Monday, December 12, 2011
When charitable relief aid organizations are directed by and accountable to the donors, the recipients of the aid lose their ability to influence the efficacy of the aid delivered. Their only recourse is to directly influence the donors. but those who need help do not have the wherewithall to engage that influence. Into that gap step agencies that filter and manipulate the message of need that is intended to motivate donors to whom they are ultimately accountable. Does this not sound like a conflict of interest? The agency that is directing the message of need, solicits towards the need they have identified, and then deliver a report of the need that they have met. Hmmm...
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Where did you grow up?
When did you grow up?
Will you ever grow up?
The 80s. ’69 was my birth year so the 80s is the decade of the presumably emancipatory adolescence of my now 40 plus years of existence. Ah the 80s. Not close to as bad ass as the 60s. Or as high! Not nearly as funky as the 70s. Nor as disco-ball cool. Not as grunge as the 90s. Whatever the #$%^& ‘grunge’ is/was?
The 80s. Fabulous fashion. Rugby pants, legwarmers, primary color knit sweaters tied around your neck. ¾ length white sleeved black shirts with Black Sabbath emblazoned on the chest. Perms for men (I confess), Big glasses.
The 80s. Great music. Boy George, Corey Hart, George Michael, the theme to TV’s FAME, Gloria Estefan, the Bangles, David Lee Roth (post Van Halen), Men Without Hats and Men at Work…Mmmmmmm!
The 80s. Some blip on the radar of good taste and better judgment or the best decade since the Renaissance; I’ll let you decide. There is no halcyonic nostalgia about those days in my mind at least. Riding my bike to the corner store in a town of barely 100 residents should not be considered evidence of some idyllic teenage coming of age. (Some readers will be quick to point out that I also rode my Dad’s Nissan INTO the corner store – causing a minor re-shelving problem for the owner and much larger problem for between me and my father.) To be sure there are many things about those formative years of my life that could only be described as pristine conditions within which a boy may become a man. I married the girl next door and began my life long infatuation with her in the one acre corn field between our houses. I drove my first vehicle (my buddy’s) on the gravel roads that snaked through the hippie soaked Pembina Hills. But not before I mapped every nook and cranny of that place on snowmobile. I emulated Jim Craig to my very best ability on giant rubber snow boots on the freshly flooded ‘rink’ next to the school. I was good. Those days were golden.
“You can be anything you want to be” – they told us at my graduation. Liars.
I can’t. I still want to be a Grey Cup winning quarterback – but I won’t. I never built a rocket – and I won’t. Being anything I want to be is a myth and a peculiarly harmful one at that. Perhaps that sort of rhetoric emerged from the desperation of the time. Because as Commodore 64 and the internet were mere glints in the eyes of their conceivers; we were still fighting a Cold War that promised to bring us to an end. We were just starting to battle our brains out over abortion, and immigration, and French language. We could see our Canadian distinctives sliding away from us perhaps with more urgency than they ever had. We got excited about all the same silly stuff that the US did – who can forget the enormous cola war of the 80s. We decided that free trade with the US was going to be a good thing. So what if it meant foreign ownership of many of our national institutions. We unashamedly gobbled up the latest greatest media offering being pushed out of the burgeoning colonialist Hollywood machine. (Shoot, how else was it that Daisy Duke became the model for one of the ‘best’ fashion trends in the 80s J)
Behind the neurotic push toward the future in almost every aspect of life, those of us ‘growing up’ then might have known something untoward was lurking in the reeds of our surface optimism. But we paid little heed to that lie about our potential when we saw the Berlin wall come down. We forgot our background dread when we saw hostages rescued from Iran. And we began to believe that our ability to forge a brave new world could itself be the savior of our once dysfunctional world. I suspect that belief has an almost religious hold upon us.
In my classroom – we talk about current event and we try to engage with the big themes of our world as events unfold. If there is one reaction that surprises me most in my students it has to be the relative indifference that most pay to the way our world works. Occupy this or that, kill off a dictator once in a while, start a revolution on facebook if you want to, or bailout the country where democracy was born. Meh – whatevs… On one level it irks me – this passive nonchalance toward our life and times. On another level it saddens me to see a generation face down in their phones – enslaved to the immediacy of their ever-shrinking world (where life and love begin and end at the end of text).
Sometimes exposing lies leads to life change. At other times exposing lies leads to a retrenchment of the lie itself – perhaps because the truth is just too uncomfortable to face. You can frame your life as targeting potential. Aspire to this or that. Achieve this or that. Or you can frame your life as targeting significance. Accept the ugliness of the world and do your part. Acknowledge your own culpability in the problems to begin with.
You can be anything you want to be seems out of place in the latter mindset but conveniently distracting in the former.
There are some of us who still remember that in the 80s a young man decided to do his part, accept his own ugliness, and died fighting off the monster that eventually took his life. Terry Fox lived and died in the 80s and school children to this day honor his memory.
Long live the 80s…
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
I bit back tears as I hugged and said good-bye to my oldest son. He’s headed off to college in Manitoba to carve out something new. It’s time for him to shape himself and get shaped in ways that are distinctly different than the ones he has become accustomed to under our parenting. It is a good thing. He is ready. But I know it won’t be easy.
Like it has been for so many of us the challenges and euphoria of the independence of early adulthood is significant. I remember deep loneliness in some dark times when I thought the responsibility that I was taking on was too great. I remember ecstatic freedom at how spontaneous my life could be. It really was a pretty wide spectrum of emotions. I am far too clever to allow my protective emotions to get the better of me – but underneath I want to keep my children from the dark. The reality is that life is dark. Freedom, peace, joy with permanence, and fulfillment come only after one has truly stared into the darkness and seen it for what it is. Walking in the dark is another matter altogether but a good hard look in is essential to know the value of the good things that life affords.
