Wednesday, January 21, 2009

reserved Obama-mania

Like millions of people around the world, I watched Obama’s inauguration yesterday and, like millions of people around the world, kinda wished he could be our guy. I am generally not given to being more interested in American politics than our own – unlike many people I know, I passed over the Biden/Palin debate to watch our own leadership candidates duke it out. Obama is exciting, though. Not only is he the first black president of the United States, which is amazing when you think of how recently black Americans actually got their civil rights, but he’s also a visionary who seems ready to lead his country in the current challenging times, and to give them a sense of identity and pride.

And so I watched the inauguration with excitement yesterday but, while I have a bit of charismatic leader-envy, there were elements that reminded me how different America and Canada are, and made me happy that I belong to this relatively boring and laid-back nation.

The first thing that struck me (and many of my colleagues have also mentioned it) was the overt Christian-ness of the whole process. While Obama did point out in his speech that Americans are of all beliefs, they still had Rick Warren give his very Christian prayer, leaving no question that American is one nation “under God”. The religious background of most Canadian leaders is a non-issue – I hear that Ignatieff is Orthodox. Who knew? And who cares? We let our leaders’ personal beliefs quietly affect their convictions, and judge them by their actions more than their affiliations. I like this – it gives more room for people from diverse backgrounds to truly feel like they belong.

The other thing that I have always found odd, and noticed again during yesterday’s ceremony, is the role of the First Lady. Both Michele Obama and Biden’s wife held the Bible when their husbands were sworn in. While it is true that the role of President of the United States is going to affect a person’s spouse profoundly, it still made me think of the way that churches expect pastors wives to find their own fulfillment in supporting their husband’s vocation (see my rant on this subject here ). I like our method better, where the wife of the P.M. generally does whatever she does (lawyer, full-time mother, hippie/debutante), and while it’s probably not good form to get drunk with the Rolling Stones, she is more or less left alone.

I feel like Obama is going to be a defining voice in our generation, and I will be watching him from up here in the North, but as much as I would love to have a leader whose speeches make me cry (ahem . . . in the good way . . .) I would not trade our pomp-free ways for all the inaugural balls in the world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Afternoon Philosophy

“I need to figure out what I believe in metaphysically and morally, and how the two are related. That’s the essence of a spiritual identity.” This thought wandered through my head while I was trying to get to sleep the other night. Not as bad as my brain adding to my to-do list for work the next day, but also not as conducive to drifting off as thoughts of summer vacation. It might just have been my mind processing the philosophy of a character in the book I was reading, or I might to be onto something. So the first step in answering this question is to probe the premise – is there a link between morals and metaphysics – and is that, indeed, where the crux of spirituality lies?

Is it possible to have a moral system without it being linked to your understanding of the nature of the universe and your place in it? It seems to me the answer to this is no. At least, I can’t think of any examples – even if you don’t believe there is a God with a will who is pleased by some things and displeased by others, to even have a sense that there is “right” and “wrong”, you have to have an idea of how your actions fit into your larger context . . . and I don’t see how that can be done without an idea of what that larger context is. Even pure moral relativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Alright, so if there’s a link – so what? If I figure out where my morality comes from, will I know what I think about the nature of God? Or if I figure out what I think the nature of God is, will it guide me in right living? If I believe something is inherently good or bad (or that there is no inherent good or bad), that belief must come from some measurement of utility, that seems it would come from my understanding of being. It seems a bit harder to make the link in the other direction, though – in any worldview in which there isn’t some kind of anthropomorphic god, how do we take cues from the nature of the universe to shape our action?

This is twisting my head, and I don’t think I’ve yet figured out if it’s useful or not. I guess that’s why I am a lawyer, and not a metaphysician (or metaphysicist, which sounds much cooler, if you ask me . . .).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

feminist rant #84

I resent that I have to be careful. I resent that I have always felt uncomfortable walking home from the Transitway late at night, and that those twinges have been confirmed as something more than paranoia by the news reports of a sexual assault (in mid-day) on the path between the mall and my street. And I resent that our government no longer funds Status of Women Canada, because it considers that women have obtained equality. No man that I know worries about how they’re going to get safely home in Ottawa.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the affleunza report

Since the book club read Affluenza as our November pick, I entered into the holiday season thinking about consumption of stuff stuff stuff. In the lead-up to Christmas, I also came across a great website - Advent Conspiracy - which is pragmatic in its approach to giving less over the holidays. Realizing that most people like to give gifts, it doesn't advocate the "buy nothing Christmas," but instead encourages people to give one less gift and to focus on gifts that bring people together.

We headed into the season making our own attempts to kick the bug in the butt - we drew names with PJ's mom and sisters, so that we each only bought one gift; we managed to make a fair number of gifts; including our usual canning for friends (which we completed in the fall when there was still stuff to can); I passed on some books that I had read, rather than buying new copies; I resisted the urge to buy one more thing for my parents (who have everything they need and more) just because I felt like I wanted to give them gifts; and when I was dry on ideas to give PJ, I decided to give him coupons for 5 dates to do some of his favourite things.

What was cool to see, through the holiday season, is how other people in our lives are thinking in the same vein, and so I want to share some of the amazing consume-less gifts we received:

- Rather than buy them new, my grandma, who has spent years of her life collecting antiques, gave us two dishes out of her collection
- PJ's stepmother made us an amazing blanket with Swedish embroidery
-some of our friends made a donation in the name of our group of friends to a charity that helps send girls to school in Tanzania, and my sister and her husband gave PJ an Oxfam goat (i.e. the goat has been given to a family in need on his behalf)
-several of our friends gave us home-made baking, and another couple also did canning
- a couple of our friends have, for the second year, given some bottles of their favourite environmentally friendly cleaning products

I like giving gifts and I like receiving gifts (unless, to be honest, they are things that have no function and will just sit around my house). It is an ingrained part of our culture at this time of year, and I like the generosity of a season in which everyone shares. It is exciting to see more and more people in my life finding creative ways to participate in this tradition without going into debt or adding to the mass of consumer goods in our homes and landfills.

Friday, January 2, 2009

good to be home

We've been back from our Christmas south-west Ontario junket for a few days now. As usual, the first part was spent frenetically visiting everyone while shuttling back and forth between PJ's mom and dad in Waterloo, and the 2nd part was spent drinking wine and reading books at my parents' place in Walkerton. It was a good trip - despite some horrible driving, we saw all of our closest friends from our pre-Ottawa lives, including one dear friend who lives in Europe and I last saw 3 years ago at a wedding over on that side of the Atlantic, and a few others who have gone away for the past few years when we came home for the holidays, but were all around this year. It's amazing how, with good friends, the passage of years does nothing to stilt the conversation.

Now, we're back in Ottawa. We had a wonderful quiet New Year's Eve with some close friends, making "gourmet diner" food and playing Rumoli, and a great day yesterday, alternating between being productive (finished the latest baby quilt, got the new wireless router installed, made 2 soup recipes out of a new Christmas gift cookbook - which is all vegetarian recipes which feature alcohol as one of the ingredients . . . ), and ODing on DVD television.

And the funny thing is - it was good to be "home" where we grew up and where we used to live, but then it was also good to come "home" to our little nest and our regular lives here. It's horribly trite to say that "home is where the heart is", but I guess it's one of those sayings that is over-used because it's true. I like that I have multiple homes, and can feel like I belong in a variety of places.