Posted by: Dan | January 6, 2013

Once Upon a Time

In the fall, when the migrations occurred, the geese used to fly over in such great numbers that we could hear them inside the house.  I remember running to put on my shoes and jacket and rushing out onto the front lawn to try and count them all as they passed by.  Giant Vees.  Far more than the few I’ve seen in recent years.

This memory just came back to me the other day.  It feels half like a dream… how did we hear the geese?  Were our windows open in the fall?  Was it really so quiet, and the geese really so numerous that we heard them inside?  Wasn’t it, rather, that I was already playing in the yard and simply heard the birds before we saw them?  I don’t think so, although I have recollections of that happening, too.

There are some things we lose and never remember for years.  They are so lost that we do not even know we have forgotten them.  When did we lose the awe we felt when we stared into the sky?  When did we stop feeling grateful to hear the birds sing?

~

In the mornings it is still dark when I walk to work.  The sparrows congregate in the bushes a few streets over from me.  They chirp and sing and scold me as I walk by and I say thank you and good morning and I’m sorry to bother you.  And then I laugh and my breath freezes in the air.

~

I have another memory that has always puzzled me.  When I was very young I remember playing in a pile of leaves under the maple tree in our backyard.  I was looking through the leaves trying to find the prettiest ones.  I remember finding a very small maple leaf that was blue in the middle and had a fringe of yellow and red around the outside.  I was so amazed and excited that I dropped the leaf and ran inside to tell my mom that I found a leaf that had turned blue.  My mom explained to me that maple leaves did not turn blue in the fall and I insisted I had found one that did.  I went back outside and spent the rest of the afternoon sorting through the pile of leaves trying to find that one little leaf, but I never did.  But, at that time, this did not stop me from believing that it existed.

I’ve thought back on that memory more than once over the years.  I’ve told myself that I must have been confused and I must have imagined it (maple leaves don’t turn blue in the fall)… but I still remember exactly what it looked like.

~

The ice begins to form on the river then melts.  It begins again and melts again.  The squirrels in the trees on the riverbanks stand out like blotches of black ink on a white and grey and silver canvass.

They are constantly rooting through the garbage bins behind the building where I live and make half-hearted motions to run for the trees when I pass them coming home from work.  I don’t really buy it and they don’t really worry about it.  Mostly, we’ve learned to co-exist without ever really registering, or reflecting upon, or caring for the existence of the other.  Yep, squirrels.  Boring.  Yep, humans.  Boring.  For a second maybe, we remember that there is actually something beautiful about the other, for a second maybe we remember that there is something terrifying about the other.  But it passes quickly enough.  And we fall back into the worlds we have created for and around ourselves.  It’s the same with squirrels as it is with birds and flowers and trees and rivers and stones and earth and sky and fire and children and men and women.

~

After I had my ankle surgery and I had to crawl slowly and labouriously to the washroom, with my cast weighing painfully on my foot, my cat used to slowly herd me and encourage me on my way there.  He would come and rub himself under my chin, go forward a pace or two ahead of me, wait for me to catch up, rub himself under my chin again, and then repeat the process.

He loved me, and when he got sick and I couldn’t afford the surgery bills, I killed him.  Well, had him “put down” because he was going to die anyway.  It’s odd killing a loved one for money — especially after the way in which he cared for me when I was sick (because, let’s be honest, I could have taken out a loan or sorted out some sort of twelve year payment plan to pay for the surgeries).  If I’m capable of doing that, I reckon I’m capable of anything.

~

There is a parking lot beside my work owned by the local newspaper.  It’s kind of out of the way, next to the railroad tracks, on the fringe of downtown in an area that’s mostly quiet apart from the shelter residents or street-involved people who frequent my workplace and the other programs that are offered there.  Often, people would hang out on the boundary of the parking lot that borders the train tracks.  There were trees there that offered some shelter and some people stored belongings in the trees.  It was a place where a person could drink whatever a person chose to drink, even if it was an alcohol-based product not intended for consumption, and chat with friends.  I never saw or heard about anybody getting hassled from outside that community (internal conflicts, of course, occur in any community) but the folks from the paper decided to cut down the trees.  They’re putting up some fences.  We got some advance notice of that at my work but were told not to spread the word in case anybody got upset and… um… did something or something (I’m not sure what they were afraid of but we all complied).

