hadn't made it onto the flight. And that I needed two dollars to get into the country. A penny didn't cut it. Sister Jean was waiting for me; I could see her. But she hadn't thought to bring any money either, so she rushed (as fast as a nearly 80 yo with short legs and in a long habit could rush) trying to find someone she knew to lend her the $2. She did. Ann Benny. Phew! I was in!

OK, so I got through customs into the convent jeep and we drove through PauP - sights, sounds, scents all so new and exciting. overwhelming. A different world. We arrived at the convent behind the cathedral. Rue Pavé, rue Montalais. My summer habit was in my suitcase in Miami. It was HOT. The decision was made that I could borrow one of Sister Jean's - she who was at least 6 inches shorter than I and twice as round. :-) So - there I was, a light grey habit far shorter than it should have been though my knees weren't quite showing, bulkily gathered in at the waist , and ready to begin my new life.

Adventures unimaginable before me. Challenges. Life in all its fullness. Learning. Oh my. Frustrations. Being the youngest Sister there by at least 30 years from Sister Anne Marie, the next youngest - and onwards and upwards. In two years, I saw one baby tarantula and there was another regular size we didn't see that bit our dog, Teddy's nose. Mind you, I didn't look very hard unless I felt endangered. Sister Anne Marie and Sister Joan used to get up at about 4:00 to get in chapel time before heading to their schools. One morning (they told us) when they opened the wooden chapel doors, they found them covered with newborn (hatched?) dozens and dozens of tarantulas. I never asked myself 'til now where they lived after their discovery. It's called denial.

I did throw a saucer on top of a very large, fat spider early one morning in my room, and asked Tony if he could dispose of it for me. He laughed and said it wasn't a tarantula - rather was called - translated - mama's baby. Harmless. Well, how was I to know a 3" spider was harmless? And the little anolis running about more than made up for the terror of spiders. Skittering here and there, up candles and walls, along ledges. changing colour according to their surroundings. My heart laughs remembering them.

One morning as the Sisters gathered on the downstairs verandah, Peter our black cat with the Siamese meow, ran by with an anoli in his mouth. I grabbed and forced Peter to let go, and the anolis disappeared leaving its tail behind. Ah well, safe, anyhow. (Apparently a black cat with Siamese meow is descended from a Siamese that 'married' out of its class.)





Kneeling at the cathedral at the 6:00 mass, I felt something crawling under the skirt of my habit at hip level. I enclosed it in my hand through the material, went for communion, one hand down rather than two piously folded. Got through Mass and out into the courtyard and shook my habit. Out fell the anolis. Imagine if I had not know it was an anolis, I would not have been a good little nun and waited patiently with the 'thing' enclosed in my fist. Urrggghhhh! Arrgghhh! Help! It was not a tarantula! :-)




Sisters Anne Marie, Virginia, Roslyn Marie
Sister Jean and Mother Marjorie Raphael c 1972 at Kenscoff, Haiti

Monday, 11 November 2013

Regrets and My Dad

Christopher Richardson, NL born film maker, created a documentary called Regret. He says most people regret things they haven't done rather than things they have done. It's true, I think. I don't regret decisions made like going to the convent. Life has unfolded in wonder-full and unimaginable ways. Life is good. I'm not sure how I got to be 67, but there we are. 



I do regret not hugging my Dad good-bye the last time I saw him.

Dad died of a massive heart attack Friday in Easter week, April 16, 1993. No chance to say good-bye. I had invited him and Mariette to come to Lachine, as Holy Week was mmm... busy. He said he couldn't, but asked if I could visit them in Longueuil. So, I gathered up my alb to wash at their place, and went for lunch on Brodeur Street in Longueuil. 

We had egg salad sandwiches on white bread. I sat on the couch, he in his chair a few feet away, TV on as usual but neither of us really watching it. Not really talking much either. Dad knew he was dying, but didn't bother to tell me. If he had been someone unrelated to me, I'd have sensed the cues with my ever over-vigilant gut. But we miss things with those closest to us. I couldn't imagine him dying. I didn't see it. Didn't want to. Though he said he got out of breath walking to the corner. Though he didn't feel well enough to drive to Lachine.

