Women as Reflection and Completion

 

In a spirited, energetic and passionate talk, Imam Dr. Mohamad Jebara took us on an educational ride through the key role women have played in Islam religion and Muslim society on a historical basis.  He is resident scholar at Ottawa’s Cordova Centre.  The centre is committed to making the world a better place through inter-faith dialogue that inspires all people to work together.  He was the lead off speaker in what promises to be a very enriching lunch and learn series at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior, entitled Faith and Inclusivity: The Gift of the Other. 

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His Eminence, Imam Mohamad Jebara

First we had lunch – and what a delicious lunch it was!  An authentic Syrian meal including spiced chicken, rice, kale, salad, Turkish delight followed by Arabic tea.  It was prepared to perfection by Karyma Nafea, wife of Abdel who is from Aleppo and on the staff of Galilee.  We learned that Turkish delight was actually first created in Damascus some 6000 years ago and should really be named “Syrian delight”.  The memorable meal was authentic mid-eastern with wonderful spices and colour.

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After welcoming us by chanting a 1000 year old Arabic greeting, Mohamad explained that he would be telling us the answer to the question ” Are women in Islam incomplete and unable to define themselves as fulfilled?”  There are many words for “woman” in Arabic.  The one he was using today was “imra’ah” which means mirror or reflection.  I groaned to myself as I was 1 of only 3 men in the 15 member audience.  “What kind of topic is this for me?” I wondered.

Using colourful images and expressive gestures, Mohamad went on to explain the long important role women have played in Islam.  Starting with the Prophet Muhammad’s upbringing, he introduced to us 5 different women who had nurtured the Prophet and inspired him to achieve great things as his mentors and protectors.  He continued with the history of many other Muslim women who had been chief magistrates, founders of universities, scholars and muftis (archbishops), during the golden years of Islamic society from the 8th to the 13th century.

At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India and China, considered women as no better than children or even slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality with men in a great many respects. The Quran states:

“And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest and peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Certainly, herein indeed are signs for people who reflect.” [Noble Quran 30:21]

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“Women complete men and men complete women.  They are equals.” Muhammad explained.  So what happened?  Why do we have such visible inequality of women in Islam e.g.,  the “mahram system” that can effectively make a woman a prisoner in her own house?  The destruction of 12 million Islam books during the Mongol invasion (13th century) and the Crusades (11th to 13th century) ended the golden years and extinguished education particularly for Islamic women.  Other cultural changes that have been confused with religion, have relegated Islamic women to inferior status.  Culture informs religion. Most Muslims do not know their own rich history.

We in the west think that we are much wiser having empowered women in our society.  Not so fast.  Just look at  as the Hollywood meltdown and the #Metoo campaign currently underway I thought.  Muhammad finished with:

“A successful society is one that empowers women.  Empowering women empowers us all.”

Wow, we have just been treated to a rich Islamic fruitcake I thought.

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Gerry Kelly thanks Dr. Muhamad Jebara

 

 

 

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Every Moment Matters

This was the phrase on a church billboard that caught my eye recently as I was driving by.  I was on my way to visit a sick friend.  How providential I thought.  We literally never know when our last moment will arrive in this life – so cherish each of them as a gift from God, every moment matters.

This past summer has been filled with many such moments.  I wanted to share a few of them by photo.  You will be happy to know I have decided to write fewer words!  Enjoy.

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July 1

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Sandy and Cindy Duff 50th

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Wyatt and Jackson

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Indigenous Peoples Reconciliation

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Bucky

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Pembroke Fiddlefest

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Manresa

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Neigbour Des

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Swimmer Dave

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Friends

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Gifts from neighbours Mike and Marilyn

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Neigbours Kay and Gene

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM US!

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The Seed of the Oblate Charism

This was the theme and focus of our annual Oblate retreat this year.  It was held at the beautiful Manresa Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering, Ontario run by the Jesuits.  Spending time together like this is a welcome break from the ongoing busyness of daily life.