At a time like this, I wonder if I’ve done an adequate job of allowing my children to stare at the darkness honestly and without fear. I wonder if I have prepared them well enough to recognize the value of freedom, peace and perhaps even love. I wonder about the gaps in my parenting that my children will need to compensate for. I am under no illusion that there are many. I think honest parents know that they’ve made mistakes with their kids. Honest parents are conscious of fact that they leave an indelible mark on their offspring. I think there is a lot of guilt attached to that sentiment for many people. Guilt, denial and compensating for both leads to plenty of regret. It’s hopeless; my kids are stamped with a healthy dose of me and thankfully an even healthier dose of Char.
One thing I know to be real is the persistent grace that my children have afforded me. So today I am grateful to have the opportunity to say the kind of goodbye that only a dad can say to his son – the kind of goodbye that will always be followed by hello. Usually when we say goodbye we say it to anticipate a loss of closeness but a father can say goodbye with a sense of anticipation. A dad says goodbye and is picking up the phone to say hello to – I need some cash – or – I think I found a girl that likes me – or – I wonder if you think this car is a good one to buy.
Today this song connected with me. Maybe you’ll like it too.
Bless you Jared…
A pair of hard working hands
Everything that I needed
I got it from the old man
With a nine second dream
He drove the Redlight Bandit
And the grease on his hands
Was the way he commanded
And the life he demanded
It kept us all in a struggle
When he ruled with his fist
It kept us all out of trouble
Even though he would leave
He wore his heart on his sleeve
And by the way that he walked
He taught me how to believe
Old man look at my life
Take a look, take a look
Old man look at my life
cause I'm a lot like you
Old man, old man take a look at my life
Take a look, take a look
Old man, old man take a look at my life
cause I'm a lot like you
Growin' up at the track
He had a reason for being fast
His heart felt like breaking
He'd look right up at the ceiling and
Start again, never breathe a word of his loss
Cause it's not about winning
It's the rivers you cross
And the pain that you feel
Could be the fuel that you use
And if you're in need of direction
Be it the path that you choose
My old man is a legend
He cast a shadow so great
I think of how he is watchin'
With every move that I make
Now there's no slowin' down
There's only settin' the pace
No more dreams to be stolen
Just the right ones to chase
You've been through the worst
Now you know who to trust
Leave them something behind
Before the ashes and dust
Yes and for those of you wondering - yes that was some hard core riffing on old man Young which you can find here
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
- as it fights to regain the adolescent vigor it displayed in June
- as students prep their finest stories to impress or aggravate their teachers
- as the Christmas Wish Book gets plunked on your front step
- as we nervously glance at the large tote where we stashed the parkas to ward off the bad omens of late spring snow falls
- as the trees pretend to be artists for the week of color after that frost
- as mowers get shoved tot he back of the shed
- once more as summer becomes forgetful of our shooting star wishes 'round a backyard camp fire...
This summer I went swimming,
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around, I moved my arms around.
This summer I swam in the ocean,
And I swam in a swimming pool,
Salt my wounds, chlorine my eyes,
I'm a self-destructive fool, a self-destructive fool.
This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir, to boot,
At the latter I was informal,
At the former I wore my suit, I wore my swimming suit.
This summer I did the backstroke
And you know that's not all
I did the breast stroke and the butterfly
And the old Australian crawl, the old Australian crawl.
This summer I did swan dives
And jackknifes for you all
And once when you weren't looking
I did a cannonball, I did a cannonball.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I don’t have enemies. I don’t believe I have any personal vendettas against my person (unless you count the thugs over at the dance mafia wanting me to quit my ‘special moves’). I am not so deluded to think that there aren’t people who are disappointed with me, frustrated with me, annoyed, hurt or even ticked at me. But I am not in any significant battle against anyone. So on that level ‘enemies’ does not connect. So few of us are in positions of the sort of power where we could identify the characteristic features of enemies plotting to destroy us.
Even the more euphemistic versions of enemies leave me stumped. At times I hear of people talking about enemies in a sort of symbolic way (Like how emotional or physical pain and suffering are enemies that need to be vanquished). I am not belittling these struggles in the least – I just wonder about whether labelling them as enemies is the most helpful way of framing these types of struggles. The motif of a battle/war against these difficulties has certain appeal to be sure. It worries me a little when we frame these things in the win/lose paradigm that this imagery entails. Plus I am not sure that this sort of euphemistic interpretation is the most honest way to get at the meaning of David’s texts in Psalms.
It’s actually a wonder to me that more revolutionary leaders have not cottoned to these passages as ways of spiritualizing their military actions. I could see any number of despots contorting these scriptures to rally the underlying spirituality especially in some of the countries with strong ties to the ancient Roman Catholic traditions…
My enemies are evil.
They will trip and fall
when they attack me
and try to eat me alive.
When I'm in trouble,
he will keep me safe in his house.
He will hide me in the safety of his holy tent.
He will put me on a rock that is very high.
Then I will win the battle
over my enemies who are all around me.
In the end I am not really sure what to do with these passages and specifically this type of terminology. It is even more perplexing when I consider the tradition of pacifism that forms my background and is evident in the life of Jesus. Does God takes sides in war? Or is all killing a horror to God? If He takes sides in war might he takes sides in less dire situations in life? Notice that David says that his reliance on God will provide him victory over his enemies. David does not say that God will help him negotiate a peaceful settlement that ends the violence. Anyone else perplexed?
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
For me it seems that there is much more to be learned from this analysis.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
His knees squeeze tighter to the sweat-soaked vinyl. His fingers dig a little deeper into the ribs of his older cousin as the 150 bounces over the cobblestone and wiggles past the honking microbus. His other hand cradles the box propped against his waist and the humid afternoon sun. It shines deep polished purple – the ironic royal colour for the peasant child that will sleep in it…
His knees scrape the sharp skirt of the table. His wrinkled brow is the slightest of emotional indicators of the sharp sting. His wince passes easily for the gravitas he assumes over the matter at hand. His fingers stumble over keys on his phone to let his wife know the meeting is will last longer than expected. His warning has ironically turned into a lie he will have to explain in the morning. “..be jome soon…” flies into the ether.