When I was ready to leave, we stood and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I sensed he wanted me to hug him, but I was always ambivalent about Dad hugs, and so I just kissed him. I turned at the bottom of the six stairs and looked back at him and Mariette for another goodbye. His gaze was sad - I thought (always one for interpreting or misinterpreting what others were thinking) that he was disappointed that I didn't hug him. I often felt he was disappointed in me. From the wisdom of 67, I don't think he was. Now I realize he knew he wouldn't see me again.

I regret not hugging him that day. I regret not knowing him or understanding him as well as I am beginning to now. On CBC radio recently, an author (don't remember his name) said we probably are all ashamed of our parents at some point but not all of us are willing to admit it. Yes. Dad was weak in some ways. He also had many talents. He was artistic. Liked to draw. Painted different types of whales on our kitchen cupboards. Explored heraldry and painted shields for St. Mark's Church, Longueuil and Holy Trinity, South Bolton. He was sensitive and easily hurt, though he came across as tough-ish. I was ashamed - of many things - and I wasn't aware enough or centred enough to fully appreciate his strengths. What kid does? Still ...

This may be the missing piece I've needed, without knowing it, in order to write about our family stories and "Grandpa Didn't Die in Uruguay." Pondering regrets - pondering Dad, I realize that although I can't make up for the past - my search for his father was for him. Me, too, of course. I regret that he doesn't (I guess) know that I found his Dad. And his/our ancestors back another 4 or 5 generations - I feel as if I've done it for him. Found him. Found myself. Found family we didn't know we had. 

There are still mysteries about Grandpa Mac, some of which I may never solve. But knowing something of Grandpa Mac's background - the toughest of Scottish Presbyterians - having an inkling of the stern rigidity at home, school, and church when he was growing up - knowing that Dad grew up in a similarly rigid and violent household and with the lie that his father had died in 1923 ... Not surprised that Grandpa broke out of the rigidity with a certain amount of vengeance. And Dad, too, in his own quiet ways.

I don't mean that writing or understanding somehow removes the regrets. Nothing can re-do that day. Maybe it's sort of like a funeral - we gather to grieve, to celebrate a life, to give the person back to God - we're maybe sorry for not saying "I love you" often enough, for things said and left unsaid, done and left undone. We can't go back, but we begin again. A new life, when we hope we'll tell those we still have in this world that we love them. We'll do things differently.  At least we'll try to. 

So, Dad, I regret I couldn't/didn't hug you that day. I'm mad at you for not being honest and, presumably, trying to protect me from your impending death. I wish I'd understood you better. But I found your Dad. I hope you know. He was as complicated a man as you were and even more secretive. 

Now there are less secrets and I'm thankful.


Dad, wearing his Macgregor tartan tie.


Grandpa Macgregor ... ummm .. are they related to each other?





A Challenge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f1_VcVWpkI&feature

A MUST SEE.

Some of the BBC's most challenging work. Thank you. We should ALL see this. it's an hour long documentary - and for all the time and energy I've put into anti-racism work - I had no idea - of the history of eugenics, the American support of German eugenics leading up to the holocaust, of 30,000,000 Indians (India) allowed to starve to death while the rice and wheat cash crops they were forced to grow were lying in the port of Madras waiting to be shipped to America and England - in the 1860's + in famines because it was simply survival of the fittest - of Shark Island and Namibian massacres (the first concentration camp), of even the abolitionists' energy fading out when it became clear that Christianizing wasn't going to be enough to 'civilize' Blacks and advance the Empire... of the masses of people sterilized and killed ... yes - I know of the First Nations experience in Canada - but I have been so ignorant of the evil process that educated, Christian minds developed... OK - this is over-simplifying in one paragraph - but please - take the hour and watch it. On Remembrance Day, one of the things we say about war is that we need to remember the past or we repeat it. So, so much has been erased from our history books and teachings. And from Church teachings.

I feel a blog coming on. I began sharing this video on facebook and tried to put the feeling of illness and shock partly at my own ignorance into words. Even given that I was chair of our diocesan anti-racism committee (when it still existed in our Diocese of Montreal- it's been erased, too, for a number of years), I didn't understand the process. I've taken anti-racism courses. I've studied. I obviously hadn't done enough. Thank God for the internet. For courageous people who put together this documentary. Many of us try to say we weren't there then. We aren't responsible for our countries' histories. Well, in one way, no, we're not. We ARE responsible for our ignorance of the past. We are responsible for our blindness (conscious and otherwise) to racism today. We are responsible for our inaction, because silent inaction = support. 