~

When I was young, I only knew how to whistle when breathing in and not when breathing out.  It was a distinctive whistle, but pretty quiet.

One day, my little brother and I were out playing with the neighbours across the road and a stray dog — a whippet — came and, literally, laid down at my feet.  I bent down to pet her and she rolled onto her back.  She clung to me but was skittish around everybody else.  I would whistle in my weird little way and she would run to me.  I don’t know why.

I went home with her and my mom called Animal Control to come and pick her up and take her to the pound.  She stayed with me while we waited.  When the dogcatcher from Animal Control showed up, the dog got scared and ran away.  He tried to chase her, but she was very fast and he couldn’t keep up with her.  He got worried that he was actually going to lose her in the neighbourhood.  Somebody suggested that I catch the dog since she seemed to like me.  The dogcatcher gave me a collar and leash and I went down the block after her.  I whistled and she stopped.  I whistled again and she laid down and waited for me.  When I caught up to her, I called her a good girl, I patted her, and I put the collar on her.

I still remember the look she gave me.  It was a look of love, of broken-heartedness at my betrayal, and of acceptance or resignation.  The love was still there but it was wounded… it wouldn’t be the same.  To me, at that age and that time, that’s how it looked.  At least that’s how I remember it.

I’d never seen anything like that before (although I would see it again).  Everybody told me good job and well done and they said that I must have some sort of gift with animals and I remember my mom telling the story to her friends… but I knew the truth and at that age I learned that people will lie and tell you that you are a good and wonderful and gifted person as long as you are willing to do horrible things for them.

But over time, maybe we forget, and we start to believe those lies.  And that’s how we end up with social workers and pastors and servant leaders.

~

About two weeks ago, I was awake at two in the morning because Ruby was awake at two in the morning and all of a sudden the old prayers I used to pray flooded into my head.  The fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5.22-23, the beatitudes from Matthew 5.3-12, the “Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew 6.9-13, and the Jesus prayer.  I’ve started to meditate upon these things again.

~

I once found an abandoned house next to the ravine by my college.  There was a hole in the roof and birthday cards for a newborn in the fire place.  Fog used to come off of the creek at the bottom of the ravine and it crawled up through the trees and the overgrown grass of the yard.  Coming out of the house in the early hours of the morning I was surprised to see a deer and two fawns that had come out of the ravine standing about ten feet away from me.  I think they were surprised to see me too, although they didn’t jump or run.  We all stood there and looked at one another as the satellites passed over our heads.  It was a moment that felt frozen in time.  That is to say, part of me is still there.  Just like part of me is still petting the dog that laid at my feet (and still looking in her eyes as I put the collar around her neck), and part of me is still saying a tearful farewell to my cat, and part of me is still staring into the sky and counting geese.

What, after all, is time and what, in the world, made me imagine that I’m a singularity?

~

About a year ago, I had the following dream: Charlie had a nightmare and I was laying down with him in his bed.  He feel asleep and I held him and felt his chest rise and fall.  Looking up from the bed, I saw, gathered in the room before me, all the children who had died in documentaries I had watched recently.  Dead children in the Sudan, children who starved to death in Somalia, children with bloated stomachs, children hacked to death by machetes, all of them, row upon row, looking at me.  And this is what their faces said:

“Do not turn your children into us — orphans, forsaken, unloved. Sacrifices.”

There was no judgment, there was no condemnation (even though I, too, am responsible for their deaths and the deaths of their parents and aunts and uncles and languages and cultures and memories and worlds).  It was only that.

I knew then, that I would never leave you nor forsake you.

~

~

Look, do you see it?  Outside the glow of the fire, there, where the horizon has begun to lighten.  The seasons are changing.  You can smell it in the air.  Do you understand?  The sun is rising.  We are being made new.

~

~

Even if part of me is still there
at the altar
with you
saying “I do.”

