Monthly Archives: October 2010
It’s October 31st. That means that, for most in Canada, kids are going to go trick or treating door-to-door this evening in costume. For Lutherans (of which, I just found out, there are only 152,500 in the ELCIC now – down by about 10, 000 since I checked last, and down by almost 50,000 since merger in the mid-1980s), it’s Reformation Day! …not that we ignore Hallowe’en – I’ll be taking my three-year-old out, dressed up like Snow White, tonight.
It occurred to me this morning, just before the service began, that Martin Luther would have been the same age as I am now when he nailed his 95 Theses to the castle-church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. His intention was to invite debate about injustice in the 16th Century Roman Catholic Church, and the timing of nailing them to the door on October 31st was that people would see the posting when they came for church on All Saints Day – the next day.
Perhaps you heard about Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” – yesterday in Washington, DC. Hopefully you were able to tune in to the live stream of it, though it’s been uploaded in its entirety on this website. I think that Stewart, with this rally, and particularly with his closing remarks, made a statement about how people tend to view the world. We tend to take things uncritically – allowing emotionally-laden stories enter our imaginations – and it creates walls between us. Media (be it in print, on the small screen, or by internet) exploits this.
The supposed march-in-opposition, staged by Stephen Colbert, “March to Keep Fear Alive,” happened in tandem with Jon Stewart’s event – they were in the same place, the same time, and shared the same stage. But even the title is telling: do we allow fear to permeate our lives? (I’m not naive to the clever way in which Colbert lampoons right-wing media in “The Colbert Report.”)
The thing is: do we do the bold and courageous work of truth-telling in our lives? My hunch is that complacency and apathy lead to inactivity, or simply turning a blind eye. We all know that people are more than their religious perspectives, gender identities, sexual orientations, political affiliations, environmental activism, and so on, and yet it’s easy to allow ourselves to steer clear of people based on single traits or views (I’ve done it too).
We keep ourselves apart from each other too often, when we really need to be working together. Our planet needs us to work together. We need to work together to feel safe – not in the sense of forming an army, but in the sense of getting to know about our similarities and differences so we can relate. Our future depends on our looking for truth in all its grey areas.
I think Jon Stewart – even as an American Jew – spoke words that come from the spirit of the Reformation this weekend. As I listened and tuned in, it was encouraging to see a spirit of unity in the huge crowd assembled, and as he concluded his remarks: “Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.”
Today is the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in the church-year. The gospel text for this day included a parable told by Jesus where a Pharisee and a tax collector were both praying at the temple. The Pharisee was basically listing his accomplishments, and thanking God for not being like the “sinner” tax collector (not an enviable position, if you were religiously inclined, in ancient times). The tax collector was asking for mercy and forgiveness (the role of tax collector was to represent the empire, and it often included skimming – so those who were so employed were often considered dishonest). My take on the gospel text for this day is that it has to do with how we relate to God (who we experience through each other and creation). Are we in good relationship – looking out for each other – or do we tend to be more self-centered?
Good relationship has to do with openness and acceptance. It’s important to be open, and accepting, of those who may not be just like us – be it looking like us (ethnicity, gender, and such) or thinking like us (religion, politics, and such). When people do things differently, are they seen as different or not okay?
I’d like to offer some information I got at a conference on Thanksgiving weekend about cultural sensitivity and acceptance. “Intercultural competency” has to do with perception and what we do with those perceptions, and it has to do with our capacity to experience commonalities and differences (or not).
There are different stages of development in one model of intercultural sensitivity. 1) Denial – the inability to see differences (“my culture is the only reality” – this inability to see differences can only be present in the dominant culture because of such a privileged position). 2) Defense/polarization – dualistic, “us versus them” (differences are seen, but they’re always negative). 3) Reversal – reverses the us-them polarization (“them” becomes superior, “we” are stereotyped in negative ways; oppression is internalized). 4) Minimization – over-emphasis on commonalities and similarities (minimizing differences; insistently nice). 5) Acceptance – cultural differences are accepted and acknowledged. 6) Adaptation – empathy and frame-shifting (can see more than one cultural perspective; this is not assimilation).
We seek meaning in life, and we find meaning where we are able to have an identity. When our identity is minimized (whether through criticism, or an attempt to be caring or “nice”), it is hard to find meaningful connections in life. So the task becomes one of finding appropriate ways of connecting with others – those who may not be just like us.
In my sermon this morning, I described a culture clash between eastern and western cultures. It’s so easy to miss nuance when one lacks an openness to experience other than their own.
It’s a matter of a desire to be in relationship. We all come with our own points of view, based on our upbringings, and what we’ve come to know as “normal.” And, we find ourselves in different walks of life as a result. In it all, however, we’re called to see each other as God sees us: as beloved children living in a beloved creation.
Today is World Food Day. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we can give thanks for all that we have available to us. For those in the southern hemisphere, we cry out for justice and that all might have enough.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is an organization that seeks the welfare of people elsewhere and tries to address the need of those who need food. According to some YouTube clips posted online, this organization has met many peoples’ need and has made it possible for them to live better lives – better health, better strength and energy.
