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A Thanksgiving Day Lament

October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving has become a holiday where I wrestle with my thoughts. On the one hand, I see the great value of being able to be thankful, to recognize and be aware of the many blessings in my life when all too often I choose to focus on the negatives, and to stop and have a quiet moment of thoughtfulness and thankfulness in a life that is all too busy. On the other hand, so much of what myself and others choose to be thankful for are the things that I dedicate my work and self to challenging, disrupting and, ultimately, hopefully dismantling – things that I believe we should be discontent with. Then there’s the whole Columbus, pilgrims, and Indigenous thing going on and I won’t even go there…

At a recent retreat I was at, they talked through the Psalms and about the value of laments and how, even in these laments, they often express an element of trust and thanks for divine power.

So, here is a Thanksgiving Day lament, a prayer for myself and for the people of her church…

 

O Creator & Sustainer, God of Justice and of Vengeance, God of Mercy and of Humility. Hear our lament.

 

We come to this place, accepting others’ pain as blessing and knowing that these  offerings of blood season our overflowing bowls.

Each day we demand burnt offerings lain upon the altar, the immolations of others  to power the machines of our consumption.

 

In these times, we set up our golden statues of suffering to glisten in the sun and  blind us from the true suffering of ourselves and those close to us and far away.

We set up golden statues to the many Saviors, and shout our praises to those who collect their gold on the pain and trauma of others, deafening us to the words   of those close to us who speak wisdom from their pain.

We set up our golden statues to ourselves, creating fields of statues that stare at each other. We insulate ourselves from the honesty of those who can see   what we really are.

 

How long, O Creator, will you stand by as those who claim your name turn it to sickening clouds of noxious odors that choke each lung until all that is left is to spit it out, to wretch and heave it out?

 

On days of thanks giving, we consume more.

On days of celebration, we hurt more.

On days of remembrance, we ignore more.

 

How long, O Avenger, will you speak and be ignored, how long will you call out to the people only to be drowned out by the loudness of our belligerence, by the cacophony of our indulgence, and by the din of our insistence on doing things our way?

 

You have told us that you speak through the ones in prison, the ones lying on their deathbeds, and the ones with not enough to eat or drink. How long will they    be ignored, cast into solitary confinement for speaking out, left to rot for their death rattles of truth, and withered into the ground for asking for justice?

 

I don’t know if I should pray for your endless mercy to pour down on us like a tender rain or for your wrath to pour like endless thunder, to bring humility and brokenness among stubborn and entrenched people.

 

Whichever spurs me to thankfulness, whichever drives me to action, whichever demands sacrifice of me – that is what I pray for.

 

On days of thanks giving, I long to bring something to be truly thankful for.

On days of celebration, I long for something of substance to celebrate.

On days of remembrance, I long for memories of the past to transform the actions of today.

 

Bring down your thunder and rage against the people.

Turn loose your rivers of rage, like you did in the temple, flinging high the tables that we cling to like leeches.

Turn loose your rivers of justice, like you did in the flood, and wipe clean the slate of everything that is unfit for your peace.

Turn loose your rivers of power, like you did on the cross, and bring ruin to our temples, tearing our sacred curtains beyond repair.

 

And when there is nothing left, when we have cried our last tears of pity and rage, when we have been brought to our knees and struggle for our last breaths,  remind us what we have to be thankful of and what we have to hope for.

 

Remind us that you are a bringer of peace.

Remind us that you are a bringer of joy.

Remind us that you are a bringer of new beginnings.

Remind us that you are a bringer of love.

 

Remind us in the leaves that fall around us in this season.

Remind us in the warmth of those who we care for.

Remind us in the power of the wind and rain.

Remind us as we walk the streets and paths of our day.

 

Let us be thankful because of the possibility of redemption, through mercy or rage or anything in between.

 

O Sustainer of all that is good, let me rest in thanks when there is no resolution, no black and white to draw my line through, no pitch perfect ending. Let me rest   in your blessed unrest, knowing the lines are not mine to draw.

 

O Sustainer of all that is good, let me rest in thanks when there seems to be an endless path of struggle, knowing that to test and approve every good thing takes a lifetime of journeying, a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of patience. Grant me all of those things needed for the task.

 

O Sustainer of all that is good, let me not rest in thanks but move in thanks, live in thanks, and think in thanks. Let me feet never be idle on this journey to thankfulness.

What is Good and Right: Loving Mercy

September 24, 2013

One of my favourite scripture passages comes from the Old Testament, from Micah 6:8. Micah answers the questions of the people, who want to know how to please God, with this: God has shown you, the people, what is good and right. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. It’s one of the few times where the righteous path is summed up in such a short, succinct  – and yet powerful – way; the other perhaps being when Jesus lays out the two most important commandments, loving God and loving your neighbour. This will be a series of three posts that looks at the three things commanded of us in Micah 6:8, something that I’ve been wanting to think more closely on for a while. 