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There were some 29 Oblates, associates and affiliates present from the Ontario District of OMI Lacombe Canada.  The three and a half day retreat was led by Fr. Bonga Majola, OMI.  Originally from South Africa, Fr. Bonga, of Zulu heritage, is currently attached to the Aix-en-Provence Prayer House in France.  His ministry includes the De Mazenod Experience and renewal of the Oblate charism through focus on the life of our Order’s founder St. Eugene de Mazenod.

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“The world needs the Oblate charism more than ever.”

                                                                                                        Fr. Bonga Majola, OMI

In a series of masterful reflections interwoven with writings of St. Eugene, scripture references, quotes from Pope’s Francis and JPII, relevant constitutional and other important Oblate texts, a centering focus on Jesus Christ, silence during the mornings and a call to action from the 36th General Chapter, we were engaged from start to finish in an intensely personal experience.

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We started with the Parable of the Sower of seeds from MT 13:1-23.  Those who hear God’s word but do not understand it are like seeds sown along the path that are snatched away by the birds.  Those who receive the seed on rocky soil receive it with joy but they quickly fall away when trouble or persecution begins.  Those who receive the seed in thorny soil are distracted by life’s worries and wealth, so that God’s spirit in them is choked out.  Those who receive the seed on good soil, produce a good crop that yields many many times what was sown.

We explored St. Eugene’s pain of a broken family and his aimless life until he has that encounter with the crucified Christ on that Good Friday in 1806.  He realizes in all his brokenness that he is loved unconditionally by God and has been redeemed by the blood of Christ.  He starts to heal, is completely transformed and decides to devote his life to the glorification of God and the salvation of souls with a preferential option for the poor. The seed of the charism given to St. Eugene by God is reaching out to the poor.  Due to the lack of family stability in his childhood, Eugene had a strong need for loving family relations which led him to establish the community of the Oblates.  A community that would:

“Help people to be human beings, then to be Christians, then to be holy and finally to become Saints”

Along the way, St. Eugene had to carry many crosses – his impulsive strong personality, his need to be loved,  jealousy he sometimes aroused in others, personal rejection and powerlessness.  What are the crosses I must bear?   If Christ went through such immense suffering on the cross – so can I!

I realize Eugene’s life is a template for my own – broken, in need of healing, an encounter with Jesus Christ, healing, a desire to know God, to seek holiness and even a striving to become a saint.  If Christ is not at the centre of my life, why not?  We discussed the importance of community and our need for love and support to help each other in our journey from brokeness to sainthood.  We acknowledged that problems exist in Oblate community life much like problems exist in other communities and among married couples.  We need to first recognize our own brokenness and seek healing before we can reach out and help others in their brokenness.  We must ponder the meaning of scripture before we can be credible witnesses and affirm others.

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As members of the Mazenodian Family our call to action are the priorities expressed at the 36th General Chapter in 2016, namely:

  • Mission and the new faces of the poor
  • Mission with youth
  • Formation for mission
  • Mission and interculturality
  • Mission and social media
  • Mission and finance

I left with a feeling of peace, gratitude and greater acceptance of myself and others.  I feel renewed having realized again that Jesus really does love me.  I felt more capable than ever of passing his love on others in my life and of being more accepting of others’ differences.  Much gratitude and appreciation was expressed by all to Fr. Bonga for his youthful witness, for his joy and for his skillful guiding of us on this intensely personal renewal experience.  The charism of St Eugene lives on in each of us by dwelling on the seed of life, the water of baptism and the softening of our hearts through love of the cross.

Thank you Fr. Bonga, St. Eugene and all my Mazenodian family brothers and sisters for this wonderful renewal experience.  I can hardly wait until next year’s retreat.

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I would like to thank my wife Marie for journeying with me and helping me find the right words to capture this Oblate retreat experience.

