It is the idea of America that will make it great

Garnett Genuis, Member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Conservative Party of Canada

Speech in House of Commons during Emergency Debate on U.S. Decision Regarding Travel Ban, January 31, 2017

In my Ottawa office I have a large portrait of Clemens August Graf von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933 until 1946. My grandmother lived in Münster during that period and, as a Jewish child, she attributed her survival to the courageous witness of von Galen, whose anti-Nazi sermons created a climate of resistance against the Nazis, a climate in which a child considered undesirable could find refuge.

However, what was striking about von Galen was his steadfast refusal to be a partisan of any side. When the allied military government took over Münster, allied staff were eager to meet with this anti-Nazi bishop whose fame had by then spread throughout the world. However, they quickly became frustrated by the fact that von Galen vigorously denounced what he perceived to be unjust actions of the allied military governments. He strongly opposed the idea of collective German guilt and the forceable removal of German speakers from other countries in eastern Europe. After visiting Rome to be named a cardinal, von Galen visited prisoner of war camps holding Germans in southern Italy and offered to bring messages back to the family members of these prisoners.

Von Galen never would have denied the far greater injustice of Nazi rule, but he understood a moral responsibility to speak out against injustices in all places and in all of its forms. His fight against injustice was not a partisan fight. He protested the injustices of his own people and of other peoples. He would have strongly rejected false moral equivalency, but he also rejected the idea that being on the right side of history was sufficient to justify any abuse. He believed in calling out injustice in every case.

Today, we have a similar obligation, and that is to clearly and forcefully call out injustice. A frank recognition of the injustice represented by the recent executive order in the United States is not to deny the existence of other injustices and the need to say more about them.

Indeed, the Muslim community in Burma faces ethnic cleansing. Muslims in China, along with Christians, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and others face persecution far more brutal than anything imagined by the Trump administration. Suppression of religious freedom in Russia and in Russian occupied Ukraine is now being ignored as both Canada and the U.S. rush toward closer relations with Russia.

The government has yet to act on the ongoing genocide against Yazidis and Assyrian Christians. Christians, Baha’is, and other minorities, including Muslim minorities facing systematic persecution throughout the Middle East and beyond. In fact, in most of the seven countries identified in this executive order, converting from Islam to a different faith is not only illegal but carries a death sentence. Jews are not able to travel to many Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia does not even permit the practice of faiths other than Islam.

The world is seething with injustice and there is rich hypocrisy in the condemnation of this executive order by those who endorse or remain silent about so many other and certainly greater injustices. But the recognition of the existence of worse injustices in no way should derogate from the necessary insistence that the injustice of this executive order ought to be remedied.

Why is this order unjust? This executive order arbitrarily prohibits all people from certain countries from entering the United States, even those already granted status, regardless of their values, their motivations, their religion, or even whether they are a security threat. It is therefore not strictly speaking a Muslim ban as President Trump had initially proposed, but it does sadly prohibit people of all religious traditions from the countries in question, including many persecuted Muslims and other persecuted minorities.

Although the President has a prudential obligation to defend American security, this order is blatantly imprudent in that it arbitrarily discriminates on the basis of national origin, while turning a blind eye to any serious factor indicative of security concerns. This order is unjust precisely because it fails to discriminate between those who may be a security threat on the one hand and those who simply come from certain nationalities on the other. It bars escaping minorities from the countries named and it does not bar the entry of anyone from other countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Qatar, which happen to have been the source of all of the 9/11 hijackers.

This order discriminates on the basis of national origin, while applying no additional security filters to immigrants from other countries. It therefore discriminates without advancing any discernible objectives.

Let us be clear. I do not know if I speak for all members of the House in this sense, but I do not believe in open borders. I believe nations have a right, generally speaking, to defend their borders, to determine their immigration levels, and to screen those whom they may eventually admit. We would not be having this discussion if the American administration had instead sought to enhance vetting procedures which are universally applied.

In our discussions about human rights and about immigration, we must reject false choices. We do not have to choose between calling out injustice in the Muslim world and calling out injustice in the west. We can and must do both. We do not have to choose between open borders naïveté on the one hand and unjust ineffective policies on the other. We can instead seek to more robustly and directly go after the sources of radicalization while welcoming as many peace-seeking victims of that terror as possible.

Clemens von Galen was a Christian motivated by his faith to seek justice for all, not just for members of his own community. Americans and American conservatives in particular highlight the Christian identity of their nation. Let us therefore underscore that Christianity is not a tribe; it is a creed.

From one of the most seminal texts in the Christian tradition I will read the following:

     Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
     Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’


     The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

And of course the passage continues.

This is not a call to naïveté. It does not negate the injunction of Christ to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. However, this executive order is neither. It is as wise as a goldfish and appears as innocent as a crocodile. It combines an odd naïveté with every appearance of malevolence. Pushing more frustrated Muslims into the arms of radicals while denying any hope to those desperate to escape will make America less safe, not more.