The wooden box fits. He takes out the white shirt and the tennis shoes he bought at the market and places dresses the boy. No new pants. He lays the sleeping child inside and slips the box into the shade. He leaves the boy there under the watchful eye of his own mother, herself busy about the supper plans. His stomach growls as he gropes for his tools – and he’s off…
The oak table is too big. Too big to acknowledge that man on the other side whose niggling nasally voice has concluded something poignant. His pocket vibrates and he counts on answering the text soon enough. Sleep would be a welcome relief but now the man has called his name. Now the tone has changed from convincing to accusatory. His stomach growls as it wrestles the fast food through his digestive tract. He shuffles the papers in front of him, collecting himself for rebuttal…
The night gathers over his shoulder as he begins his work. The freshly mowed aroma fills the air where the knife has cleared the ground. Ample. The spade is next – and this much slower work than before and not nearly as well paid as he is accustomed. He hangs his own dark shirt over the brick nearby. He will need it clean later. His mind focuses now on the task at hand. His arms strain against the shovel but the roots are cut eventually…
Twilight lingers. The sun lasers into his eyes through the blinds swaying against the manufactured breeze. He has laid scripture verse and context at the feet of the gathered wisdom. His words are ringing with very redundancy he swore to avoid when this all began months ago. He is convinced. He has a rack of sweater vests in his closets for every tedious meeting and conference he has ever attended on this subject. He too invested in this to tell anyone that he’d rather just see this debate die…
The pre-dawn light makes the business worse. Almost able to see but not enough for efficiency, he pulls the spade out of the hole once more. The gathering dew makes the tears and sweat less the salty sting of pain – more the gift of a natural goodbye. Goodbye too close to hello. Three years is not enough time awake to warrant sleeping forever. Four large coins in his pocket are his only escape…
His car stops as if on instinct at the crimson light. His side won but he can’t help feeling thin. His belly against the wheel reminds him otherwise. He slides the car into place and it is still. He escapes into the flickering screen of his laptop and the late night sports highlights…
It was as if the fat night, lazy in its moonless hammock, is been startled by the timid advances of the sun across the sky. Scrambling to attention in a futile bid to impress his superiors against the inevitable victory of the morning, the night snuffs out the stars. Soon the darkness will give way to the blinding light…
Friday, August 12, 2011
This fall I will guide some 70 grade 11 students through the social studies curriculum. The guiding question that centers the scope of the course is: To what extent should nationalism be embraced? There is almost an ironic quality to that question being asked of a Canadian audience. To many it would seem that Canada best embodies a fairly a-nationalistic persona. The most patriotic sentiment that Canada might muster is “I am Canadian, Meh…”
This perspective is a little dishonest since it really doesn’t account for the fact even this tacit denial of nationalistic pride or identity might itself be evidence of a strong nationalism. This is especially true since Canada has unavoidably advanced its strongest elements of it national character against that of USA. Since American patriotism is so bold – a lackadaisical perspective on Canada’s collective pride might seem like a vindication against the perceived American arrogance. Of course a non-committal approach to themes of national identity are not well supported in the main. One only needs to ask a few poignant questions to bring out some of the most ardent opinions with relative ease. So here is my challenge:
What does it mean to you to be Canadian?
Is being Canadian substantially different than being American? If so in what ways? If not which factors constribute tot he assimilation?
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
He’s three or four but still not quite out of the clumsy teetering of a toddler. Shirt and some battered leather shoes yawning to reveal the stubby toes that search for anything stable. No pants. His sister, seven, yanks him onto her hip and over the two foot deep ravine carved into what is understood to be a road. Torrential rains run unimpeded down the clear cut mountainside sculpting trenches that snake like veins on a body-builder across the landscape. Today his dad has stopped in to bring another piece of tin to cover the three foot gap above the boy's bed. Tonight dad will catch the bus back to San Juan del Sur to join the boy’s mom and work. The boy might not see either of them again for a number of weeks. He hangs a little tighter to his sister.
A man in torn jeans hunches over the handle of his welder as lays a bead across a newly laid piece of tin roofing. An extension cord is loosely thrown over the nearby power line. The neighbour’s TV flickers and then blinks out. No shirt. No mask. No worries…
A pair of exceptionally thin oxen plod across the highway: a cart full of sugarcane piled eight feet high in the air. If the beasts were slower perhaps their load would not as quickly be converted into the all sorts of candy that form the staple diet of childhood here. But their load reaches and is then with no small effort converted into the dulcet bricks of dark raw molassesy sugar.
Starting at the top of the hillside, I scramble to the bottom and turn to face the small community pasted up the slope. My stance below the huddled barrio belies my true position. I am the giver. I am the agent of charity. I give and in giving I stretch out my hand against gallons of adversity that threaten to wash away… …even life itself. There is no humility in giving. No grace in charity. It is arrogant pride in its finest and most bewitching trance. I stretch out my finger and the spot it points to screams out for help. Haunting need. Immediate need! Now!
And I can meet that need. My money – not even that of a carefully coordinated fundraising campaign. My money! My money meets the now needs of every place my finger points. And as I lift my finger having met that need a new one springs to life in its place. I can dream of bigger money than mine. Money that could meet a dozen fingers pointed at once onto that mountainside. I have already coordinated in my mind the soup and pie lunches and the raffle tickets and…
…a church goes up here, a clinic – a retaining wall keeps the mountain back over there. My dentist friend is pulling teeth, my construction buddy is putting up rafters, my coaching friend has got those kids ready to win their local tournament. Needs met. Joy imparted. I can do this… I can DO this!
It falls to MY evaluation that these people are worse off than I am. And in a place where destitution can be warded off with lunch money – there is an intoxicating elixir to be consumed. I drink. The moment I place myself as the giver of charity – the gift that sneaks along for the ride is the way my gift puts them in the position of getter. Willingly enough it would seem – the smiles dance when the gifts are brought out and passed around. I have told them that they are not as good as I am – whether they acknowledge it or not. It is not so far from colonialist agenda that I aspire to.