Posted by: Dan | December 30, 2012

Books of 2012 (2/3)

So looks like my two part series, turned into a three part series… sorry for the brevity of some of these (that’s what I get for doing this all at once at the end of the year instead of monthly)…

19. Germinal by Émile Zola.

Germinal has been on my books to read list for a long time.  I’m very glad that I sat down and read it this year.  It was a really phenomenal narrative exploring matters related to class, industrialization, the rise of the capitalists, and the crushing of the proletariat in France.  Characters from various classes (from the owners to the miners) are presented as having depth and complexity and are not caricatured or presented as “bad guys/gals” vs. “good guys/gals”.  I highly recommend this book — it was one of my favourites this year.

As I was reading it, I was struck by the absence of this kind of literature in the contemporary scene.  Folks like Franzen and Wallace are (or were) writing really good books but this whole struggle with matters related to class, not to mention matters related to justice and inequalities regarding class, labour, wealth, and the distribution of goods, seems to be completely missing from our stories.  I wish somebody would write a book like this rooted in the present day.  Regardless, this is really highly recommended reading and reminded my as to why I fell in love with 19th century literature in the first place (think I may go reread some Hugo now).

20. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

I joined a book club when I moved to London and this was the book they were reading when I joined.  It is the tale of a few small town gangsters in a British resort town back in the 1930s.  It was a fun read although I didn’t feel that it had the depth of character and plot that I found in The Power and the Glory (although it has been some years since I read that book, so I might be wrong there).  There were a few things I found fairly interesting though.

First, the ways in which the villains are caught up in the social imaginary and moralism of Roman Catholicism, whereas the woman who represents justice (Ida), has shed that moral system.  The mobster kill people are are convinced they are going to hell.  Ida drinks and fucks her way to justice — even, it should be noted, if that ends up being costly to other people along the way (Lady Justice, standing blindfolded with her sword and scales came to mind more than once).

Secondly, I found it interesting how the most ruthless mobster was always contemplating his damnation and the possibility of redemption or forgiveness (which he seemed to desperately desire, even though he repeatedly stated that this was out of his reach).  In this regard, he kept thinking about an old saying that if a person repents in the split second when they are dying (in the time it takes from them to fall “from the stirrup to the ground”) then that person will be saved.  Now this is interesting because when another gang tries to kill Pinkie he is so distracted and shocked that he doesn’t even think about repenting.  This terrifies him.  However at the end [SPOILER about to happen!] when he falls from the cliff something funny happens — those who were there remark that they never hear a splash… as though he were simply lifted out of existence.  Keeping in mind the remarks about finding salvation while falling, I like how Greene leaves this open to the possibility of Pinkie being saved.

Thirdly, as another possible interpretation of this last point, I was struck by how some of the characters involved in the gang thought that they were already living in hell (i.e. — we’re not going to hell, we’re already there, baby).  What if this is actually true and “Brighton Rock” is Greene’s vision, not so much of hell but (since he was a Catholic) of purgatory?  Then, there is no splash when Pinkie falls because, having done is time and repented, he is lifted out of purgatory?  This is a bit of a stretch, but it’s fun to play with the text in this way.

21. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

I have read various political essays Roy has written (mostly about Maoism and revolution in contemporary India) and so I was happy to finally get around to this Booker Prize winner this year (my wife had been telling me I should read it for years). I enjoyed her voice and the ways in which themes of family, and class, and communism, and caste where woven together with a little magic and a lot of tragedy thrown in.  It was pretty and sad… but just seemed to be missing the certain something that would push it from going “good” to being “exceptional.”  I don’t know… maybe I was flying high from reading Wallace and Zola and so I was in the wrong head space to get the most I could have from this book.

22. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.

Prior to reading this book (the second one selected by my book club since I joined), I didn’t know anything about Ned Kelly or his time as an outlaw in the Australian outback.  Seems like a pretty interesting character and something of a Robin Hood/Jesse James kind of figure in Australia (and if you want to read a letter written by Ned and his gang, see here).  It was a fun story to read and Carey did a good job in inhabiting the character of Kelly in order to tell it (even though, it should be noted, that means we may not always want to believe the claims made by the narrator). I enjoyed the ways in which matters of race, poverty, religion, resistance and violence where woven together.