Some of our 'heroes' of the past supported eugenics. GB Shaw. Charles Dickens.... ooohhh... If you really want to know more, put aside an hour and watch this documentary. 


Famine in India - British policy was: to interfere with the famine was in interfere with nature. Survival of the fittest.
The poorest of the poor are condemned to death by nature.

We need to be careful about the following.  The  Germans didn't invent eugenics and the extermination of peoples. White people did. English, American (maybe Canadian), Germans - maybe all who were colonial powers. (Disagree with me here - or better- enlighten me - concerning earlier massacres and exterminations of people - were they expansions of empires? Were they 'colour' related? Were they as organized as we seem to have become beginning in the 1700's give or take?



The newly invented Kodak roll-film camera was used by wealthier German officers to take home 'mementoes' of their time in Namibia
Experiment: The newly invented Kodak roll-film camera was used by wealthier German officers to take home 'mementoes' of their time in Namibia
Shark Island is not Namibia's only gruesome secret. Thousands more bodies are piled in a mass grave under the railway station in the capital Windhoek and more still are piled into a burial pit under the national museum. 
The story of the German extermination of the Herero and Nama peoples has been expunged from the history books  -  and the tourists and scuba divers on the Shark Bay waterfront will find no mention of it in their guides. 
Another observer tells of the abuse of prisoners forced to carry heavy loads from boats on the shore: 'on one occasion, I saw a woman carrying a child of under a year old slung on her back and with a heavy sack of grain on her head. 
'The sand was very steep and the sun was baking. She fell down on her face and the heavy sack fell partly across her and partly across the baby. A corporal hit her with a leather whip for more than four minutes, and whipped the baby as well.' Children at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland
Children at Auschwitz concentration camp. Shark Island, off the coast of the Namibian German colony, was the site of the world's first death camp - the German invention that culminated in the Holocaust of World War II, the greatest mass crime of the 20th century



Some of us imagine somehow that it started with Nazi atrocities. Except for the genocide of Armenians, maybe. More recently, why did the Canadians in Rwanda not get the support they needed to prevent the genocide or at least curb it? And Congo? Where are we? Continued famines in Africa - are we doing what the English did c1860's? Forgetting Haiti to a large extent after the initial huge response? Expecting Haiti to be recovered, even though the large equipment isn't available for much of the work that needs to be done? Are we still allowing (even plotting? behind administrative closed doors)?

And some try to think that the Charter of Values is about everyone being equal?? Sure. curious that those targeted are the same ones targeted in the past - people of colour and Jews - it wouldn't cost me anything not to wear a cross or clergy collar. I'm the 'right' kind. Outwardly anyhow, with my American Indian and Black slave roots pretty well masked after a few generations. I'm not a dark-skinned Muslim, Sikh or Hindu - or Jewish.


Well, we aren't in one sense responsible for the past. We ARE responsible if we don't learn from the past and act in the NOW. Beginning with educating ourselves. Beginning for us as Quebecers, here in Quebec. It isn't about secularism. It is about who is dominant. It is about who is the 'right' kind. I speak not so much of language. I understand Quebec's past. It IS about 'colour' and 'race' (a concept that white people developed btw). it certainly isn't about freedom.

Tell me that people of colour will have an easier time getting a job even when (if) the Charter of Values is passed and we all 'look the same.' Yeah, right. 

Tell me that Haitian young people will no longer be counselled into the weaker high school courses - away from the most difficult maths and sciences. (Except that the Haitian community is wiser, now, and hopeful this is happening less often). Secondary 4 or 5 students suddenly realize they don't have the right courses to get into the top university programs

Tell me one of our families won't be told she needs to come to a day care to sign up, and then when she gets there (being of Haitian origin) is told there aren't any places and why not find a day care with other Haitian children?

Tell me our young (and older) people won't be stopped by police for driving while Black.

Tell me one of our Inuit fellows will never again be called "Bush Nigger" by a policewoman.

Tell me .... you fill in the blanks.

Tell me there is no racism in Canada and even in our Church.

And don't you Torontonians and Vancouverites, or those who live in other cities or smaller towns  - or those of you who live in the UK and NZ - go thinking it's just in Quebec. 