 

 

 

 

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Macnamara Nature Trail Outing

There is a lovely hiking trail in Arnprior called the Macnamara Nature Trail.  It is named after a local field naturalist named Charles Macnamara (1870-1944).  He worked as an accountant for the MacLachlin Lumber Company.  On his one Macnamaraday off a week – Sunday, he would roam the forests, fields and swamps in the vicinity of the current trail.  He was an avid birder, photographer and self-taught field naturalist who gained a degree in science from Cornell via correspondence courses.  Fluent in French, he also mastered German so he could read nature books in that language.  He corresponded with ornithologists, zoologists, entomologists and photographers and even author Joseph Conrad.  One of his photographic printing techniques was patented in collaboration with the U.S. Library of Congress.  He is a real local hero for sure.

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Maintained by the Macnamara Field Naturalists Club and supported by Nylene Canada,  the trail is one of Arnprior’s little gems.  It takes a little over and hour plus stops to trace its length to Marshall’s Bay on the Ottawa River and then loop back.  Each year we make the hike at least once.  We did it this past weekend – in the warm sun with no bugs.  It was damper than usual and very peaceful.

Here are a few pics we recorded.

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Looking back to Goodwin’s Bay

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A restful moment

Thank you Charles Macnamara for establishing this trail and thus helping to preserve God’s beautiful creation.

 

 

 

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Circles of Friends

 

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The circles of friends are the people who play, sing, dance and party at the annual Pembroke, ON Fiddle Fest.  Starting with 14 campsites’ worth of visitors in 1975, the festival’s attendance grew to a whopping 1,550 RV units a few years back.  In what has unsurprisingly come to be called “Fiddle Park” music fans and competitors flock to the site all Labour Day preceeding week, creating a festive, round-the-clock celebration of old friends’ reunion and non-stop music.

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Packed up and ready to go to the 42nd annual Pembroke 2017 Fiddle Fest!  We have almost as much stuff as we take south for the whole winter!  It was our first year of renting a trailer so you never know what you might need.

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Here it is a brand new Mini Lite by Rockwood – a 20 footer all equipped.  Some special friends joined us this year too.

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Chuck and Cindy Wlodyka from Cleveland, OH who ‘just happened’ to be passing through on their way to Ottawa.  Chuck and Cindy organize the “fat Tuesday” pool deck parties in Fort Myers we so much enjoy all winter long.  They love music, partying, friends and family.  It is our good friends the Clarkes who come here regularly and first invited us some 6 years ago.

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Left to right, Nora, Marie, Betty, Pamela, Ross and Glenn Clarke

String FamilyOK, it is not our most favorite type of music – fiddles, guitars, mandolins, string bass, banjos, the odd piano and accordion.  But we have grown to like it more and more.  By the way, the differences between a fiddle and a violin are subtle.  Fiddles tend to be slightly smaller, have steel strings as opposed to gut and a slightly flatter bridge to permit playing multiple notes at once easier.

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Chuck singing That’s Amore with the Bechamps

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In the Gaspesies tent

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Dave and the Piano Man with friends

While it was cold this year, Friday and Saturday were gorgeous and we got out for a great walk in the park by the Ottawa River.  Pembroke has done a great job of preserving its waterfront for public access for years to come.

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Thank you friends for another great year!  And thanks Debbie and Maggie Bechamp for the great song about Betty Clarke first written and performed in Fiddle Park in 2011: Whippoorwill Betty Song (with our old Roadtrek 190 in the background).

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It’s all about God – it’s not about me

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Fr. Jim Clarke from Los Angeles took us on a new evangelization cosmological journey for 2 days recently at Galilee and finished with the above statement.  Darn, I had it all wrong, I thought.

During a philosophy course I recently took, in one of the online discussions one of the students said something like…the highest thing I can do in life is to act in a way true to myself and not be distracted by others.

On the surface this seems a very honest and appropriate way to live.  But where is God in this?  We men and women in our thoroughly modern world, sometimes see ourselves as a god and hence, no longer in need of God.  I certainly have been guilty of this during periods of my life.