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Mercy has a power dynamic to it, as well as a particular positioning that needs attending to, a positioning and attending to that the church has been relatively silent on.

The danger of dividing this verse up into segments is that each of the three concepts gets taken up as an individual topic; but, in reality, these ideas don’t exist in silos. They overlap, bleed into, and merge onto each other. Mercy, without taking into consideration justice, can too easily be subverted into structures of injustice.

What do I mean? I think a parable that Jesus told on mercy perfectly illustrates the point that I want to make with this. The parable is found in Matthew 18 and goes like this (paraphrase):

One person owed a great debt to another person of power. There was no way (s)he could pay and when the debt came due, (s)he begged for mercy – and the person in power granted it, erasing the debt completely. The person who had been granted mercy left the room and came across another person who owed a small debt and demanded that they pay it immediately. The person could not pay the small debt and begged for mercy – which, this time, was not given. Instead, the person who owed the small debt was thrown in prison until he could pay the debt. When the person in power found out about this miscarriage of justice and the lack of mercy shown, he ordered the person who owed the great debt jailed and punished.

It may be just me, but many of the songs and sermons I hear in the church are about the greatness of God’s mercy bestowed on us (“Mercy is falling like a sweet spring rain…”) but little attention is paid to how we might grant mercy to others. Mercy necessitates that it be given from a position of power or leverage, it is those in power over others who are able to bestow mercy, like those in the parable. We might know about the great debt Christ (the person in power in the parable) has erased for us through his death, but what does it mean for us to be the one in (relative) power and able to give mercy to those who have less power than us, to enact justice and mercy for those who cannot repay debts to us?

As I’ve written before, those in the church rarely hear of or see themselves as the ones with privilege and power; we are too unwilling to confront ourselves as possible oppressors. But that’s how this parable positions those in the church, as those who have had their great debt erased but are unwilling to grant mercy to others. Perhaps one of the reason we hear so little about our own failures to grant mercy, and our willingness to accept God’s mercy, is that we refuse to see ourselves as in a position of power, choosing to instead see ourselves as solely in need of mercy. Instead, how do we love mercy in this sense that this parable demonstrates – as being willing to both accept and give mercy?

To love mercy means to love seeing debts owed to us erased. To love mercy means to use what power we might have to relieve the suffering of others. To love mercy means seeing both how we have been humbled, but also how we can turn around and walk humbly with others. To love mercy is to recognize our power; not to offer mercy out of that power – this is more of benevolence – but to give mercy through the recognition of our own need for mercy, though our humility. To give mercy without recognizing our own power and positioning is a sort of false humility and false justice.

Justice, mercy, and humility all intersect here. Mercy demands intersections and connections with justice and humility.

How do we enact mercy among those who ‘owe debts’ to society, as dictated by our court and prison systems? How do we demonstrate mercy to our children? How do we show mercy while bringing justice? How does mercy, when done through humility, act as part of a holistic justice mission?

I’ve often been uncomfortable with the concept of mercy and I think it is because it has too often been shaped as a sort of benevolence or false humility rather than connected to justice and humility, the other parts of this verse. I’m not sure if I’ve loved mercy, but to do so demands an embrace of its possibilities in our lives, both in being humbled but also in our own sacrifice for others through a shared inability to repay our debts and through our shared failures and quests for justice.

Part 1 is here.

Rethinking Fatherhood

June 15, 2013

Fatherhood typically reeks of heteropatriarchal normative masculinity that wreaks havoc on individuals, families & society.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I don’t want to embrace the typical role of a father because that role is to be a man in a very narrow sense and to indoctrinate your children (particularly your sons) into a very narrow understanding of gender relationships and identities.

But I do embrace my children. I embrace them every day and treasure their love for me, never taking it for granted. They are a gift that brought me to parenthood and a new form of responsibility that I am only just figuring out. They also brought me to a new understanding of life that I am only just figuring out.

I have a new responsibility to the future, as well as a new understanding of the future that resides in the fleshy skin of my toddler’s body and in their wild spirit that devours each moment and day. The future is real and jumping on my bed each morning. My children remind me of the power of a single moment, while simultaneously showing me how long the future stretches, through generations.