Christianity is a creed, not a tribe. Similarly, America is a creed, not a tribe. Its creed is its constitution.

As a Canadian, I do believe that Canada is the best country in the world, but I am not embarrassed to speak of the exceptional nature of its republic, indisputably one of the greatest national forces for freedom in human history. It is the idea of America that makes America great. It is the idea of America that will make America great again. That idea, not all that dissimilar from our founding idea, is of a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse society founded on shared values, the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, equality of opportunity, and the rule of law.

Why are we having this emergency debate in this place about an American government policy, when there are admittedly greater injustices in other parts of the world? I believe it is because we all acknowledge the exceptional importance of the United States remaining true to its founding creed and values.

Who among the major powers has the will and the capacity to be a force for justice in a world of rampant injustice? It is not China, not Russia, but only the U.S. in collaboration with a community of nations dedicated to standing for and testifying to our shared values.

The president said in his inaugural address, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow”. That sounds as if it would be a very good idea.

Christianity is a creed, not a tribe. America is a creed, not a tribe. Conservatism is a creed, not a tribe.

Conservatives believe in facing the hard-nosed realities of the world with seriousness and without naïveté. Conservatives believe in sacrifice. Conservatives believe in universal human dignity and in equal opportunity. Conservatives believe in the rule of law in keeping with a constitutional framework that limits executive power. Conservatives believe in reasoned compassion and in ordered liberty. Conservatives believe that families, communities, and individuals should be able to act in accordance with their natural competencies without the interference of the state. Conservatives believe in religious freedom and in the limits of state power. Conservatives believe in the importance of national security.

Because it is unjust in its imprudence and arbitrariness, because it denies equality of opportunity and universal human dignity, because it is likely unconstitutional, because it lacks compassion and invites disorder, because it is an overreach of state power to bar people who already have status from going into the United States, and because it will make America less safe, this executive order is not conservative.

While we implore our American brothers and sisters on this critical question of justice, let us also rededicate ourselves to building a better society here in Canada, one founded on justice, on reasoned compassion, on ordered liberty, and on the pursuit of greater unity in the midst of proud diversity.

In my remaining time I would like to read a quote from Ronald Reagan’s farewell address. He said:

    The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
  I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.



Full Metal Basket

I like what Kate Tupper has to say in her artist statement, about the ragged edges of emotion. It resonates for me when she talks about how we think it’s okay to discriminate against mental illness, where we would not feel it was alright to discriminate on the basis of physical disability. I also really, really like her metal basket. I love baskets, I like metal, I really admire the use of metal strapping, such a hard, sharp material, to make a basket, that we think of as organic, soft, textured, ephemeral.

Internal discomfort

Part of what my blog is about is the difference between the inner dialogue that can tell us some pretty negative stuff, and that “still small voice” we may also call our gut instinct, that has a very good sense of what`s right and best for us. The distinction is not always obvious, and learning to tell one from the other can be difficult and time-consuming. But it`s very worthwhile.

Right now, I`m reading Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. I just came across a passage I think speaks directly to this, especially the intensity of that inner dialogue when we`re in an unpleasant situation.

“Internal discomfort is one of the major impediments to change, and we`re so used to responding to it as though it were a fire to be put out that many of us haven`t learned to live with it in the natural amounts that accompany change. We push it away, extinguish it, treat it as though it has no place in our lives – and by doing so, we eliminate some of our most effective options. Most of us are so reluctant to examine our discomfort that we often misinterpret what it`s trying to tell us by reacting to its presence blindly instead of asking what it means.”

Broken Open

Yesterday I bought a new book. Which in itself is a thing, since I`m trying to get rid of books, reduce my load of stuff. I got a Kindle to reduce the tonnage of paper I live with all the time. But, y`know, a Kindle in the bathtub, probably not a wise idea. So, I still buy actual paper books.

This one is by Elizabeth Lesser, called Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. It`s one of those books that`s so exactly what I would want to write, it makes me think, “what am I thinking? What do I have to add to this?”

The point Lesser would make, though, is that the story each of us can tell is our own. As we journey from dark into light, or from apparent light into darkness and back again, we are never alone. No matter how grievous the loss, how excruciating the pain, how foolish I feel, others have trod this same path. The more we share of those experiences where we are only human, the more we recognize ourselves in one another.

She opens many chapters with a quote that sets the tone for that section. One of my favourites is from clown-activist Wavy Gravy: “We`re all bozos on the bus, so we may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” All of us feel strange and ashamed, “as if there is another bus somewhere, rolling along on a smooth road. Its passengers are all thin, healthy, happy, well-dressed….hold jobs that don`t bore or aggravate them, and never do mean things or goofy things like forget where they parked their car, lose their wallet, or say something totally inappropriate.”