For everything comes from God alone.  Everything lives by His power, and everything is for His glory.                                                                            Romans 11:36

Even Jesus had to grow in his ministry to learn that it was not about him, but about God’s will.  In the parable of the Canaanite woman with the tormented daughter, Jesus says to her – I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, (i.e., go away).  She persists and after saying that even dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table, he decides to heal her daughter because he realizes God wants him to minister to all peoples, not just the Jews (MT 15:21-28).

We are meant to suffer Fr. Jim went on to explain.  Jesus does not alleviate our pain, he gives it meaning.  Salvation is pain, suffering, sorrow and failure confronted and transformed.  Do I allow my suffering to transform me from suffering to renewal?  He quoted author David Richo:

  1. Accept what happens in life and learn from it.
  2. Things are not always fair.
  3. Pain is a part of life.
  4. People are not loving and loyal all of the time.
  5. Receive your life as it is.
  6. Experience your life (not someone else’s)
  7. Share your life with others.
  8. We are to die to our own devices.

He quoted the Koran – we have to die during life so we will know how to die at the end of life.  He said we should banish negative thoughts and read more poetry.  He read a number of Mary Oliver, the creation mystic’s poems from Blackwater Woods.  He recommended Judy Cannaro’s book Field of Compassion for explaining recent scientific developments to a lay person of faith.  The new cosmology:

  1. Our identity does not depend on the groups we belong to.
  2. We can hold multiple points of view.
  3. Accept the reality of persons the way they are.
  4. No longer occupy yourself with particular pursuits. ( a hard one)
  5. Non-demanding relationships.
  6. Your presence invites others to transformation.
  7. Engaging the world but unattached to outcomes. (a hard one)
  8. Watch how the positive turns negative, then positive, then negative.
  9. Living in the moment.
  10. Deep compassion for all creation.

Stop looking at ourselves and stand and experience who God is.

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Thanks Fr. Jim Clarke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canoe Pilgrimage for Indigenous Reconciliation

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We were very honoured to attend a living history event at the Galilee Renewal Centre in Arnprior on August 8.  About 30 canoeists, including Indigenous, Jesuits, English, French, men and women, dropped in on their way from Midland to Montreal on a pilgrimage to mark Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebrations.

The 2017 Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage is a project inspired by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the hope of encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue and learning. Participants, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are immersed in each other’s customs and traditions. Through this immersion, the goal is to foster deep respect, trust, dialogue and hopefully friendship, the building blocks for reconciliation.

The canoe route taken is a traditional First Nations trading route that was travelled by early European settlers such as Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Brébeuf, who were welcomed and guided by the Indigenous Peoples of this land. The route follows a similar one paddled by 24 young Jesuits in 1967.  Members of the Jesuit and Oblate religious orders, their lay volunteers and many others across Canada are actively helping to implement the Calls to Action described by the TRC.

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About 40 guests were treated to the participative Kairos Blanket Exercise as a means to learn about the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada.  Bob, an Indigenous elder from Toronto with a Phd., first led us in a smudging ceremony to purify our bodies, auras and energy.  Then we were invited to walk slowly around on adjoining blankets as actors described specific historical events like:

  • what Turtle Island was like (Indigenous name for North America before colonization)
  • the era of European discovery and colonization of Canada
  • proclamation of the first Canadian Indian Act in 1873
  • establishment of Residential Schools for Indigenous children after 1880
  • U. N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007
  • PM Harper’s apology to First Nations peoples of 2008

Towards the end of the exercise, those still walking found themselves greatly reduced in number and, the blankets had shrunk and were separated from each other.  This was a grim reminder of the impact colonization and Canadian history has had on Indigenous peoples, from their cultural perspective.  We then participated in a talking circle where everyone was invited to reflect on what they had just learned and how they felt.  Much compassion, need for forgiveness and commitment to improving relations was expressed, even tears  It was a well-balanced and poignant educational experience.

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Fr. Ken Forster, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Lacombe Canada Province celebrated an outdoor Mass for everyone under the stately white pines.  He emphasized forgiveness, committment and forging ahead in mutual reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.  Our day finished off with a scrumptious spaghetti and meat ball dinner provided by Galilee. We marveled at the healthy appetite of the young paddlers and for their answering the call to reconciliation, forgiveness and committment.

