Christmas is a time for joy. Perhaps this year, of all years, we could use a focus on joy as we draw near to the manger. I want to offer a brief reflection on those two words.
Time and joy.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4).
I think a lot about Joseph at Christmastime. Mary gets most of the headlines, and for good reason. She sings the song of the season, she proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour. She holds out the hope of a world turned right-side up, where wrongs are righted, where injustice is undone, where promises are, finally, kept. She is the object of devotion, admiration, even reverence around the world. We sigh as we listen to songs wondering if she knew what her baby boy would become for the world. We hail her, full of grace. We call her the mother of God. Nobody would call Joseph the “father of God.” Obviously. That would be blasphemy. But I still think about Joseph. Read more
I spent my morning commute listening to the first few minutes of an interview with David French on the Ezra Klein show. I know next to nothing about Mr. French, but Klein made a passing reference to a recent article about mixed-race adoption he had penned for the Atlantic called “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.” For obvious reasons, the topic piqued my curiosity. Aside from our family’s own adoption story, I have several friends who are walking this road as well. It’s a road whose contours have changed over the years, at least so it seems to me. I was curious to hear French’s take on things. Read more
The first thing I did this morning was trudge off to the post office with two very important documents to be sent by express post to the National SCIS Processing Unit of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. An SCIS is a “Secure Certificate of Indian Status,” otherwise known as a Treaty Status Card. Our kids have had Treaty Status numbers since birth, but we’ve not bothered to get an actual card until now. Adulthood and post-secondary studies loom ever more immediately on their horizons and, well, we’re rather keen to secure them whatever financial benefits they’re entitled to going forward. Read more
I get defensive when I listen to episodes like the one that aired today on a special edition of The Current. I’m not particularly proud of my instinctive reaction, but there you go. The episode was called “In Care and In Crisis: Canada’s Indigenous Child Welfare Emergency.” It deals with the deeply troubling realities faced by indigenous kids across Canada who are removed from the care of their biological parents and placed into foster care. The word “crisis” is no overstatement for the present situation. If you have any doubt (and care bear the heart-rending sadness), read this piece from yesterday. Read more
Earlier this week, I dropped my kids off at school after a long weekend at home and sent them forth with these inspiring words of parental wisdom: “Remember, be kind and gracious to each other.” As is the tendency of twins and siblings more generally, they have been known to (exceedingly rarely, of course) be less than kind or gracious to one another. It was one last desperate salvo before I began the long drive home. Please be nice, for heaven’s sake. Or at least for your worrying dad’s sake. Read more
Whenever I drive through the reserve, I’m always struck by how little seems to have changed over the last thirty years. I remember coming to play hockey here as a kid, remember how it seemed like a different world to me. And it kind of was—and still is, at least taken at face value. The windswept barren prairies in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the haphazard housing, the run down buildings that dot the the side of the road as we enter and leave the tiny town, the signs of poverty and chaos, the ominous billboard as you enter warning of the fentanyl crisis, urging indigenous youth to say no to drugs—“The drug dealers don’t care about you, they just want your money!” There was a recent article in the local paper saying that tribal police were considering requiring visitor permits for anyone coming on to the reserve in an effort to curtail the impact of the drug trade. If you’re going to the reserve with a narrative of hopelessness in your head, it won’t be hard to have it confirmed. Read more
In 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered her famous TED talk entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story” which discussed the problematic nature of reducing human beings and cultures to a single narrative. She talked about negotiating her own African identity in cultural contexts that often only countenanced a single narrative of what it meant to be “African.” For so many, Africans were poor and they were victims (of corruption or famine or war or some other combination of circumstances). This was just what it meant to be African. There was no room for anything else in the story. No room for an African who wasn’t poor or a victim or in need of Western aid. No room for her. Read more
A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Read more
Every day, it seems, the refugee crisis in Europe worsens. Every day, the headlines that jump out at me when I open my computer in the morning are grim and foreboding. Last week it was capsized boats and trucks on the side of the road. This morning, it’s a train station in Budapest where police are preventing thousands of migrants from boarding trains bound for Germany. And tomorrow? Next week, month, year? Who knows? Read more
Two pictures popped up on my computer this afternoon.