I stare in the face of my charity with contempt now – seeing it for what it really is – my own vindication of my superior position. My easy gift. It occurs to me that we can give to meet the needs of now which are not fictitious needs. There is real pain now – real struggle now – real hardship now – real need now! But we can also meet the needs of then. These are just as real but not as obvious. These needs don’t stare you in the face before you close your eyes every night. These needs are not the haunting echoes of a mudslide or child being consumed nightly with worms. These are the kinds of needs that require a different kind of giver.
The needs of tomorrow are understood by living inside a community of pain and entering the rhythm of it agony. The needs of tomorrow are observed when the impulse to extend our arrogant giving to the NOW is curbed in favour of some long term investment. How do you affect the accepted logic of leaving your children alone in a ramshackle hut to find work in another country? How do you step into the relational dynamics that exact furious pain between genders inside and outside of marriage? How do you break cycles that perpetuate poverty that only deepens (in spite of all the money we have thrown at the NOW needs)? The giver who might try to make this their charity ought to consider that the cost is not one’s personal fortune or fame. It is a life. A life. A life that stays. A life that chooses not to escape the reality of pain. A life that chooses not to appease guilty consciences and incessant nightmares with dollars. A life – no less. A life – no more!
Somehow this song seems to tag nicely with these sentiments...
Monday, August 1, 2011
What really stands out is the that there is a claim to repair these bewildering micro circuit devices that now rule live in ours and the developing world - everyone has one. I am not sure that I have ever heard of anyone actually having their cell phone repaired. It just isn't done. Phone that stop working end up in the kids toyboxes while we march to the nearest agent for the upgrade which we have no doubt qualified. How do you repair a cell phone?
I asked Pablo that question - he seemed surprized I was asking.
Of course if your screen get cracked you can get a new one hand fabricated. You can get a new screen installed. You can swap your speaker for one that is louder. And louder is better. there are some features that can't be repaired but even some of the finest connections of the circuit board are available for a skilled technicians hand.
As technology has charged ahead into the blithering unknown. It has also left behind a stunningly large wake of disposable products in it wake. Disposable is actually a part of the market cycle that these new tech companies depend on. They count on the fact that when our phone breaks down the only option we consider is replacement.
Repair is the stuff for people who are satisfied. Satisfied with hanging on to what is. When you choose to repair a cell phone you choose to give up the possibility of acquiring the latest features available in the new models. You choose to hold your phone a little longer. Keeping stuff around longer. Its an ethos...
Our ethos is not as much about keeping - its about getting. One could speculate on which one is better but that is not really the point. I was just thinking that most of us are really hoping that this type of repair store exists for us as people as well. We all know that from time to time we break down as people - we make mistakes, we live poorly, we blink and squawk and hiccup. At times we feel like a blocked cell phone - struggling to make the most of days we are given (more crappy Diem than carpe Diem). We would love to find a spot that might actually be available to repair our broken parts. We would love to think that someone might want to keep us - hold us - a little longer. In the pace of life we live, fixing things just doesn't seem viable anymore. So we all start wondering if these repair shops actually exist any more.
Thankfully, I have found someone who want to hang onto to me a little while. By now I know that I need some touch ups - maybe even a solder joint to two. My 'plan' is not the latest greatest thing but its good enough for her.
I would wish the same for all of you my friends.
May you find someone who want to keep you...
You don’t curse the rivers that pour down out of the sky and wash away your home. You don’t curse the pothole that swallow trucks whole. You don’t curse disease or pain or fever. You don’t curse the traffic. You don’t curse the fuzzy subtitled overdubbed TV programming. You don’t curse the beggar. You don’t curse a bad cell phone connection or regular yet unpredictable power outages. You don’t curse a herd of oxen that won’t move out of the way. You don’t curse the smell of diesel, of sweat, of rotting everything. No curses for poverty – no swears for bad manners. No epithets for persistent noise. Nicaragua you save curses for friends as terms of endearment. And F-words are saved for bad things.
Nicaragua you are a precipice. You teeter between keeping it together and completely falling apart. You are a balance of resilience. You are an inspiration against my gluttonous sense of what I deserve. Thanks for lending me your precipice for the few days I walked and unbalanced the scales a bit. Adios Nicaragua…
The poignancy of standing on the very tarmac which was the last Nicaraguan soil I touched 32 years ago, is not lost on my over active sense of irony. The resort that we called home for 5 days used to be the beach residence of the brutal dictator Anastasio Somoza. The airstrip that belonged to him was used by American forces to extract their citizens from Nicaragua when the fighting got bad in 1979. The Americans had reason to flee. Their strong ties to the Somoza regime made them natural targets for the Sandinista forces on their march to the capital Managua. Having propped up the fifth wealthiest man (at the time) in the world politically they co-opted his ‘benevolence’ with the use of his beach side airstrip since the airport in Managua was essentially closed for business.
So I stand there on the tarmac and I am struck by the idea that this might the longest flat part of Nicaragua that I have seen for the entire trip. Its the part of the trip that least resembles this place of volcanoes and sprawling mango trees that squeeze the borders of the sky. Its the place where I am most aware of the fact that I normally live somewhere else. That runway of my last getaway forces me to recognize something about who I am. I am a leaver. Not that I necessarily am predisposed to leaving as feature of my personal character. I am leaver in the sense that I can and will leave. As much as I would love to espouse an affinity with this place as one its prodigals, I realize that belonging to this place comes with the cost of staying here. Its a cost I would gladly pay but I never really could. I can leave and that changes who I am.
That is what perhaps hurts the most as I stand there. There is a recognition that this place that holds so much of my childhood identity can never be and never really was home. They say that home is where the heart is. Its a wonderful statement but one we know is not real. Home is the place where you are not the visitor. The fact that you can visit a place (even for as long as a childhood) says little about its ability to be home – it has everything to do with your sense of position in the world.