It’s funny — we can look at gangsters or outlaws or criminals or fugitives from different eras of history and we can actually view them sympathetically or even as heroes or, at the very least, recognize that they acted nobly given their circumstances.  Yet we are completely blind to this kind of reading of criminals or fugitives or “terrorists” in our context.  Shit, I mean we have a First Nations chief who is on her third week of a hunger strike here in Canada because of the Canadian government’s consistent practice of violence, law-breaking, treaty-breaking, and genocide against her people and she is the one settler society is calling an “extremist” and “terrorist.”  That doesn’t make much sense to me but, then again, Ned Kelly, Robin Hood, and Jesse James were all white men so maybe that makes a big difference.

23. Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe.

I was recently looking over my list of “Books that I have read” I noticed a LOT of gaps in my reading (actually, it’s a bit embarrassing to have that list posted because of the massive gaps in pretty much every area, but I don’t mind a little embarrassment).  One of the gaps I noticed in my reading is the absence of literature from outside of North America and Europe.  I’m intending to work towards rectifying that so I picked up this book by Achebe late in the year.

I found it to be enjoyable and it was good to read a narrative exploring colonialism, the spread of Christianity in Africa, and traditional ways of structuring life together in parts of Africa, that come from the perspective of an African author.  A pleasant and quick read.

24. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.

So, you would think about book filled with technical tax information and terminology, telling the stories of workers at an IRS office would be boring as hell but, hey, you would be wrong!  This book was well on it’s way to being one of my favourite books ever before it’s rather abrupt termination (Wallace killed himself before he completed the manuscript… I thought it was further along than it was when I picked it up, so I was really pretty sad that we don’t get to see the story and the threads come together [or not] in a manner comparable to “Infinite Jest”).

I really love Wallace’s voice.  It is hypnotic and it was that, sometimes more than the plot or the characters, that pulled in through “Infinite Jest” (in the same way that Proust’s voice pulled me through “In Search of Lost Time”).  However, I think Wallace’s writing got better with this story.  There were points where I laughed out loud several times in a single chapter and I pretty much never do this when reading (even when reading things I find funny, I usually just smile or laugh in my mind but not out loud).  It was really a delight to read and a major disappointment that it ended where it did.

Although, you know, given the way that “Infinite Jest” ended (i.e. by leaving the plot threads pointing towards one another and a certain conclusion but not actually completing the story and leaving it to the reader to work out that conclusion on his or he own), maybe this was part of Wallace’s intention.  Instead of an “infinite” story (which one could read in a loop forever) one has a permanent rupture and the literal death of the author.  In this situation, what is the role of the reader?

25. I Am a Memory Come Alive: Autobiographical Writings by Franz Kafka (edited by Nahum N. Glazer).

I remember  a writer once saying that she would always disappoint her fans when they sought her out to discover more, to dig deeper into the the depths out of which she drew her stories, to find further answers to their questions, and all that.  She stated something like this: “the best of me, the very best part of me, are those stories.  There is nothing deeper behind them or greater beyond them — they are the best I have to give.”  I’ve often thought of that quotation when learning about authors and scholars.  It’s a good quote to keep in mind when coming to Kafka because, shoot, reading these autobiographical writings made me think, “Man, what a miserable prick” (and then made me note to my self that I should post less autobiographical material!).

26. Scorned and Beloved: Dead of Winter Meetings with Canadian Eccentrics by Bill Richardson.

This was a fun little book to read on the side when I felt like being distracted from more serious things.  Richardson, a CBC radio personality, traveled across Canada and dug into the archives and folk tales in order to dig up stories of various eccentrics from across Canada.  It was fun to read but not spectacular (although the bushman who lived in the middle of nowhere and, at one point, cut off his own hand and healed and survived on his own without medication was pretty spectacular).  A lot of the “eccentrics” where fellows who like wearing dresses or were gay before such things were what they are today.

I was struck by the ways in which small communities back in the day used to accept these so-called “eccentrics.”  Yeah, so Timmy likes to wear dresses and he’ll steal your buttons, and maybe sneak into your kitchen, and steal some of your wife’s clothing off the line if he gets a chance… but that’s just Timmy, he’s a part of our community, he don’t mean no harm, and we look after him, I suppose.  That sort of care and understanding seemed pretty common.