It is a responsibility that also scares me, both in its beauty and seriousness but also in its daunting challenge. Everything in my society is intentionally designed to indoctrinate my children into power hierarchies and imbalances that are destructive. My powerful, creative and wild daughter will at some point be told that those qualities are not lady-like enough. My gentle, funny and affectionate son will be bombarded to step up and be a ‘real man’, which will, in some form, mean being less gentle and more domineering. Both of them will be steeped into a culture of where rape is taught, genocide accepted, and disabling people a norm. They will also be steeped into a culture of privilege.

My children, with their translucent skin, bright blonde hair and radiant blue eyes, represent a privilege that cannot be bought, cannot be taught, cannot be earned. They will be taught that they are special in their Whiteness; it has already begun with every stranger that stops and comments on how beautiful their blonde curls are. They will learn how to wield this privilege with impunity, to wield it without even thinking about it.

So my responsibility to them is daunting and immediate in its necessity. A parent can never protect their children from the world around them, so how can I best show them how to engage their world in ways that both demonstrate its failures but also in ways that demand better? How can I show them different ways to look at the world, to value people in new ways, to relate to the earth in different and more powerful ways? How can I challenge them to constantly move toward resistance of our culture rather than complicity?

And this is when I realize that I can’t. At least, not alone. And it is at this moment that the fallacy of fatherhood becomes glaring – fatherhood, in the form of the nuclear family, honors an individualistic role connected to the very structures of domination and power that I hope my children will resist. I will not put myself on that pedestal because I have recognized my incompleteness, my inabilities. To embrace fatherhood is to embrace beyond fatherhood. The way my children will learn to reorient the world around them is with and through their communities, through and with the people who share a desire to reorient the world.

So what I will show my children is the world around them, and around them I will show the communities of struggle –  the communities of life, the communities of resistant power.

This is not an abdication of my personal responsibilities. I have an important role in my children’s life; it’s just not the one laid out for me, prescribed to me. It is to show them hope. It is to show them faith. It is to show them humility. It is to show them other forms of success matter. It is to show them gentleness. It is to show them options. It is to show them community. It is to show them beyond myself.

I will show them how to build community. To look beyond what I can give them and to create a family bigger than I can give them. To honor and respect all of their relations. I will show them that this is difficult work; they will see my failures.

These thoughts are just beginnings and I am okay with that – I am just at the beginning of the journey with my children. We will learn together and grow together; we will learn from each other. They will see the journey we are on together and I hope that they will see that the journey, despite its difficulty and pain, is good.

What Is Good and Right: Acting in Justice

March 12, 2013

One of my favourite scripture passages comes from the Old Testament, from Micah 6:8. Micah answers the questions of the people, who want to know how to please God, with this: God has shown you, the people, what is good and right. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. It’s one of the few times where the righteous path is summed up in such a short, succinct  – and yet powerful – way; the other perhaps being when Jesus lays out the two most important commandments, loving God and loving your neighbour. This will be a series of three posts that looks at the three things commanded of us in Micah 6:8, something that I’ve been wanting to think more closely on for a while. 

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Justice, mercy, humility. The three things that are good and right according to Micah 6:8.

Justice is perhaps the idea out of these three that has been the most compromised, the most co-opted and the most misused for purposes that have nothing to do with justice. We often think of justice as it happens in the judicial arena, do the courts mete out justice, what is the punishment that best suits the crime? Not only does thinking this way this lay justice on the doorstep of some vague criminal system that most of us with privilege rarely have to navigate or interact with outside of the front page of the news, but it has nothing to do with the verse – how do you act justly? Asking this also highlights the action aspect – one cannot be just, one must act just; as we are reminded in Romans, there is no one who is just, no not one.

The answer acting justly lies beyond the initial Sunday School answers that quickly spring to mind for those of us who grew up in religious families. This is because these answers focus on the individual level – you, as in individual, need to share with other individuals, be kind to other individuals, speak honestly to other individuals, etc… There is scriptural basis for this but I also think that our emphasizing this form of justice is borne out of the neoliberal environment that our current brand of Christianity has been steeped in.

What does neoliberal individualism espouse? It’s most obvious example and manifestation is perhaps the American Dream – that any one individual, through their own hard work and merit, can succeed at an individual level. In this, there are no particular responsibilities to others – every person is an island and relationships can either hinder, support, or are there to be manipulated for personal gain.

This thinking manifests itself in human rights – every individual has particular rights that are to be respected at the cost of all else. It manifests itself in justice – every individual should be treated fairly and should individually bear the cost and responsibility if they don’t treat others fairly.