I had the opportunity to hear some speakers from a group called No One Is Illegal (NOII) on Thursday of this week (thanks to the organizational work of UBCO prof, David Jefferess). They’re a collective of volunteers that work to change the climate for those who migrate north because of little opportunity in their native land. NOII works to change peoples’ perceptions of “illegal” immigrants.
NOII says that migrants were exploited to build Canada (one example, here on the west coast, being Chinese labourers, and the head-taxes they were forced to pay). Migration happened, and continues to happen, as a result of colonialism (where nation states were established for purposes of trade, and the powerful colonizing nations exploited the less-powerful, but resource-rich colonized nations). Migration happened, and continues to happen, as a result of environment (people need land in order to grow crops; if the land is exploited, it affects peoples’ ability to survive on the land).
Today, we have trade agreements (often couched in language that makes it sound reasonable, like “free trade”) that are, in effect, following a treaty process. Treaties were made with aboriginal peoples’ in order to gain unfettered access to resources (this process is also one of colonization, and it is essentially the process of globalization).
NOII says that people should have the right to move, to stay, and to return. When people feel the need to move in order to save their lives or livelihoods, and they end up arriving on the shores of countries that are affluent, it can be traced directly to colonial/globalizing activity in their home nations. The image was held up of a train with goods being driven into an affluent country from a colonized region, and a person from the colonized place climbing aboard to ride with their goods into the new country, but then being denied entry at the border (while the goods were happily welcomed!).
I’m conscious that we, in Canada, have embraced the colonial mindset. We have political leaders who do their utmost to make it possible for companies and corporations to get ahead, and to draw resources from other countries to benefit us while driving others into desperation. Currently, Bill C-300 is to be voted on in the Canadian House of Commons. It is a bill calling for accountability of Canadian mining corporations in other countries so that peoples’ environments and livelihoods are not destroyed as we extract whatever it is we’re wanting to profit from out of their country. Sadly, my MP says he and his party can not support this bill. In an email to me, he wrote: “I am unable to support Bill C-300 because certain provisions have the potential of hurting our own Canadian companies by opening the door to punitive lawsuits meant to forward the political or competitive agendas of others without guaranteeing improved conditions for the people of the host country.”
All of this leads to gluttony and a sense of entitlement. We unrealistically start believing that resources are infinite, and we treat them that way. In fact, we end up wasting, squandering, and denying to others the gifts of the earth that are meant for all.
We can work to help people find a place of belonging here, in this place that our ancestors claimed as “home” only a matter of a few generations ago. We can work to help those whose ancestors have always lived here to reclaim their identity as stewards of this place, and we can join in that work.
When our elected leaders work with those who only see dollars as what unify us and the primary reason for relating, we must speak up. Minister Kenney has been vested with a responsibility to people who arrive here in their time of need. Rather than engage their full story, people from other cultures are painted in a light that aligns them with evil around so that the public will support a discriminatory move to send desperate people back to a place and situation of abject need or violence.
On this day where food – a basic need – is held up, we might do well to consider need of people everywhere. …and then work towards meeting that need.
John Lennon would’ve turned 70 this coming weekend, had he still been alive.
In what some might chalk up to a ‘hippie lifestyle’ or perhaps avant-garde art, I tend to think that Lennon was trying to free people from constraints that society and culture put on them. …and I think he was successful, largely!
If we can get over the things that keep us from each other – or, worse, keep us fighting with each other – we can accomplish all kinds of good. If the “-isms” (as Lennon referred to them in “Give Peace a Chance”) were to vanish, we might find humanity on, more or less, the same side.
Can we really be free in our society?
If we’re free, we so often take that to mean free from responsibility. We take it to mean my personal rights and freedoms. Instead, if we could see the good of being freed for good, or freed to be who each of us are, or free to join in community, if we could see ourselves as joining in that kind of freedom – just imagine…!
I think we do need to ask questions about how we are free, or what we’re freed for in our society. There are institutions that, for their own sake, will put dampers on peoples’ freedoms. (And, briefly, I’m not completely against having certain limits for the sake of upholding standards and safety of the whole.) But what of those institutions that will actually work against the collective good because they fear their own survival?
Here is a short case study. A local post-secondary institution does not engage with religious groups of any kind, and so will not engage even with those who may share its values. So, when an opportunity arises when some food can be collected for a local agency that works for those in need, the school will not work with a church group to collect that food – and the school would even work at doing its own collection (having to navigate what’s involved to start up such an event, etc) because, apparently, it sees its own preservation as more important than the need it also wants to address.
Can we be free? Can we trust one another, instead of fear, so that we might accomplish more together?
I think we can. We need to work at learning about each other, and sharing in each others’ lives. We need to work at building relationships so we can learn of one anothers’ gifts.
This kind of work towards freedom also works towards peace and life for all. It means caring about each others’ welfare. It’s counter-cultural, but it’s worthwhile.