She goes on to say that it “may be the first step to enlightenment to understand with all of your brain cells that the other bus – that sleek bus with the cool people who know where they are going – is also filled with bozos: bozos in drag, bozos with secrets.” We`re all alike, we all make mistakes, and when we feel the most vulnerable, the most stupid, the most hurt, that no-one else could possibly be quite as much a bozo, is when we`re the most human.

Some famous person (I can never remember if it was Leonard Cohen or T.S. Eliot) said that the broken places are where the light gets in.

I`m only partway through reading the book, but I pass it along as a strong recommendation. I`ve laughed out loud, I`ve cried, I`ve nodded in recognition and put the book down for minutes at a stretch as I thought of something in my own life conjured up by one of her stories. It`s already a classic that has earned a place on my shelves.

Choices and Decisions

I like the distinction William Bridges makes between choices and decisions, that a decision is one we make rationally, using information and practical considerations. A choice is one we make from the heart.

In the summer of 2009, my father was seriously ill, in and out of hospital, and it was clear my mother needed help.  I drove to my parents` house, a 4 hour drive, me and 5 cats in a Honda Civic.  The plan was that my parents would sell their house and move to a really nice seniors`residence close to where I was living. I would move to the same city.

It seemed sensible. We would all move to the biggest city in the interior of BC. The big hospital is there, a good cancer clinic, lots of shopping. There are galleries and businesses there, more opportunity for someone like me with an arts and non-profit background.

We had a realtor tour the house,  and the house was for sale, after 30 years. Relatives came and my parents gave away or sold books and bigger tools. My father sent out excited emails to his friends about the move.

And then he died. It was unexpected, months sooner than we thought. Shocking. Yet, death from brain cancer can be excruciating and horrible. Instead, he went quickly, quietly, gently. The same way he`d lived, really.

My life`s path changed in that moment, but it took months to accept it. I had no time to think ahead or plan, everything seemed urgent. I had to get my mother to doctors, have her assessed, settle my father`s estate, make sure things that needed to run would keep on running.

When I took my mother to see her doctor, I was told it was “medically unsafe” for me to live with her. She became agitated, I panicked and got anxious.  I had no plan, I just lurched from lawyer to psychologist to doctor, handling what needed to be handled.

In the end, I carried on living in my parents` house while my mother moved into a new seniors residence in my hometown. It`s much like the place they`d planned to move into.

A friend of mine kept talking about the freedom to choose, that I hadn`t CHOSEN to live here. I finally said, “you know, when it comes to the big things, the ones that truly shape our lives, we rarely get a choice. You don`t get to choose your parents, whether you`re oldest or youngest in your family. You don`t get to choose when your parents die or how. You don`t get to choose what your children will be like, sometimes not even whether you have children.”

There are decisions we can make, based on logic and practicality. Maybe we go to college versus vocational training. We have choices about how hard we work, how much we put into our schooling or our job. We may get a choice about which job to take or where we live.

I didn`t WANT to move to my old hometown, I never imagined myself living in my parents`house. I even talked to a realtor about selling it. But that meant sorting things out, getting rid of what I don`t need. It seemed simpler to sell and move on. All things considered, weighing the practical pros and cons….

I hired a friend to help me tidy things up, get things to the dump, make it saleable.

Besides ongoing major and minor improvements to the house, my parents created a park-like garden that`s a miracle of planning, a true labour of love. It was something they did together for 30 years, and in a way, I felt it was their domain, especially after I left home. Now here I had full responsibility for it.

In June 2010, my friend got someone in to do some pruning, but that was a disaster. He was the expert, I was just the middle-aged daughter who had inherited the place, who didn`t understand things. I was “sentimental.” With every snip of his shears, it felt like pieces of my own body were being cut away. I cried, I stormed, I negotiated. In the end, I fired him.

The next day, I walked around the garden, then ran back for my camera. It was as if I`d never seen it before. Every few feet, there was another magical vista, another precious moment I wanted to capture. I was like a first-time parent. Every angle of light and flicker of wind was a new world to be explored, like a doorway into eternity, yet a fragile, wavering moment in time that will never come again.

When it comes to the big things that shape our lives, we rarely get to choose. We get to say no, or yes.


Quoting from Rob Brezsny`s “Free Will Astrology”

Most people associate innocence with naivete. Conventional wisdom regards it as belonging to children and fools and rookies who lack the sophistication or experience to know the tough truths about life. But the Beauty and Truth Laboratory recognizes a different kind of innocence. It’s based on an understanding that the world is always changing, and therefore deserves to be seen fresh every day. This alternative brand of innocence is fueled by an aggressive determination to empty one’s imagination of all preconceptions.