P'raps you all knew all this. I imagine most of you who read this blog who are people of colour know it. I'm sorry I didn't. But adding wisdom late is better than never.

Thanks, Yves, for sharing this. 

If the link doesn't work - it's on Youtube - and it's called: "What Scientific Racism Did to the Blacks Worldwide" You might find it that way.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Dialogue of Dalai Lama and Liberation Theologian, Leonardo Boff

I used this as part of the homily for All Saints Day... powerful stuff. We talked about roots and how trees without roots can't withstand storms. Many of those present at this service are fortunate enough to have Buddhist spiritual roots and one of our musicians is Hindu. It's hard - as Christians we were raised to believe that we have the only and the right way. 

Something to ponder.




DIALOG WITH DALAI LAMA
the Brazilian theologian  Leonardo Boff wrote:
In a round table discussion about religion and freedom in which Dalai Lama
and myself were participating at recess, I maliciously and also with interest, asked him: “Your holiness, what is the best religion?”
I thought he would say: “The Tibetan Buddhism” or “The oriental religions, much older than Christianity.”
The Dalai Lama paused, smiled and looked me in the eyes …. which surprised me because I knew of the malice contained in my question.
He answered: “The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God. It is the one that makes you a better person.”
To get out of my embarrassment with such a wise answer, I asked: “What is it that makes me better?”
He responded:
“Whatever makes you
more compassionate,
more sensible,
more detached,
more loving,
more humanitarian,
more responsible,
more ethical.”
“The religion that will do that for you is the best religion”
I was silent for a moment, marveling and even today thinking of his wise and irrefutable response:
“I am not interested, my friend, about your religion or if you are religious or not.
“What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your peers, family, work, community, and in front of the world.
“Remember, the universe is the echo of our actions and our thoughts.”
“The law of action and reaction is not exclusively for physics. It is also of human relations. If I act with goodness, I will receive goodness. If I act with evil, I will get evil.”
“What our grandparents told us is the pure truth. You will always have what you desire for others. Being happy is not a matter of destiny. It is a matter of options.”
Finally he said:
“Take care of your Thoughts because they become Words.
Take care of your Words because they will become Actions.
Take care of your Actions because they will become Habits.
Take care of your Habits because they will form your Character.
Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny,
and your Destiny will be your Life
… and …
“There is no religion higher than the Truth.”


Is Conflict Bad? Are We Alive - Individuals, Families, Communities?

I think lots of us think conflict is BAD. Many of us grew up in families where conflict was subtle, swept under the rug, blatant or all of the above. Dad could blow up in a second. That wasn't all he was, but he was often an angry man. I was afraid. AND I loved him. 

Women - may be Mum - and girls had/have a style that involved withdrawal - with a few exceptions I know - (Suzie?) -and many I don't know of . 


For some it begins with the arrival of a new baby.  A youngster I knew, age 3 at the time, asked their mother if she could mail his new baby brother back where he came from. Jealousy is normal. Comes in all sorts of forms. Starts young. Maybe it's simply one of our many human survival techniques manifested in various emotions gone wrong if it's acted upon in a destructive manner.





Hmmm...could be me and my brother a very long time ago...
Actually we got along pretty well most of the time, though he knew how to push my buttons. 
I threw an algebra book at him once.
(from Calvin and Hobbes)
I wonder why we're so hung up about the 'negative' emotions? Anger. Envy. Fear (often spoken of as a lack of faith or courage). Jean Vanier spoke once about a religious community he had visited, and the nuns walked past each other in icy silence (not the right and good silence that is part of the religious life.) He said he'd rather see a fight than glacial silence. At least with a fight, there is passion. We care. We are alive.


How some of us imagine conflict will look if we express our anger
It seldom looks like this image, although in some families it certainly did and/or does. It doesn't have to. Churches have (at least in the past - p'raps not so much now) been examples of "How not to handle conflict." How not to handle it was, of course, precisely that - don't touch it. Hope it will go away. No discussion or even acknowledgement of the issues. After all, we're good Christians, and good Christians love each other, accept each other, don't get mad at each other. Well, put a bunch of women in a room together, and there will be some interesting dynamics. I think (correct me if I'm wrong) men are better at getting at least the mad at each other part out. I'm not sure they were (are?) any better (in the church) at addressing conflict openly.  But, back to the women - what do we do? Do we live out of our own insecurities? Do we try to sweep things under the rug? Or does the other person have to be totally wrong in order for me to feel I'm right, heard, whatever? 