The same point was pretty strongly made in a documentary I recently watched called “Brother’s Keeper” about four brothers who are illiterate, may have other developmental or psychosocial barriers, and sleep in a tiny shack together (one brother is accused of murdering another brother and this is the central drama driving the documentary).  Along the ways, it turns out that the brothers all share a bed together and there are rumours that they have sexual relations with each other.  Based on our perceptions of tiny, rural, poverty-stricken communities in the United States, one would expect the brothers to be ostracized and vilified because of this… but the local people actually are very accepting of the brothers and very non-judgmental — “How’s it my business what goes on in there home?” and that sort of thing.

A third time I came across this point was reading Venturi’s “Roots of Revolution,” about the history of social and populist movements in 19th century Russia.  I was reminded of how socialist and anarchist-based groups, back in the 1860s in Russia, where already adamantly proclaiming the equality of women and the equality of people of all races.

This made me rethink the story that contemporary urban, Western, liberal society tells itself about itself — i.e. that we are a recently new and improved phenomenon wherein queer people, people who are differently-abled, women, different races, and “eccentrics” are all accepted as equals.  I’m still thinking through what the implications of this might be and have a few ideas… but that’s probably the subject of another post, if I ever get around to writing.

27. Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire.

I really enjoyed Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy — it is amongst my favourite graphic novels — so it was fun to come across this earlier work.  It is a poignant and sad story, with a lot of violence, few words, and no redemption.  Not as good as Essex County but I really like the way in which Lemire is able to communicate so much in rough broad stroke pictures and little use of language.

Posted by: Dan | December 15, 2012

Books of 2012 (Part 1/3)

Usually, I post reviews of the books I have read each month on the month in which I read them, but this year I got a bit behind, then a lot behind… by the time I actually started writing the reviews, I kept adding more to the list before I finished reviewing what I had already read.  So, the end result of this was that all my book reviews got bumped to the end of the year.  That means that my already too short, too personal, and too idiosyncratic reviews may be even worse than usual.  I’m okay with that.  I was originally planning on organizing these into categories (philosophy, fiction, history, etc.) but have just decided to post them as I complete them.  Here is part one.

1. Empire in the New Testament ed. by Stanley Porter and Cynthia Long Westfall.

Many thanks to Christian at Wipf and Stock for this review copy.

This collection of essays comes out of a conference that was at MacMaster Divinity School.  The first two essays lay some of the foundation for an imperially-nuanced reading of the New Testament by looking at matters related to empire in the Davidic literature and in Isaiah.  We then have three essays dealing with material from the Gospels, two essays dealing with the Pauline and deutero-Pauline material, one essay dealing with the non-Pauline epistles, and one concluding essay looking at the ways in which the Church Fathers interacted with the traditions they inherited (from both the Jesus Movement and the Roman Empire).  Notably absent from any of this is any comment on Acts.  I found this disappointing as I think some of the most exciting work has yet to be done in relation to Acts.  Pair that with the observation that some of the essays collected here were a much higher quality than others (I found the essay on Isaiah to be repetitive and dull and the essay by Warren Carter was essentially restating things he has written elsewhere) so this felt like a missed opportunity to me.

For the sake of brevity, I would like to single out two essays: Tom Thatcher’s piece about Jesus’ crucifixion as it is presented in John’s Gospel and Gord Heath’s article about the Church Fathers and their relation to the Roman Empire (aside: about ten years ago I played in a floor hockey tournament with Gord Heath; we used to call him “short shorts” because of the clothes he wore during games).

I want to begin with the Thatcher essay because I think it was one of the strongest in this collection (maybe actually the strongest).  What he does is engage in a reading of the crucifixion of Jesus that draws attention to the ways in which crucifixion functioned within the ideology of Roman imperialism.  Crucifixion enacts a certain kind of drama that communicates a certain kind of message — about the gods, about Rome, about conquered peoples, about justice and salvation — and Thatcher spends a fair bit of time drawing this out.  He does this very well (Brigitte Kahl does something similar in Galatians Re-Imagined, so it’s good to see this kind of reading gaining some traction — it is very compelling).  Thatcher then argues that the Gospel of John recasts the crucifixion of Jesus so as to create what Foucault has called a “countermemory” in order to still affirm the ideological importance of this crucifixion — along with the whole cluster of themes related to it — but in subversive manner that reveals a surprising reversal: the crucifixion of Jesus reveals God’s conquest of the Roman Empire.  I really recommend this essay.  I think the perspective being provided by people like Thatcher and Kahl is crucial for understanding the cross of Jesus and, I dare say, the development of a Christian soteriology.