For 5 days I wandered around in the same parks and gaze into the same blazingly beautiful vistas that he no doubt used to appease his guilt over the horrors of torture and abuse that he inflicted on the people. There is no lack of beauty here. It is also coincidently an all inclusive resort. All inclusive, that bastion of quintessential holiday package releasing your mind from the preoccupation of making choices about where to eat, what to drink or how much. Pretty sweet deal. This just happens to the only such all-inclusive resort in the entire country.
On the way back to Managua to take our flight home we pass this place. The rain had been falling all day – torrentially at times. This is someone’s home – this is the place where they are not visitors. The floor of their home runs with water when it rains. The place where I am not a visitor is well braced against the fiercest snow. I visit Nicaragua like Grandparents babysitting their grandkids – eventually they go back to live with their parents.
So I stand on the tarmac again because I can. I feel like a leaver. I feel dishonest. I feel alien. I feel also a certain dull ache of longing that cries to be left out on the front step with a old wooden top in my hand – and I never want mom to call me in for supper.
At once I am a stranger and friend but always a visitor…
…on the tarmac.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
I don’t mean to be insolent – I hope you will see that.
We all are storytellers. These stories carry us through the night. By stories I mean the constructed narratives of meaning that keep us from despair or desperation. That they are stories has less to do with whether they are true than place us a characters within a scene that helps us make sense of life. We have faith that the narratives we clothe ourselves with, will fill up the longings, doubts and foreboding that creep in again and again. We can never be truly certain that the stories we tell ourselves go the way we tell the ending. Even so few of us keep our stories to ourselves we make big and small efforts to have others accept these tales we have adopted. Foreboding likes company.
Lately, I have struggled with how pretentious ‘church’ can be. It bothers me to see how trivial minutia get undeserved attention. My son pointed this out today as we sat in church in San Jose. He figured that if the whiners in church could spend a couple of Sundays in this church – they might not complain about music, noise, money, blah blah blah.
This church sang out loud. perhaps three minutes of the whole service was spent with the blaring piano and the song leader and the congregation all on the same key. It seemed that the more off key they were the louder the lifted their voices in search of the that unity – it got very loud. We don’t need to begin to talk about tempo.
A more devoted display of faith in the Christian narrative I have rarely seen if ever. And if there ever were a people who might be able to question the rational logic of their choice of narrative – it would be these. They claim that Jesus walks beside them and then spend the night waiting for the their pre-teenage boy to come home. The boy bound and gagged all night long finally arrives at home while the father has been out searching all night and day. If Jesus is the strength they claim why did he not prevent this trauma? In fact should it not be possible to see more evidence of Christ’s help in making these believers lives better? If anyone should have a reason to doubt their faith story it would be these. But you can’t chase these people from their faith.
It is not that these people have a more pure unadulterated faith – that they have found some secret to spiritual truth that most closely resembles the child like faith that Jesus described. No their faith is not uncomplicated. And although one might deduce from the intensity of their cried that their faith is certain – they would have to admit (as much as it might sadden them to do so) that they could not be – not completely. Nevertheless it is unshakeable.
It seems the faith narratives that we trade in – in North American churches are so accessorized that we lose sight of real reason for faith in the first place. Faith is not meant only for our own comfort. What these people have in greater supply than we do is that their faith not only holds them through the night but it extends to hold others through the night.
And these nights here are not our nights…
So bring on the GOOD bedtime stories…
In a few days this place will once again pass into memory. I will search for tastes and smells and sounds and find that they will slip ever so easily away. I will look for the way a smile gives a away an other wise incredulous sounding suggestion and find it missing. I will forget how each and every hand I shake, body I hug is sticky. The sweet smoke of the sugar mill, or the taste of young coconut milk will fade. Memory is like that…
We work so very hard to hold on to certain memories because of how much they mean to who we think we are. But in the end memories have a way of having a mind of their own. Stubborn little buggers that slip away in the night – when the cricket and the rooster make a changing of the guard over the night songs. Even the ones we keep are themselves only hollow copies of the real thing.
We hold a memory tight but never completely. We only hold those things about the experience that serve our purposes. It is not really a complete picture of what actually happened. It is a copy and it serves us to reinforce our identity.
Then there are a few rare times when memory catches up to us and folds us back into a dynamic experience full of all the original stuff. We are completely at the mercy of a long ago.
Nostalgia is a sloppy mountainside upon which to build a selfhood. At any moment the torrential rains can wash away the meaning all you’ve built. The way things used to be is easily wipe out by progress, development and change for its own sake.
A self without memory is just as fickle a space.
Regret is the vilest of tricksters in the memory game. Regret is a really only a thinly veiled arrogance that claims to deserve better than what was received. Regret sets out traps for memory so that when it comes calling it will get tangled up in the insincerity of one unwilling to admit that in the end - life has been way better than should have been. Life is hard but it is good. It isn’t always easy but it is worthwhile. Life can steal and rob joy and contentment – but it is full. This isn’t careless optimism – this the humility we should aspire to live toward.
As sand slipping through our fingers – the last cup of Nicaraguan coffee will be swallowed some weeks from now. My clothes will go back to smelling Canadian again. I will shake dry hands. I will eat french fries. I will smell a barbeque roasting steak as i run through town. I will stop at stop signs. I will see the wide horizon open down to my toes. I will water my lawn. I will forget.