The first was of the two families from Syria that will be coming to Lethbridge as part of a refugee sponsorship initiative that our church is a part of. No names, just a picture of nine pictures on a table. Nine precious people currently living as refugees in Lebanon, far from home, waiting for their claims to be processed. Nine people whose city and country lies in ruins. Nine people who can probably never go home. Nine faces in nine photographs laid out on a brown table. What have those nine faces seen, I wonder? What hopes do those nine faces have for their future? What might those nine faces make of a place like Lethbridge, AB, Canada? I imagine speaking with them, of playing with their kids, of becoming their friends. But these nine faces still seem a world away. Read more
The headline grabbed me right off the bat: Alberta couple blindsided after adopted girls turn out to have fetal alcohol disorder. The story was heartbreaking in the way that only stories about wounds inflicted from close proximity can be. A couple took on two foster kids but one of them quickly proved to be quite a bit more than they could handle, There were repeated assaults of her sister, there were angry words and abuse, there were doors locked from the outside and alarm systems set up, there were desperate calls to social services. There was the shrapnel of toxic rage flying around shredding everyone in the vicinity. Read more
Near the conclusion of his remarks about the final recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde offered the following challenge to non-indigenous people: Make room.
Make room in minds and hearts for new ways of understanding and relating to indigenous people. Make room for conceptions that go beyond “drunk” or “lazy” or “entitled” or “pagan” or any of the countless other stereotypes about indigenous people that not only still exist in the broader culture, but flourish. Read more
Among the gleanings of my morning tour through Facebook land was the discovery that Tuesday, September 30 has been designated “Orange Shirt Day” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) here in Canada. Intrigued, I did a bit of snooping around and found the following explanation for the origin of the idea in an article at NationTalk:
Orange Shirt Day is an outcome of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. It stems from a story told by former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad, who had her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken from her as a six-year old girl. She spoke powerfully of how it seemed to her that nobody cared and, in this personal way, it speaks to the many harms experienced by children in the residential schools.
I have no orange shirt, alas, but the initiative has me thinking of a few recent experiences, and about three girls. Read more
They’re sitting there in our church parking lot, staring out at the rain from inside their run down green Chevy Astro van. They showed up after church yesterday. Martin was looking for conversation, for help, for gas money to Calgary for a medical procedure, the usual. He’s aboriginal, around 55, dark glasses, long black hair, cowboy boots. The conversation meanders here, there, everywhere. “Am I late for the service?” he says. “I wanted to get here for the service.” It’s 12:10 pm.
I had planned to be in Edmonton today for the seventh and final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but a combination of an unexpectedly clogged schedule and yet another batch of bad weather in the winter that refuses to die means that I am, instead, watching the events on my laptop on this snowy spring morning. The opening ceremonies are taking place right now—the prayers, the speeches, the parade of dignitaries across the stage. It’s all very good, but the audio’s not great, so my mind is drifting.
Part of this past weekend was spent in Medicine Hat, AB where my son had a basketball tournament. Medicine Hat would probably not be thought by many to be a remarkable place. The city’s main claim to fame is probably the world’s largest teepee (the “Saamis” teepee, the Blackfoot word for the eagle feather headdress which was translated “Medicine Hat”) that sits just off the Trans-Canada highway near a historical buffalo jump. But aside from that, Medicine Hat is a lot like so many other windswept prairie towns. There are pockets of beauty, to be sure, but it’s mostly brown, flat, nondescript. There is the now familiar exodus of business and commerce from the downtown area, to the outskirts of town where there is plenty of cheap land for the innumerable fast-food joints and big box stores that pop with alarming speed and regularity, and the vast oceans of asphalt parking lots for the jacked up pick up trucks, SUVs and mini vans that rumble down its streets. Medicine Hat is an ordinary prairie town. Somewhere most people are passing through on their way to somewhere else. Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, wherever. Forgettable.
But Medicine Hat is not forgettable for me. Read more
We are halfway through Advent, and I’ll confess to occasionally feeling just a little bit restless and uninspired. The same texts from Isaiah and the gospels that we rehearse every year. The same rituals and routines, the same hopes and promises voiced, the same baby in the same manger with the same cast of characters. The same hymns and readings. Over and over again. Consequently, I was delighted to come across Ben Myers’ post today called “Forty Things I Like About Christianity” over at Faith and Theology. It was a lovely reminder of the beauty of this faith, this God, this story that we are a part of.
And it inspired me to scrawl out my own list. This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just some of the things that came to mind this morning. Feel free to add to the list!
(I’m not as smart or sophisticated as Ben Myers so I stopped at thirty :).)