Gord Heath’s article deserves comment because it strikes me as a good example scholarship that is intelligent but shockingly acritical.  A good deal of conservative or reformist scholarship seems to exhibit these seemingly contradictory traits — on the one hand you have somebody who is obviously intelligent and capable of scholarly work but, on the other hand, the same person seems to be unable to step back from the material and has the most basic critical questions.  In relation to Heath’s essay this plays out in the following ways:

Heath spends a fair bit of time highlighting and developing the complexities related to the ways in which various Church Fathers interacted with the Roman Empire in light of the traditions they had inherited from the New Testament and the early Jesus Movement.  His emphasis tended to fall on those voices that were more sympathetic to the empire (compare this, for example, to the more developed arguments of Justo Gonzalez in Faith and Wealth — an important work lacking from Heath’s bibliography — where a whole different emphasis comes to light).  Ultimately, he concludes that most were quite sympathetic to and supportive of the empire, apart from its ever-present violence and idolary (which, I believe, Heath only understands in the most obvious and superficial manner and which he does not seem to relate to some of the other areas where violence and idolatry operate — areas that have been highlighted by social theorists and philosophers who work in the domain of “postmodernism” that Heath rejects and, not surprisingly, misunderstands).

Hence, on the one hand, we see Heath acting as an historian should (dealing with primary source material… even if he is a little selective with it… who isn’t, right?).  But, on the other hand, we see him dismissing major scholarly endeavours without any critical engagement.  Heath can’t imagine any reason why the early Jesus followers would be anti-empire — and his “hunch” is that the early Jesus followers would better understand the “relative benefits of Roman rule” — and so he concludes that counter-imperial readings of the New Testament are simply grounded an assumption made by the interpeters who favour this reading: the New Testament is said to be counter-imperial because the interpreters are counter-imperial.

Of course, Heath is open to being faced with the same charge since he concludes that we are to act the same way today as he says the Church Fathers acted.  After all, he concludes his essay with these words: “They were good citizens, appreciative of the empire, and loyal to the emperor, but never completely a part of the empire, for their ultimate loyalty lay elsewhere (much to the chagrin of the imperial authorities).  This was the tension then, as it is today.”  But I think this just shows the vacuity of the charge he is making — if you’re going to dismiss a position simply because you believe the conclusions that are drawn support or are supported by the values of the person drawing those conclusions then you can dismiss almost everything that has ever been said.

That said, one more remark on the Church Fathers.  I find it interesting that so much focus has come upon the Church Fathers amongst Conservative or Evangelical scholars in the last decade or so (at least that’s my impression).  It seems as though they have gained something akin to canonical status in some circles.  Especially when it comes to interpreting the New Testament.  I find this troubling.  I believe that, in many ways, the Church Fathers betrayed the values we find in the New Testament (perhaps not even consciously for they came from a long line of people who were vying for power and control over the early Jesus Movement and we already see the seeds of this betrayal in the Pastoral Epistles or in the parties with whom Paul is struggling in Corinth).  Many of the Church Fathers are simply those who were most successful in gaining power of the Jesus Movement, gain the more powerful imperial patrons, killing or silencing their enemies (the “heretics”), and so on.  Why we would want to privilege them to the extent that many do is beyond me.  So sure, some Church Fathers wanted to be good citizens and appreciated the Roman Empire (as they had moved well away from the call of Jesus and Paul and were already well situated in places of power), but why we should see that as a model for our own actions — or as the lens through which we should interpret Jesus and Paul — is beyond me.  This is the case, not simply because I find that model unappealing, but also because I believe a good historian should take these kind of things into consideration.

2. Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers by Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson.