I will forget but I will cherish. I will put up a sign on the front porch inviting memory in. I will always tell the rooster not to step on the cricket on his way out the door to call in the morning.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
one day i walk on stone
today i walk in hours
someday i shall be home
O I have been a beggar
and shall be one again
and few the ones to lend a hand
within the world of men
I sat on the the street corner
and watched the boot heels shine
and cried out glad and cried out sad
with every voice but mine
This song goes through my head today
A strong motif for this trip has been the idea of a home coming - its a pretty arrogant supposition. I am keenly aware that for as much as do and want this to feel like home, it isn't home till you are accepted back intot he family. I was told the first day that my spanish was too academic. So i have been practicing dropping my "s" at the end of words. I have been playing with the particular lilt that turns every phrase into a singsong affair. I've been eating the food - breathing in the air and marinating in various mixtures of sweat.
You sorta know you are in when they feel comfortable enough to prank you. Pablo has pulled a few on me and i ahve gotten one on him so the score is 3-1 in his favor. I don't usually take easily to losing a prank war but in this case if it means that I trully have come home then...
Friday, July 22, 2011
We past two cemeteries, it is believed that each belonged to a different class of people in this society. they were right across the street from each other. Both were now considered full. The rich cemetery was more ornately adorned and significantly more well kept. The poor one was in disrepair and seemed rather neglected. The rich one had tombs above ground where the bodies were placed – the belief being that being above ground was that much closer to heaven. The poor one buried people beneath the ground. these of course it is believed will take just a little bit longer to get to heaven on resurrection day.
Even in death the poor get the shaft it seems.
When we were here at the service last Sunday it was interesting to listen to the rhetoric used to talk about the nature of the people’s faith. Perseverance in the face of struggle, joy in the face of hardship, acknowledging pain and horror as a common way of life and identifying Jesus as dear helping friend. This is the narrative that they told themsleves. While it may not be typical of all the thematic material that these people cover in their in spiritual journey it certainly seems common. This narrative of peace in the face of conflict takes on a much different flavour when on the way home you also see a young man carrying a three foot coffin on a motorcycle. It certainly takes on a completely different tone than it does in any context that I have heard in Canada.
The pastor said that when we get to heaven we all will understand each other but the main language will be Spanish. Rousing cheers errupted – and I certainly would not be opposed to that. The pastor also kept reminding us that we have the same faith no matter where we come from. There are not borders with Jesus he told us. But I can’t help thinking that while the sentiment might be good for a sense of community building it really stands on some pretty feeble logic.
The fact is there are huge differences in our faith. The one out here has to be able to sustain people in ways that we hardly ever encounter back home. It must hold them in a quotidian struggle against the inherent level of difficulty that they face. Some might say its a more simplistic faith. We squabble over cerebral issues in the minutia of Christology for instance. How do we justify the luxury of those debates?
We live unconscious to the reality of the hard world that searches for meaning here. We live oblivious of how the narrative they speak to each other helps them to hang on a little longer. The horizon of their hope is in their next step, the next sunrise. Yet their kindness and joy pours out of every pore as easily as sweating in the hot sticky sun. How is it that complaining is so easily on our lips…
The arrogance of our position is not lost on me. But it does little to scold myself or anyone else. In the end it seems a rather pathetic and plastic faith that we own in North America – that I own… Caught up in trivialities that leave us vulnerable to the sins of greed, lust, complacency and ultimately arrogance. Like the arrogant rich buried apart from the poor.
For my part, I might hope that I might be worthy to be buried with the poor on their side of the street. And bury me as deep underground as you care to dig. Right there in that cemetery if you like. If what they say is true I certainly might be one of the last to arrive at the pearly gates but then maybe I’ll get one last glimpse of this paradise before I wander upstairs. And if I happen not to make up there and must return to this place – that might be wonderful reward – to wander around here for eternity eating cajeta de coco.
Bury me on the poor side please – if you think I’m worthy…
It was ironic as we drove by that the passage about dividing the sheep and the goats came back to as did the passage about it being harder for the rich ot enter the kingdom of heaven. The sheep were on the right and the goats were on the left to be banished forever in that parable of Jesus.
As we drove up the hill the rich cemetary was on the left…
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
I wish words were sufficient for the flood of emotions and thoughts swirling through me…
I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprized at how my experiences here feel like a home coming. I’ve taken enough courses in psychology to know to expect that. There are some things that defy the logical objectiveness that that knowledge should provide. Almost everything smells, tastes, sounds and even looks like the world of my childhood. There are moments of when the deep calm of coming home settles in – at times when I like should feel much less at peace.
a drunk grabs my hand at the market as we enter demanding money, drugs whatever… My dad final has to sternly push him off so we can keep going unmolested. My boys are scared. I feel comfortable – like somehow that is supposed to happen. I feel like a child I think.
we drive by the house where we used to live – it has changed but the street where we lived hasn’t changed all that much and as we drive past the corner where i used to play on the street with my friends, I am overwhelmed with the weirdest sense of exhilaration and powerful sense of belonging – I really am speechless.
The one thing that everyone here keeps asking me is how much Nicaragua has changed. It’s true it has changed – a lot. But in some ways it has not changed at all. When I talk to the people here – its almost as if they want me to reinforce the notion that Nicaragua has changed – especially for the better. It has gotten better – the way a good wine gets better with age. The most noticeable changes though are ones that I would not attribute to betterment but rather greedy lust of commercial pursuits. Development has occurred but I suspect it has only exasperated the distance between the relatively rich and the desperately poor. Yes it has changed.
But mostly for me so far it has not changed. The air is still always tinged with diesel. A deep breath is never bland. in the course of one breath you can smell the ripening mangos, dona celinas taceria cooking up goodies, the exhaust of the japoneras (the little Japanese trikes that serve as personal taxis, and earth. the next breath will be another set – distinct enough that you can taste everything you smell.
The sound of rain falling – horns always honking – birds, animals – but the most pleasant sound of all is Spanish. I was told by our driver that my Spanish was far too academic – I shouldn't be offended. To get more campesino I am going to have to drop all those hard “s” at the end of words like nosotros.
It tastes like home as well. ginger drinks, gallo pinto, mamones, nancites, roschia – its all there. Each bite a little bit more like the fall into deep cushiony bed.