It's hard sometimes in leadership. We try to have a leadership that is community styled. The 'top' doesn't usually make decisions. When we do, are we bullying? Who's in charge? There's a t-shirt a theology student of long ago told us about: "You not da boss 'a me!" Is there a boss at all? What kind of boss?

What does it mean to take responsibility? Not to abdicate. To involve as many people as possible in activities? When is it taking responsibility for what seems best for the entire community, and when is it not listening? 

We hear about conflict resolution. Well, there's no such thing as conflict resolution. If it were totally resolved, we'd be dead. There's only conflict management. And  that is enough. Jesus said, "When two or three are gathered together, I will hear your/their request." 

Well, I wish they'd left in the part that he must have said: "Wherever two or three are gathered together, there will be conflict and it's normal. Especially three!" Watch three kids in the sandbox. Watch a community of three. It takes a great deal of consciousness, which we as adults can have, but the kids in the sandbox don't, to be aware of our own dynamics and not to exclude one or more people. The positive side of that would, of course, be "to include" everyone, respecting limits, needs, desires, gifts of each.




So, in any family, church, community, there is conflict. That's how life happens. We agree. We disagree. We make mistakes. We begin to take each other for granted. We're looking at an issue from different perspectives. We're good people who are human, and who live out of our own histories and perspectives. 

If conflict was unacknowledged in our early years, if we never learned to deal with things directly with each other, if we are getting into power struggles, if we think the other person isn't hearing us because he or she disagrees with us .... well, we're at least normal.

I seem to have connected with Elie Wiesel again today. Silence is NOT preferable to speaking our truths, expressing emotions and ideas, and disagreeing with each other sometimes.


In The Town beyond the Wall, Elie Weisel confronts a man who stood at his window and watched as Hungarian Jews - men, women, children, were restrained for days with no water or food until they were shipped to a concentration camp.  (Page 156)

"Let's talk," I said.
"About what?"
"A saturday in spring. Noneteen forty-four. On one side, the Jews; on the other, you. Only the window - that window - between."
"I remember."
"With shame?"
"No."
"With remorse?"
"No."
"With sadness?"
"No. With nothing at all. There's no emotion attached to the memory."
I leaned forward slightly: "What did you feel then?"
"Nothing."
The muscles in my face tightened: "Outside, children were sick with thirst: what did you feel?"
"Nothing."
"Outside, men were turning away so as not to see their children doubled up in pain: what did you feel?"
"Nothing." A silence; then: "Absolutely nothing."


Holocaust - Elie Wiesel, Night, Ch. 3 – Arrival at a concentration camp -
"Men to the left! Women to the right!   "Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother."


And the Sea Is Never Full (1999), Wiesel wrote: "The silence of Birkenau is a silence unlike any other. It contains the screams, the strangled prayers of thousands of human beings condemned to vanish into the darkness of nameless, endless ashes. Human silence at the core of inhumanity. Deadly silence at the core of death. Eternal silence under a moribund sky."

OK. So what Wiesel writes is extreme in terms of what most of us experience in our day-to-day life with families, communities, friends... But it's still true for all of us. And it's at the centre of a circle that expands outwards into the world around us. Never to care passionately about anyone or anything is to be dead inside. A family, a community, a church in which there is no interaction, no anger or no depth of emotion expressed, is dead inside. 

So - if there is conflict, we can be sure that we're not dead. :-) We don't need to check the obituaries to see. We're very much alive. Just uncomfortable sometimes.  So... ?

No to silence. No to brushing conflicts under the rug. No to seeing it only from my or your perspective. No to excluding people because I, or you, or whomever happens to be in a position of power. No to seeing conflict as negative. Surely it's only negative if it gets out of control or is an abuse of power. 

I wonder a lot - I am uncertain often enough, because I wasn't brought up to stand firm when something is important. To stand firm at all, actually. But, wisdom can come with age - and increasing consciousness and understanding of myself and of others.  




So, do things have to be seen as one way or the other?
Sometimes they are one way. Sometimes the other.
And sometimes somewhere in-between.