This book is a very good study of the ways in which First Nations peoples have been presented in the mainstream Canadian media over the last 120 or so years.  What becomes markedly apparent is the ways in which the mainstream media presents a vision of Canada and of First Nations peoples that is deeply entrenched in the mythical narratives of colonialism.  The media both recycles racist white, colonial representations of both settlers and indigenous peoples, and further entrenches those portrayals within the social imaginary of Canadians.  This study shows just how deeply colonialism is embedded into the core of Canada and being Canadian (therefore, recalling a somewhat distant — in internet time — conversation with a fellow at at Conservative blog, I would assert that the history of Canada’s relationship with Native peoples does indeed have “some sort of controlling relationship over the whole of Canadian action” [see here if you want]).  Of course, the problem is that the general public remains indoctrinated by the sort of thinking exemplified by the Canadian media and refuses to see a need to educate themselves further on this matter.  Hence, any assertions that challenge the dominant ideology tend to fall on deaf ears.

I’ve been thinking about this problem more since moving to a small predominantly white industrial city that relies upon jobs in plants that are poisoning the local First Nations community (and the town, too, although people don’t really talk about that).  I’ve tried to take the advice of Taiaiake Alfred seriously (who follows Malcolm X in suggesting that well-meaning white people stick to trying to educate and change other white people [if, that is, they are unwilling to assassinate the Minster of Aboriginal Affairs and Nothern Development, although I think he was joking about that]).  I’ve had many conversations at the bar with different people about matters related to the First Nations community here and nobody sees the problem and actually gets offended by what I say — charging me with “reverse racism” and a rude for of “exclusivity” and so on.  I’ve tried to present the broader picture and issues and so on, but all this falls on deaf ears.  I’m not sure how to better go about having these conversations but any suggestions are welcome.

Anyway, this is a really good book.  Recommended readings for any other living in these occupied territories.

3. Being and Time by Martin Heidegger.

Read More…

Posted by: Dan | December 14, 2012

Fast with Theresa Spence

Today I am fasting in solidarity with Theresa Spence.

I am a settler and the descendent of settlers who first came to Turtle Island from Europe in the early and mid-twentieth century but I know that my liberation is tied to the liberation of the First Nations people.  As such, Spence’s hunger strike holds out the possibility of life and freedom to me and other settlers even though the explicit focus of her strike is the life and freedom of First Nations people.

How can this be?

In the context of colonialism and oppression, all parties are dehumanized.  The colonizer (the oppressor) is dehumanized because he or she lives a life stained with the blood of others, benefits from goods stolen from others, and experiences privileges that are premised upon the denial of the rights of others.  Consequently, to live as a colonizer is, in my opinion, to live a less-than-fully-human-life.  This is the case, even if a person is kind or sensitive or knowledgeable – even if a colonizer (like me) claims to care about all people equally regardless of their race or origin, that colonizer still participates within and benefits from racist systems and structures.  That, as far as I can tell, is the reality of the world into which I was born.  As a settler living within a nation that is premised upon theft, colonialism, and genocide, the reality of my situation is one of bondage.  I am bound by a nation, a culture, a law, that are all structured in such a way as to refuse me the ability to be just or nonviolent.

Consequently, the actions of Spence and others who are proclaiming that they will be idle no more are actually actions that hold the potential to liberate me from this context which dehumanizes me.

And yet I wish to pause here – once again I discover a situation where settlers are exploiting the First Nations people.  My people are those who have created this situation – my people are those who have stolen the land, resources, health, children, cultures, languages, and lives of many Onkwehonwe – yet now it is the Onkwehonwe who are acting to rectify the situation.  I am a member of those who created this context of oppression and genocide and now I stand to benefit from the sacrifices made by those like Spence?  Once again, it will be First Nations people who struggle and suffer and I, as a settler, will benefit from their struggle if it is successful.

How, then, can I begin to engage more directly and appropriately in a process that pursues the transformation of our context by means of a mutually liberating solidarity?  It does not seem right to me that First Nations people should be the ones choosing to starve themselves to death (if need be) when they have already had so much violence imposed upon their bodies by settler society.  Shouldn’t it be settlers who are now offering to starve themselves to death in solidarity with the Onkwehonwe?  Isn’t it time that settlers began to pay, with their bodies, something of the price for liberation and for creating a more just way of sharing life together?

