Being Red, Being White



Today we celebrate Canada Day.  I’ve always loved this holiday.  I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity.  For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.


We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices  and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain.  It was a memorable moment, touching even.  In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of  pilgrimage – in its various guises.  People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages.  But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design.  The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.





But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA.  Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them.  What did they leave behind?  Why did they go?  Did they ever want to return?  Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway.  We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years.  We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children.  Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies.  Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards.  Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work.  And as for the young women?  Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.


Immigration is hard work.    Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc.  And yet immigrants still come.  They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred.  In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home.  As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.


Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more.  It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar.  It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow.  Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how.  Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land.  Happy Canada Day all!

12 thoughts on “Being Red, Being White

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    As a third generation immigrant I understand this question of home and country and belonging. It is nearly impossible to imagine what our forebearers struggled with in these lands of plenty we often take for granted. We are all travelers and learn to carry our homes in our hearts.

  2. diannegray says:

    Happy Canada Day, Allen! 😀

  3. shoreacres says:

    A truly lovely meditation on immigration. I had to smile, remembering some of my own family who thought they’d give life on the Saskatchewan prairies a try — like Cousin Tom. In the end, they headed back to Iowa, the life of the plow suddenly more attractive than life with the steam-powered sodbuster.

    I also was reminded of my great-aunt Fannie, her husband Bert, and her father-in-law, one of the worst of the enticers who ever was. Father-in-law specialized in sending promotional material of the sort you describe from Louisiana, tempting Iowa farmers to come to the land of milk, honey and crawfish. Once they arrived and discovered it wasn’t exactly farming country, they were caught. Most of them couldn’t make their mortgage, their land was repo’d and they headed back to Iowa.

    As one of the family members used to say, “It didn’t work going north and it didn’t work going south, so we decided to stay right here in Iowa.”

    That’s worth a blog post, right there.

  4. Rich, wonderful reflections that actually echo the histories we explored in the Race on A Holistic Journey. I think of the Little House on the Prairie life a lot. I used that time period of American history to compare the impact of technology on learning with today’s ubiquitous iGadgets on hand, in a magazine article. I appreciate your search along your lineage and how the beautiful trek out there paralled your inner journey.

  5. jannatwrites says:

    I enjoyed your reflective post on Canada day. The Norway experience does sound lovely. Hope it was a beautiful day for you this year as well!

  6. Hi Allen, loved this. Look up the work of Greg Madsen on existential migration sometime…you might find it interesting. Strangers and exiles we are, no longer Norwegian and not quite of this new land, even yet. Thanks for the thoughts.

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