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Wednesday Miscellany

At any given moment, I have around half a dozen half-written blog-posts and/or fragmentary ideas lying around collecting dust in my “drafts” folder.   Sometimes these turn into full-length pieces. Sometimes they just forlornly sit there for months on end until I either get sick of looking at them OR forcibly wrench them into a “Miscellany” post. Today, it’s the latter. 🙂

Here, then, my latest assemblage of ideas about totally unrelated topics…

—-

A while back, I was driving my daughter to swim club when she asked one of those questions that I wish she would never have to ask… Dad, how come when I look on the covers of the magazines—you know, the ones that have all the famous and pretty people on the cover… How come there are never any brown people on the covers? 

I gulped and took a deep breath. Well, there are some, I said, unconvincingly. I mentioned a few Hispanic artists/actors that I knew she was dimly aware of. Yeah, I know about them, she said. But why aren’t there any brown people like me? You know, First Nations people?

Another gulp.  Another deep breath.

We talked about the nature of celebrity… about whether or not this was a worthy barometer for value… about how pop culture tends not to reward the traits and characteristics that are worth aspiring to… But I don’t think any of this did much to blunt the force of my daughter’s question. Yeah, okay, I get all that, but even so… How come our culture doesn’t seem to like brown people? We’re pretty, too, right? We can sing… We can dance… Why do some people seem to matter more than others?

This morning I read an article that talked about how families of missing and murdered (primarily indigenous) women in Canada felt that they were treated by those in authority. A few quotes stood out.

I think all the murder cases of high-risk people, whether you’re white or whether you’re an Indian or whether you’re Spanish … you’re treated like scum…

Oh, she’s just a prostitute, she’s probably just on a binge, she’ll come home…

I feel like the police are not taking interest in anything that has anything to do with the aboriginal people…

My daughter’s question crashed around my skull as I read the article: Why do some people seem to matter more than others?

And, of course, the real answer—the answer that I dared not speak aloud… the answer that my daughter will come to learn soon enough, Christ have mercy… the answer that is as demonic as it is pervasive—is that the reason that brown people’s lives don’t seem to matter as much as others is because, for many—even in 21st century “enlightened,” “tolerant” countries like Canada—they don’t.

——

Yesterday, I started reading Matthew Crawford’s latest book, The World Outside Your Head. His previous book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, was a marvelous plea for, among other things, an appreciation for the dignity and value of manual labour in a world where we are increasingly disconnected from and ignorant about the physical stuff of life. In his latest book, he’s taking on “the age of distraction”—how the digital age forms us and what we value, and, interestingly, who profits from this.

One quote, buried in a footnote, already stands out. Referring to Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future?, Crawford says this:

Digital networks that make information appear to be “free” have had the effect of making it harder for people to be compensated for their talents. We have become laborers who cheerfully contribute to the value of the network (consider the staggering array of talent on display on YouTube), but that value accrues to whoever owns the network. Our desire for recognition from other people makes us post our best efforts online, and it is the ideologists of “free” who become billionaires while promoting the spirit of sharing.

Ah, the myriad ironies of our online lives. The early promises of the Internet were all about equality and democracy and the sharing of ideas and the emancipation of those to whom information was previously unavailable. And these hope have partly been realized. But only partly.

What has also happened is that a tiny number of people have gotten fabulously wealthy by discovering how to monetize our every online interaction with advertising and ephemeral clutter, and to convince us to “cheerfully contribute to the value of the network” by slavishly uploading content and frantically scattering our affirmation and/or howls of righteous indignation to the digital wind in the hopes of marking out our little corner of value and meaning in an ocean of trivia and noise.

And, in a final triumph of irony, to dupe us into thinking that our online efforts represent some triumph of human freedom or agency or “connectedness.”

Efforts like blogging. For example.

—-

A friend recently convinced me to read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. So I’ve added this book to the half-dozen or so barely begun books that sit plaintively on my nightstand, waiting for their owner’s attention that has been destroyed by the Internet (see above), to be corralled and channeled in their direction.

One of the chief themes of the book is, as far as I can tell at this early stage, vulnerability. At one point, Brown describes vulnerability thus:

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

I am not, as it happens, attracted to any of these.

But it occurred to me, with last Sunday still firmly in the rearview mirror, that the Easter story could, in some ways, be read as a story of the vulnerability of God. Many Christians would bristle at the notion that anything in God’s economy could ever be “uncertain” or “risky.” But last week, as I read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days, vulnerability—uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure—seemed to ooze out of every part of the story.