But to understand justice, we need to understand injustice – particularly as something that runs much deeper than the individual. Just as injustice runs deeper than the individual level, justice does the same. Injustice is far more than you treating someone badly. Is it unjust that African or Latin American farmers are slaves to crops such as coffee and sugar, selling it for pennies so that Western consumers can have cheap commodities? Is it unjust that women are, across the board, paid less than their male counterparts? Is it unjust that Indigenous people in Canada are jailed at an absurdly high rate, while their education, housing, and health care are underfunded at an equally absurd level? We all play a role in perpetuating these systems of injustice, so to act justly we must also address these injustices at that level.

Why don’t we do this more often? Because it’s difficult. It’s relatively easy to see justice as giving money to a downtown shelter because it is measurable and tangible. The solution or ‘justice’ is simple and immediate; there is a gratification that immediately resonates. It is much harder and much more complex to address the systems of power that force people into the streets, that take away their homes and make them experience homelessness, that subject them to daily violence and, in many cases, support and condone this violence. It is justice that doesn’t happen with the click of a key. Violence against women or those with gender and sexual diversities won’t be solved by ‘liking’ a Facebook status or cutting a cheque. Justice is rarely simple or easy to enact.

Justice demands a commitment to engagement with the systems of injustice at a long term and sustained level. It demands complex interrogation of our selves and our relationships (personal, economic, social) to reveal how we actually participate in and perpetuate injustice. It demands time, effort, and sacrifice. For those of us with privilege, that sacrifice will be much greater.

Acting justly is not easy and it’s a life time project, a journey of sorts. I’m not saying that the more traditional acts of justice are wrong per say (though many times, the things that we think may bring justice might actually be part of systems of injustice…), but that we need to expand how we imagine justice and engage more creatively, more sustainably, and more intimately with these forms of justice. May I suggest that growing a garden is justice. So is civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws. So is respecting and protecting the environment. So is teaching our children to reject patriarchal gender norms. So is resisting the prison industrial complex. So is not driving a car. So is supporting local businesses. So is supporting public housing. So is paying taxes. So is honoring Indigenous treaties that were signed. So is changing much of the language we use. So is fighting for migrant access to social services (Deuteronomy 24:17). So is…

For more ideas, check out these other articles:

We’re looking at things the wrong way: Christianity, the Occupy movement, and oppression

A letter to North American evangelicals regarding charity and love

A vision of critical food sustainability: Re-imagining a biblical call

 

Tom Flanagan and Why His Comments Should Come As No Surprise

March 1, 2013

In a matter of hours, Tom Flanagan’s professional life came crashing down around him. The Wildrose Party of Alberta cut all ties, formal and informal; his friends at the Prime Minister’s Office denounced him; the CBC no longer felt the need for his ‘expert’ opinions; and his long time employer, the University of Calgary, announced he would no longer be on their staff. Everyone pushed to create as much distance as possible from him in the face of overwhelming public outcry. The reason? A recent talk at the University of Lethbridge where he unequivocally stated that child pornography was just “pictures” that didn’t harm anyone.

Many have spoken out about the recent comments, the most important of which have easily demonstrated how child pornography is not only morally repugnant but also harmful to everyone involved, especially the children who are exploited and violated in the making of it.

What has been lost in the uproar over Flanagan is how he has made a career of speaking and advocating for positions that exploit, violate, and advocate violence. These recent statement are not an aberration or mistake, but part of a larger pattern of violence that has been normalized. What Flanagan’s fall from grace represents, as much as society’s intolerance for the exploitation of children, is how far the line has been set in terms of acceptable dialogue and exploitation of others. When CBC’s official statement cited that Flanagan’s comments “have crossed the line”, it’s a chance to understand where the line of acceptability had been set. And what falls on the side of ‘acceptability’ is a scary sight.

On November 30th, 2010, on the CBC show Power & Politics where he was a frequent contributor, Flanagan boldly called for the extrajudicial drone assassination of WikiLeaks head Julian Assange. When questioned on the appropriateness of the action, he responded: “Well, I’m feeling very manly today.”

While the Assange comment is perhaps the most titillating example of Flanagan’s pattern of violent rhetoric, the most damaging impact that he has had is on Indigenous peoples. Flanagan was one of the most public figures and government ‘experts’ in the fight to assimilate and decimate Indigenous peoples and rights within Canada. While his supporters argue that he only fought for the implementation of Indigenous private land ownership rights, as I’ve written elsewhere, the debate over land rights is more than a simple policy disagreement or point of debate – when land is threatened, Indigenous existence is threatened. As Wab Kinew (Anishinaabe) states: “This is about our ways of life, about the integrity of being Anishinaabe. If the land’s integrity is compromised, our integrity is compromised.”

As Indigenous writers have argued, the intent of privatizing Indigenous land ownership, is to not only once and for all “Kill the Indian to save the Man” but also to abdicate any responsibility Canada might have for both a long history of colonialism and oppression, as well as continued neglect for Indigenous peoples and their rights, neglect that accepts the ongoing violence against Indigenous women.