These are the questions I ask myself and I share them with you because I do not know the answers and I do not know the way forward.  I have been grasping and fumbling and trying and failing to find my way.

However, today I will fast in solidarity with Spence because this request has been made and I wish to honour those who are asking it.  Yet having said that, I also want to be conscious that true solidarity requires much more than symbolic actions performed sporadically.  I know that my hands are not washed clean of the blood of others by engaging in this fast.  Just as attending an anti-war protest does not make me a peaceful person (for I still pay taxes that are used to fund war in Afghanistan and elsewhere), so I know that this symbolic action does not decolonize me or make me less implicated in the violence of settler society.  I know that much more needs to be done.  I cannot forget the words of Che Guevara:

Solidarity is not a matter of wishing success to the victim of aggression, but of sharing her fate; one must accompany her to her death or to victory.

Hard words, indeed, but true.  There is a long road to walk to freedom, and I cannot see well to find my way… but today I will fast and bring the name of Theresa Spence to the Creator.

I will also ask the Creator for patience when dealing with my own people.  I have tried to heed the words of Taiaiake Alfred who, echoing Malcolm X, has encouraged well-meaning white folks to go back to their own people to confront the racism and violence that exists there.  I have tried to do this and have had little success – I think perhaps I get angry too easily and I am unable to sway those with whom I speak.  I will confess my inability to act or speak well and I will ask the Creator for guidance on this road.

Thank you for reading.  Creator, may this day be good.

Posted by: Dan | December 4, 2012

KCCO

[Warning: the images below contain very graphic depictions of violence and death.  Welcome to the world in which we live.]

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Posted by: Dan | December 3, 2012

Pieta

michelangelo-pieta

(The words are from the song “Living Life” by Daniel Johnston — “Hold me like a mother would / Life I’ve always known somebody should.”  I like this cover by The Eels.)

Posted by: Dan | December 1, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods: All War is Class War

[Warning: this post contains spoilers.  I hate to ruin a good movie for others, so I suggest you watch this movie first before reading what follows after the cut.  Seriously.  The movie was tons of fun.  I pretty much never laugh out loud when I watch movies but I did on multiple occasions with this one.  Also, while a lot of clever things happened in this movie in relation to other horror films, and common tropes from the genre, I won't be touching on that  in this commentary.  Plenty of other folks have done that already.  However, I haven't found this particular political reading of the film elsewhere -- which is not to say that it isn't already out there! -- so that's going to be my focus.]

You see where this is going, right?

You see where this is going, right?

1. Overview

I’m going to start by giving everything away.  This is your last chance to walk away and watch the movie.  Take it.  Okay, now that you’ve done that, here we go:

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Posted by: Dan | November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

A series I did during the Canadian Thanksgiving but thought I would post them here given the different American dates.

(Trigger Warning: the images below contain images of violence and sexual violence.)

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Posted by: Dan | November 21, 2012

Black Friday

This is a man and he has a name and it’s Jdimytai Damour, OK? He is a man and he is dead now because of us, do you understand?

If we are to draw any conclusion from Black Friday it is this: the lives of people who work low income jobs on this continent are granted precisely the same value as the lives of people in the two-thirds world who labour and die in poverty and slavery in order to make the products we purchase. That is to say, their lives have no value to us whatsoever.  Before we cast any stones, we should remember that our consumer choices make us no less violent than those who trampled Jdimytai Damour in order to score a bargain.

Posted by: Dan | November 21, 2012

A Call to Abundant Life: A Manifesto Against Death

[What follows is the transcript of a paper I presented at the theology pub night hosted by Nexus, a church of sorts, in Kitchener.  The conversation that followed was gracious, thoughtful, and enjoyable, so many thanks to those who were willing to engage in this subject matter with me.  Truth be told, although much is abbreviated here, I feel that what I express here summarizes a lot of what I have come to believe based upon my education and experiences over the last twelve or so years.  I also believe that it points the way forward in terms of the avenues that I believe are most worth pursuing if (a) one is committed to the pursuit of life-giving change or (b) one somehow identifies with the Jesus movement.]

A Call to Abundant Life: A Manifesto Against Death

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (MK 8.34-35).

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being give up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Cor 4.8-12).

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