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We all went home more aware of our own history and of the need to support ongoing dialogue of mutual reconciliation based on hope and forgiveness.  We felt energized by the vitality of today’s youth in taking up this social challenge.   Improving relationships and building trust among all Canadians and in particular with Indigenous peoples is every Canadian’s business.  Our sincere thanks to the Galilee organizers, the paddlers and the contributors to this living history event of great educational value.

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Puzzling Over Romans 8:29-30

This passage from Romans was the second reading at this past Sunday’s Mass:

“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

This is in the past tense, right?  I thought my salvation would not be fully decided until the second coming of Jesus Christ.  i.e., in the future.  What is going on here?

I was raised in the Presbyterian faith and hence this passage would seem to speak to predestination: Faith in God is a gift of God and there is nothing you or I can do to effect our own salvation.  It’s up to Him alone and furthermore, He has already decided long before we were even born.  Now in the midst of continuing to work out my own salvation in the Catholic faith, I am curious: what does the Catholic Church say about the meaning of this particular reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans?

We were up in Cormac, ON at the annual St. Ann Pilgrimage for the outdoor mass.  Pembroke Bishop Mulhall was our celebrant.  In his homily he discussed the Gospel reading in Mathew but did not address the Catholic interpretation of the quoted passage from Romans.  The fact that it was very hot outside and a big crowd, was likely a factor in deciding not to go into this teaching, which would take extra time.

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Pembroke Bishop Mulhall celebrates Mass as Ottawa Auxiliary Bishop Riesbeck looks on

On the surface it would appear Paul is saying that God decides in advance who he will call (to conversion), whom he will justify (by removing the guilt and penalty of sin to make them righteous) and who he will glorify (give eternal life to). i.e, it is predestined by God so there is nothing we can do in our lives about his decision.  Do we have free will or not?  Do  our actions in life contribute to our salvation or not?  Are we saved through our faith alone or through a combination of faith and good works as the Catholic Church teaches?  This is a major theological dividing line between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Well I looked around the internet and found a number of Catholic commentaries on this passage, none of which were completely satisfactory in my view.  Then I came upon the explanation given in Nick’s Catholic Blog a few years back.

Perhaps surprisingly, he quotes a number of Eastern Rite Catholic Fathers who basically said that in deciding who He predestines to glory, God takes everything into consideration including whether someone really loves Him or not and how they go about their life.  Also for an omnisicent God there is no past, present and future as we understand it – He sees everything at once.  This explanation neatly preserves our free choice and strengthens the argument that good works do indeed matter and will be taken into consideration by God.  I like this interpretation.  Calvin it seems may have had it wrong.

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4th Degree Knights of Columbus Colour Guard (me on the right)

 

 

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The Identity Theory of Knowing