Privatization of Indigenous land rights not only seeks to assimilate Indigenous peoples but looks to open up the last slivers of protected land for resource exploitation. Flanagan’s denials that Indigenous rights do not exist are part of a longer history of denials that Indigenous peoples should not exist. His desire for land exploitation, part of a long history of taking from the land with little regard for the consequences.

Tom Flanagan has a long history of behavior that is steeped in the ‘manly’ beliefs that violence and exploitation are the answer to every problem. Be disgusted at his remarks on child pornography, but do not be shocked. Indigenous communities have long known the perverseness and depths of violence that Tom Flanagan advocated for, speaking against him at every opportunity. It was Indigenous activists who questioned, filmed, and exposed Tom Flanagan for all to see. For many who have fought against Flanagan and his work, they are happy to see his dismissal. But, aside from the removal of the individual, his handiwork – the long history and groundwork of exploitation and violence – remains. What are we going to do about that?

Tamarind Estate Ales: Small Scale Brewing Indoors

February 9, 2013

Nearly two years ago I began all-grain home brewing and, in that time, each batch has been produced in the same way, with the same equipment and with my friend-in-brewing under the moniker of Cat Burglar Brewing. We brew outside on a propane burner and, as you can imagine, when winter arrives brewing ceases to be any fun outdoors (though this year, we did brew into December including one nearly-zero night…). So, I decided to take it inside on my own this winter and see if I could transfer my skills and craft a brewing method made from equipment I already had.

So, with a few stock pots and a large strainer (more or less…), Tamarind Estate Ales (TEA) was born. Why the name? No idea really. I was at the zoo with my kids last fall and the tamarinds caught my eye – a cool looking primate! Estate ales would be an ideal (though mostly unrealistic) goal in my brewing, and the moniker T.E.A. seems cool in an understated hipster sort of way (it also hold marketing possibilities! “Have a cold TEA!”)

Inside, I am brewing in smaller batches. Outside, we were brewing 5 gallon batches while now I am brewing 1.5 gallon batches. Why? That’s the most I could do with the size stockpot that I already had… 1.5 gallons should give me 12-15 standard 12oz bottles or so.

I brewed my first beer to try and get a handle on the process, a basic hop-forward pale ale. I was happy with the process, though there will always be some tweaking to see if I can get it a bit better. For the brewers out there, I’ve hit about 75% efficiency on both go-arounds so far, which I’m happy with for now.

Some photos:

Crushed Grains

First, I crush the barley.

Brewing at Home

Water for the mash slowly rises to the right temperature.

Homebrew mash

The mash for a porter.

IMG_6350

Pretty much all you need to brew…

Monitoring the mash.

Carnage while I sparge (collect my wort).

Cooling outside in a snow storm.

Spent grains getting ready for granola making.

Mt Hopmore label

Mt Hopmore label.

Mt Hopmore glass

First TEA beer in the glass! Mmmm.

The spent grain from the beer even gets used to make my super mean granola (recipe here)! My second beer, a coconut porter, is bubbling away in the carboys (1 gallon jugs from grape juice).

Coconut City

As you can see, I’m having quite a lot of fun with hobby of mine!

Colonialism in Advertising: Hawai’i

January 19, 2013

A recent advertisement from Royal Bank of Canada, advertising absolutely nothing to do with Hawai’i:

Colonialism in Advertising, Hawai'i

A quote from Haunani-Kay Trask’s classic From a Native Daughter:

In the case of Hawaiian women, the definition of us as alluring, highly eroticized Natives is anchored by a tourist economy that depends on the grossest commercialization of our culture. Because of mass-based corporate tourism, our women have become purveyors of our dances, our language, our islands, in other words, all that is beautiful about us. This is cultural prostitution.

And:

The latest affliction of corporate tourism has meant a particularly insidious form of cultural prostitution. The hula, for example, an ancient form of dance with deep and complex religious meaning, has been made ornamental, a form of exotica for the gaping tourist…Hawaiian women, meanwhile, are marketed on posters from Paris to Tokyo [and Canada] promising an unfettered “primitive” sexuality. Burdened with commodification of our culture and exploitation of our people, Hawaiians exist in an occupied country whose hostage people are forced to witness (and, for many, to participate in) our own collective humiliation as tourist artifacts for the First World.

This cultural appropriation and occupation of sacred culture will even sell online investing…

The first few pages of Notes From a Native Daughter (and even the whole book) should be required reading for anyone thinking of going on a vacation to Hawai’i…

 

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