“Ignorance is not knowing anything and being attracted to the good,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola-Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves. “Innocence is knowing everything and still being attracted to the good.”
The preceding oracle comes from my book, PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.

Starting Over

In February, I started an exciting project, painting on a large piece of furniture. I’ve painted on furniture before, usually copying a painting by a well-known artist. And the furniture was always fairly small, the door of a cabinet or the front of a chest of drawers.

This time, I chose a media cabinet that stands over 3 feet high with doors 6 inches deep. And I’m not copying, I’m creating a composition based on the exotic primitive paintings of Henri Rousseau, with touches of my own. Which is much more impressive than copying, but also more daunting. I felt pretty confident about my ability, though.

Until I came to actually paint on the thing. It took me 4 days to get the sky right, because my paint kept drying and I couldn’t blend the colours properly. This forced me to look in all the nooks and crannies of my house and find my acrylic medium, better quality brushes and other artist’s materials I’d never assembled in one place until now. Once the sky was done, I sketched in the major elements of my design: orange tree here, fig tree there, palm trees here and here. I relied partly on images of Rousseau’s work, partly on photos of my trips to Morocco and from my parents’ gorgeous garden, which is now mine to care for and to document in photographs.

Then I painted the tree trunk and branches of the first tree, using a photo of an orange tree in a courtyard in Marrakech. The browns weren’t right, but I had limited selection. Oh well. I’ll buy more paint later, I said. I’ll just get the lines in place. Then I tried a few ideas I had about colour and contrast, which didn’t really work. I painted a few leaves after the photo. Not great. Well, I haven’t painted for a while, I’m rusty.

I did more another day. Still not great.

After 3 attempts, I gave up. For a month. Then in mid-March, I was online searching for a different painting, and up came another image by Rousseau, one I hadn’t seen before. I thought, “THIS is what I want that cabinet to look like, THIS is more like it!” I printed it off, took it downstairs and decided that this composition would work as I’d intended.

So, what to do about the branches and leaves I’d painted? Should I simply paint over the whole thing and start over? The sky is exactly right. I decided the position of the tree was right, the basic lines were right, but the leaves have got to go.

I didn’t want the ghostly image of what I didn’t want showing through. After some thought, I painted the leaves over with pure white, which has the most opacity of any paint. Then I covered the entire section with acrylic medium, so it’s all one smooth surface. Not entirely starting all over from nothing, but close.

As I painted over the leaves, I was thinking about a time in art school, more than 30 years ago, and the first time I made a piece in pottery class and decided I didn’t like it, scrapped it completely and started again. I was so pleased with myself. I saw it as an essential milestone in my development as an artist. I tried to explain this to my boyfriend of the time (who was not in art school and was a pompous guy who didn’t know as much as he thought he did about pretty much anything but it took me another year to figure that out). He just couldn’t get my point and said he would NEVER do that, he would always rework any piece of carving he was working on even if he knew he’d done it wrong.

*I* knew I’d reached a new level of mastery when I made this decision. I knew what I wanted, I knew I hadn’t done it, but most importantly, I knew I *COULD* do what I’d set out to do, so I had the confidence to say, “nope, sorry, not working for me. Done. Start over.”

Yes, there is the saying that “the difference between amateurs and professionals is, professionals know how to hide their mistakes.” So having the humility to rework something is good. But when I first start doing something, I may think maybe all my work is a fluke, that if I don’t get it right this time, maybe I never will. Therefore, I don’t dare start over. Where ripping something out (as all knitters learn how to do!), tossing a failed pot in the slip bucket, painting over a painting, can be an essential step in knowing what I’m capable of, and that I just haven’t hit that mark this time. It means I’ve raised the bar on myself. And sometimes, it takes a lot of work to start over, but trying to rework a piece that’s gone wrong can be MORE work. Easier to start clean and get it right when you know it’s wrong this time.

It’s about knowing that you DO know. When I thought about it the other day, I realized that I would STILL see that as a milestone in my life, I still see it as a victory. More so now than I did then, in fact.

Van Gogh Challenge, 2007

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This is the first art challenge tackled by the group now known as The Ripoff Artists. The painting chosen was Vincent Van Gogh`s “Wheatfield with Cypresses, Early September 1889.”  We displayed other works done in the style of Van Gogh during the week, then got down to work at 9 am on a Saturday morning and were done by 3 that afternoon.

Cabinet, 2008: Portrait of Emilie Floge by Gustav Klimt

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This is part of an annual art challenge I do in Oliver, BC every summer. We choose a painting by a famous artist and each of us uses our own medium to interpret the work. I`ve painted on furniture most years.

This was 2008. The artist we chose was Gustav Klimt. The painting is “Portrait of Emilie Floge.”

This was our second annual challenge and we called ourselves the Klimtomaniacs. After that, we chose the name The Ripoff Artists.

My cabinet is acrylic for the surface details over latex paint on wood.