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I am taking an interesting philosophy course online for free from EDx entitled ‎God, Knowledge and Conciousness.  It is introductory and the 1st philosophy course I have ever taken. Since I do like thinking, I am not too surprised that I enjoy this subject even though I can’t fully understand it.
M.I.T. Prof. Caspar Hare is an enthusiastic and energetic teacher. The basic structure of a philosophic argument he says is:
Premise 1     e.g. Animals that fly have wings or equivalent.
Premise 2     e.g. Pigs are animals that do not have wings or equivalent.
Conclusion‎   e.g. Pigs don’t fly.
If it is impossible that the premises be true and the conclusion false, the argument is valid. If the premises are all true then the‎ argument is sound. To attack a philosophical conclusion one must convince the reasonable believer that at least one of the premises is not true or alternatively, convince a non-believer that all the premises are true.
Sounds straight forward?
Our most recent lesson was on physicalists vs. non-physicalists ways of knowing something. Non-physicalists assert that science can never explain everything due to “qualia” – the human experience of finding out what something is like.  This is philosophy of the mind.
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is colour blind but can explain everything in the universe in the language of science including the brain state of someone who sees red. In the thought experiment, she is suddenly able to see a tomato is red for the first time. She says “now I know what it’s like to see a red tomato.”. The non-physicalist deems this a “qualia” and says she now has additional non-physical knowledge that she did not have before seeing the red tomato for the first time.
The physicalist says no it is just knowing the same fact in a different way and not new knowledge at all.  She already knew what the brain state is of someone who sees a red tomato (since she can describe every possible brain state using the language of science.)‎ Hence she merely “self-identifies” with this knowledge saying I now personally know what it’s like to see a red tomato.  It is the same knowledge (the brain state) only she now knows it in a new way.  This is the “identity theory” of knowing something.
Another way to illustrate this is as follows.  There is a terrible train wreck and Maria wakes up in the hospital in traction with no memory of the accident or who she is.  She watches television and hears a report of the accident and that 2 people, Maria from Barcelona and David from Toronto, are in intensive care in this hospital.  She asks herself am I Maria or David?  When a relative comes in and says hi Maria.  She “self-identifies” with the knowledge that she is Maria and from Barcelona.  But she already knew Maria is from Barcelona.  So there is no new fact here that has to be explained by science simply because she now knows she is Maria.  Esoteric stuff.
Well this discussion ‎touched off a lot of angst as many course students felt that the experience of something is indeed different from the prior knowledge of that something. Many of these students in the course are perhaps younger.  Younger people it seems, may intensely value their experiences as unique new knowledge they acquire as they go.
I am less inclined to as I age. The truth exists and my acquired knowledge of it through experience, merely confirms or denies it. It is a different way of knowing the truth through experience, not new truth in itself.  I say this about my Faith that God exists which has been confirmed through some personal conversion experiences I’ve had.
Frank Jackson
If I have confused you, you can read up about Frank Jackson, the renouned philosopher who premised qualia as a way of proving science will never be able to describe everything since there are things in this world that are not physical.‎ I think there are better ways to prove that.  Stay tuned.

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Some More Valley Festivals

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We went again this year to the Valley Bluegrass Festival in Horton Township, just north of Renfrew.  It was a pleasant evening on the Johnson farm where the event is held each year.  We only stayed for 4 shows, the first 3 being very good.  The last was a little too slow and dated for us.  Each show runs about 45 minutes with a 5 min pause in between.

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Rhyme and Reason put on a great show – that’s a dobro on the left

I particularly like banjo music and the harmony of 3 or 4 singing voices.  Marie enjoys the banjo too and also the overall creativity of the music.   It’s lively and humorous with pranks and crowd banter and light-hearted insults flying back and forth.   It can get repetitive so when some of the bands stray into country and folk music, that’s just extra spice.

Bluegrass music is American roots music, related to county music but influenced by the music of Appalachia – that American cultural region from southern New York to northern Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  It also has Irish, Scottish and English traditional music influences.  One of my favorite bluegrass radio stations is WDVX in Knoxville, TN.

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Foot bridge from the campground to the stage area

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The Spinney Brothers from Nova Scotia are really excellent

There are more and more bluegrass festivals popping up locally with some really great Canadian talent.  One is held at the Navcan Centre in Cornwall and another in Iroquois that we plan to attend next spring.  This was the 23rd annual Valley Bluegrass Festival, and the profits go to the Renfrew Hospital.  It’s a great way to spend a summer evening!

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Another growing event is the Arnprior Dragonboat Festival.  This year there were 15 boats with 20 paddlers in each entered in the day of racing.  They race in the Madawaska River by the marina.

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The weather was great and everyone had fun.  It can be quite physically challenging if you have not trained for the big day.  Luckily there are several doctors present on several of the teams, if needed

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Reg and Katherine Gatenby, Arnprior Hospital Team

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Doug Algier says get your paddles ready!

Perhaps next year Marie and I will make a team for the first time.  A great fun day for sure.  This festival is putting Arnprior on the map.

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