It’s hard not to smile – after all el chocolatito beat the mexican in a convincing tko last night – vive nicaragua…
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Harold Camping did us a favour.
Mr. Camping is the dude who told us that the end of the world was supposed to be yesterday. He was wrong about that prediction and maybe finally we can all move on from giving any time and space to this sort of prognosticating. Although, I’m sure that listening to the clever backpedalling that Mr. Camping is doing today from his pulpit (if indeed he decided to show up in his pulpit at all) would be mildly amusing. Maybe Mr. Camping is wondering if the level of homosexual debauchery has actually reached the critical mass that he claimed would precipitate the calamitous end of the world. Perhaps Mr. Camping is engaging in recalculations of the actual end of days which no doubt eluded him this time. You know listening to God’s voice is a tough job – especially when its supposed to tip you off to impending doom.
I doubt he is figuring out sly ways of apologizing to sincere believers who either took him seriously or are embarrassed at his antics in the first place.
I doubt Mr. Camping is helping to raise money for Robert Fitzpatrick who spent most of his life saving making doomsday posters warning people of the impending doom. Something about this story caught my attention. While Mr. Fitzpatrick may have meant this next quotation as a notification of the impending wrath of Judgement Day – there may be more truth his word than may first appear to those of us dismayed at this man’s fool hardy actions:
"If you're not saved by the time these events begin tomorrow, then you'll be left here to face judgment day."
The truth is that many people did wake up to face the judgment of horrors that have befallen them in this life. The innumerable suffering of that we are all vulnerable to is the kind of doomsday that many people re-live over and over again. It is worthwhile to ask from where salvation will arrive for the broken relationships, poverty, disease, loneliness, etc. Fact is that for some people one final judgement day might be preferable to the daily hell that they endure.
It would seem that Mr. Camping’s antics would be more a distraction from the real life salvation that believers are responsible to bring to the world. On the other hand maybe we can finally put this end times tom foolery to bed once and for all. I mean the end is near right? Sure it is – but let’s face it for many the end was a long time time ago. It’s time to get on with the business of redeeming whose lives seem over. Instead of focusing on this Judgement Day why not spend some time judging our own efforts to provide the tools for people to get out of the desperate situations they find themselves in. And maybe we can all hope that the media will grow a up a little or just plain tire of the idiocy of these types of stories without whose help we would have been blissfully unaware.
Monday, May 16, 2011
What might be a little more significant is that the health and wealth Pentecostals ought to check out what the Anglicans are doing cause they are kicking their blessed rear-ends. So take a moment and basque in your relative wealth and academic achievement - unless of course you are Jehovah's Witness - in which case...
Now snap out of it people. Seriously, isn't the whole point of religion supposed to be about being satisfied with the unexplainable truth - taken as faith? And isn't the reward of the afterlife the thing to strive for? Come on a little bit poorer and an little bit dumber never hurt anybody right? Ignorance is bliss and simplicity is true riches.
I think it is interesting that a rhetorical frame like this one can dance into the social head space and force education and wealth as a rubric of evaluation on religion. I think its cool our social sphere can be that banal. I think its perverse for those who might claim to hang onto any vestige of faith to exacerbate this issue further. So then what do you make of this post? God thing it goes mostly unread...
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
So today on my way home from school I am listening to CBC radio – like the geek that I am. The feed is from Calgary so after 3pm I get to hear about Calgary traffic woes – which all seems a little pedestrian…
The traffic reporter comes on with her litany of fender benders, tow trucks this and that and a handful of road closures. Turns out today the weather and not the usual ineptitude of Calgary’s drivers that is the worst enemy of the homeward bound commute. It is some freakishly cold temperature and blowing snow – etc, etc. Apparently, there are several hills in Calgary that can in these conditions get quite icy and make progress up the hill largely impossible. This is not a reasonable calculation to many Calgarian drivers as they unheedingly attempt to rocket their way up these inclines (let’s be clear these are not really challenging grades except for Albertans whose predilection for flat open spaces seems to hinder their judgement of rudimentary principles of physics). Squiggling and swerving out of control as they were the traffic stacks up behind them.
“It seems a group of high school boys are out there on Center Street helping to push cars up the hill”
The traffic reporter barely even squeezes the words out – but my mind is popping. i know that area of Calgary and I know that there is a small Mennonite church sitting basically at the bottom of that hill. I know too that there is a volunteer youth worker at that church who has led small groups of high school boys for years. Its weird but somehow I know the number of the church and after I call it my hunch is confirmed: his small group of boys had not even gotten down to doing their Bible Study they had spent the whole time pushing cars up the hill.
I told him his group had made the traffic report. “Shoot,” he said, “we didn’t want to get noticed.”
Sometimes, I hear evangelicals debating evangelism over service formerly known as the Social Gospel. I think that argument ought to be put to bed at least for a good long rest. The answer is simple.
I wonder if sometimes this debate is entertained because we are just looking for the easiest way to appease the guilt we face when we encounter the servanthood that characterized Jesus ministry. Some people argue that there is little point to good deeds if we can’t somehow communicate the reason for our good works. Rubbish! Jesus didn’t teach us to do good deeds because they will allow us to do some other more important thing. Jesus did good things – he served people – because it was the best thing he could do for them. That’s it! No other agenda!
Could it be that we somehow think that the ‘telling’ will allow us to get away with doing less for people? I mean follow the logic. Maybe our desire to share the gospel with people is actually a result of the fact that we really are not that interested in serving them wholeheartedly. Maybe we think well if THEY have Jesus they probably will pull THEMSELVES up by the boot straps and put their lives back together. Or maybe we think – I’m not totally willing to serve THEM (you Jesus called this bringing Kingdom of Heaven to the earth) so I will at least make sure that I seal their eternal fate by telling them about Jesus. Or maybe worst of all we think that some flimsy act of randomish kindness that cost us very little is actually meaningful to the receiver of that gift and that adding the phrase “because Jesus loves you!” really cuts the mustard. Dude! Let’s give our heads a shake if that is where we are at!