If it is possible, take this cup from me… 

How I have longed to gather you… But you were not willing

Not my will but yours be done…

 Why have you forsaken me?

Into your hands I commit my spirit…

And, at any rate, a God who hangs beaten, mocked, accused, ridiculed, and dying on a cross, is nothing if not vulnerable. To suggest any less would seem to reduce the whole story to a sick charade, performed, inexplicably, for our benefit alone, by a God who floats, imperiously, above the fray.

I think more of God than that.

—-

The feature image above is a painting my daughter made for my wife when she was younger.  It hangs proudly in my home office.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice set of important notes, Ryan. That first one is deadly true. The dominant culture lives within our assumptions … and gets away with it. The second note … I keep thinking that social media, while it does maybe create an illusion of being engaged … it is actually a way that engages a lot more people in the stuff that is happening around the world … than happened without it. So I find myself on the plus side of it all. A little.

    April 8, 2015
    • Yes, there are certainly positives, Abe. On some days, I can be convinced that they outweigh the negatives… But there are other days, too… 🙂

      April 8, 2015
  2. mmartha #

    Beautiful painting including a dream catcher ?

    I agree, many best efforts are posted as blogs, and we can pray they are helpful beyond our hopes. That much good talent is exploited, yes, but as mentioned it is a way to contribute. Very good writing.

    April 8, 2015
    • Thanks, mmartha. Yes, it’s a dream catcher. She has always loved these.

      April 9, 2015
  3. mike #

    Brilliant exegesis in support of those of us with less than perfect faith (or at least that’s my take on it).

    Ryan, I sincerely believe your daughter could have a bright future as a successful Folk Artist should she choose to.

    April 8, 2015
    • We keep encouraging her to use this gift. 🙂 Thanks, Mike.

      April 9, 2015
      • mike #

        I would love to own a signed and numbered print of the Dream Catcher if it’s ever offered for sale in the future.

        April 11, 2015
      • My daughter painted this one recently, and she’d be happy to send it your way if you’re still interested, Mike. Shoot me an email if so.

        May 9, 2015
      • mike #

        Love it. SOLD!

        May 10, 2015
  4. The inhumanity of cultures throughout history is no accident. It is relentlessly purposeful to the profit of the few, always at the expense of the many. And yet for Christians it seems to me that we are, for the most part, willing accesories.

    Until we are willing to risk the comforts of culture, giving our best to creating and living in authentically Christian communities, our complaints reek of hypocracy.

    In many ways we are, “nailed to the cross” of our cultures. Unlike Christ though we can remove the nails and climb down anytime we like. All we lack is faith and courage.

    April 9, 2015
    • What you say is undoubtedly true, Paul. This is the way that the world goes, the way the world has always gone…

      It is a gift to be part of a community, a narrative, a hope that does not acquiesce to this inhumanity, that speaks and works against it, that, despite our hypocrisies, is seeking to walk like Jesus in this world (1 John 2:6).

      April 9, 2015
      • Paul Johnston #

        I like what you say here, Ryan. It is a good reminder. A right balancing of opinion.

        I feel your hope in the relationship I have with my wife. Often with my children, ( though not always 🙂 ) and almost always in our faith community. My work relationships are a blessing, there is space for expression of faith and it’s convictions where I work….and yet when I look at the big picture of humanity I mourn.

        It almost seems selfish to feel well when you believe there is so much unwellness around you. There are days when I feel great guilt. That I should be doing more for others. Sometimes I am angry at the Catholic hierarchy. We are the universal Christian church. We claim 1.2 billion members on this planet and yet we often follow unGodly cultural trends. At the very least we should be establishing Godly ones for ourselves and being the better example…Shepards lead your sheep!….

        Still you are right, make a sincere effort to walk like Jesus in this world. Draw strength from Him through the sacraments and prayer.

        I know many who think that a time of persecution is upon us. Atrocities in other parts of the world certainly offer compelling witness. Why does it seem to take great suffering before courage and valour are found?….

        Just some muddled thoughts before work. 🙂

        HIs peace be with you, my brother.

        April 10, 2015
      • Not muddled at all, Paul. Your words here express feelings that I have, too. There is much out there that provides fuel for despair. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus promised that a mustard seed was enough… I cling to this hope.

        His peace be also with you. Thanks for sharing.

        April 10, 2015

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