Saturday, August 27, 2011

As we get ready to leave the summer behind

- 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...
there's this...
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

Boy & Bear - Feeding Line

Enemy Language…

I don’t exactly ‘get’ all the references to enemies found in the Psalms. Now I know that David was writing out of a fairly real and present danger of personal and national enemies throughout his lifetime. It seems understandable that he would write about the stuff he was struggling with at the time.
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?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where Children Sleep...

Click here for more of James Mollison's work...

Using time...

The Wall Street Journal has commented on a survey of the way people in America use their time. Their angle has been to relate it to joblessness - which remains a persistent problem in USA.
For me it seems that there is much more to be learned from this analysis.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

holding back the morning…

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. “ 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

What does it mean to be a Canadian?

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…”

canada-usaThis 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

the gift of a mudslide…

I stand on the rain soaked slope. A shelter is far too gracious a nomenclature for the random collection of poles, corrugated tin, canvas and palm thatching glued to the collapsing mud bank of the mountain side. A family lives there. A few wisps of the smoke of a cooking fire trail into the sky – evidence of a family carrying on its daily routine. More of a prayer to stay on the mountain.
nicaragua friday mom 012He’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


The sign reads, "repair and unblocking of cellular (phones)". Signs claiming the same services were almost as common as the fried banana on the dinner plate. Its ubiqutous presence makes one almost miss the extraordinary nature of this sign. The ability to unblock phones that are locked out of certain services or access to certain networks is the stuff of your average cyber hack (aka the regular teenager). That feature perhaps is not that extraordinary. The ability to unlock your phone is mostly thought of as a sort of mischievious way to circumvent the annoying restrictions that cell companies hold over the equipment they distrubte. So to advertise this service publically - out in the open - is out of the norm - a least to our sensibilities.
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...

Nicaragua the precipice…

Adios Nicaragua. You are a place on the precipice. You are the line between just enough and nothing at all. You hang in the balance: meagre survival and hopeless disaster. You are a fragile ecosystem in search of an environmentalist who might care to advocate your delicate existence.
Nicaragua till tuesday morning 219 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…

tarmac to tarmac

moms barcelo 074The 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.

Nicaragua lastdayand trip 017On 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.