That’s what I thought about when I heard about these boys. Okay so in some ways maybe their service was not the deepest most engaged action they could have taken. Who knows? But I do know that when they saw a REAL problem they rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Done. No – hey I am gonna push you up the hill and write Jesus hearts U on your dirty bumper as you drive off. These guys were even bummed to get mentioned on the traffic report!
Look all I’m saying is until we are willing to serve people in as much depth as Jesus was we should probably SHUT UP about claiming to do things in his name – THAT’s ALL!
Friday, February 25, 2011
A friend of mine asked me recently about my thoughts on how technological advancements might effect pedagogical philosophy and methodology. Of course that is something that one can easily boil down into neat little 140 character answers…
Here is my twitter feed if you are interested: https://twitter.com/DCalfN8DPickle
One of the factors that we talked about at length was the notion that the institution of education in North America has ceased to be nimble enough to anticipate the next wave of technological advancements. Instead it seems that the focus has been on reactive strategies to the manage the exponential growth in tech advancements and their effects on our lives. It seems like if the classroom focus in on managing existing technology- we will inevitably remain mired in the irksome position of either endorsers of technology or resistive luddite hold-outs against the inevitable advancement. If the questions you are asking are about whether to ban these things or not – you are asking the wrong question. If the only thing you are interested in is incorporating the latest tech option – guess what you will never catch up.
If on the other hand we can begin to proactively affect the climate of the as yet un seen NEXT product (that we won’t be able to live without!) then we are at least heading in the right direction. This does not mean we Nostradamus this thing through some logarithmical formula or other equally dubious prediction. Instead we begin to teach the values and principles that OUGHT to guide which technologies will survive as vital in our future world. When the developers of the next greatest thing come calling on educators – not to endorse their products through clever classroom application (**cough—SMARTBOARD—cough**) – but as consultants on were development ought to go in the future then perhaps we might begin to have a more healthy position toward technology in the classroom than we currently do.
Understanding the latest tech stuff is fine. Being the agents of change for future tech is what we ought to be aiming for. I think that perspective ought to guide…
And now for something totally different and hopefully a little humorous…
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Weight Log: 189lbs (never really thought this day would come but tonight as Char and I were at dance class she said – I don’t want you to lose any more weight. So I’ve gone from being unattractively large to being unattractively unlarge – hmmm!)
Also I just registered for the first post weight loss running race April 9th (see the link here: http://racepro.ca/coaldale/
I’ve been running a minimum of 5K for the last month or so. Recently, I have been averaging between 50K a week (with about one day off per week). I have found some free running music at PODrunner. The nice thing about his music is that it is mostly just beats and is paced at certain bpms so that you can keep a steady rhythm as you workout. I look forward to running everyday even though I am starting to feel a few aches in my knees and hips but all in all its fine. I have been thinking about seeing a podiatrist since losing weight has not seemed to cure my intolerably flat feet.
Of course just about the time I think I am really getting somewhere with all my exercising along comes Weighty Matters with some poignant stuff about how exercise doesn’t really make that much difference. So there…
Friday, February 18, 2011
Is it just a coincidence that some of the nations with the highest consumption of coffee are also some of the highest achievers on the PISA academic results in MATH, SCIENCE, and LITERACY!
Drink Up Folks!!!!!
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Great article on the way the idea of revolution has become mythologized as a peculiarly Eurocentric piece of rhetoric. Facebook, social media and the like have danced at the corners of this event - waving their victory flags (and all the more in the RELATIVE non-violence of this uprising). It worries me that revolution might already be just another commodified entity in an ever cheapening rhetorical sociological frame work.
"If the mythology of revolution indicates a pure state of popular will, the mysticism of the state—its modern political theology—reposes on a redundancy: a mysterious ritual of self-establishment that literally allows it to float in the air without the need to look down; it does not need awareness since it is itself, in Hegelian parlance, the peak of consciousness, spirit incarnate. Every state, by definition, walks on the edge of—and indeed across—a precipice: not just by demanding that millions of citizens comply with the law by imposing just a modicum of violence in routine times but also, as more people in the world are now becoming aware, by piling up hundreds of billions of “sovereign” debt for decades without anybody really worrying about it."
See entire article here:The elusive subject of revolution « The Immanent Frame
Monday, February 14, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
check out this article here...
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Yoni Freedhoff over at Weighty Matters has posted a timely bit on the connection between health organizations and the Food Industry. Timely, given my recent post about the connection between Walmart and Michelle Obama. CHECK out this quotation from the posting:
The risk is straightforward. Partnerships by definition serve to benefit both parties. For the health organizations the benefits involve some combination of money, resources and exposure. For the food industry the benefits include sales, brand image improvements (which in turn translates into sales) and spin which may serve to help deflect criticism or further political needs.
The increase in sales is problematic in that more often than not, the brands that partner with health organizations are the very brands whose images or products may be considered unhealthy. Moreover, the consumption of more food, even more healthy food, won't help with our obesity problem.
Dude its time to quit clapping for Big Food and their healthy food schemes – lets just admit it – THEY ARE JUST IN IT FOR THE MONEY!
Still unconvinced read Wendell Berry’s article “The Pleasure of Eating” or read his books…
while you are waiting for those links to load think about this…
“This is certainly true also of patrons of the food industry, who have tended more and more to be mere consumers — passive, uncritical, and dependent. Indeed, this sort of consumption may be said to be one of the chief goals of industrial production. The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into our mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so. We may rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way. The ideal industrial food consumer would be strapped to a table with a tube running from the food factory directly into his or her stomach…As capital replaces labor, it does so by substituting machines, drugs, and chemicals for human workers and for the natural health and fertility of the soil. The food is produced by any means or any shortcuts that will increase profits. And the business of the cosmeticians of advertising is to persuade the consumer that food so produced is good, tasty, healthful, and a guarantee of marital fidelity and long life.”