One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.
It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.
I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here. Read more
Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge. Read more
I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs’ little book How to Think over the last few days. It doesn’t contain anything particularly new, but it has been yet another reminder of just how bad at thinking we often are and are becoming, particularly in the digital age.
Jacobs does not paint a flattering portrait. Reactionary ideological sloganeering easily and often replaces careful, nuanced thinking about difficult issues. More often than not, the things we think are determined less by actual investigation and weighing of evidence than by our need for social belonging and our desire to have an “other” to define ourselves in opposition to. We are yanked around by emotional reactions and impulses and then tell a rational story to reframe our views as the result of logical analysis. We are masters at lying to ourselves about why we think the things we do, at taking shortcuts when we can’t be bothered to deal with complexity, and at regurgitating platitudes in the confident expectation that this will be affirmed by the people we seek to impress and the groups we hope to belong to. All in all, according to Jacobs, we’re not nearly as good at thinking as we think we are. Read more
Up here in the Great White North (and it truly is white these days, caught as we are in the grip of a wintry blast!), the media has been having fun with our dear Prime Minister’s “peoplekind” comment delivered at a recent town hall in Edmonton. Some young woman made the calamitous error of using the word “mankind” in her essay-length question, and, as luck would have it, our fearless leader deigned to correct her. “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind.’ It’s more inclusive.” Well, yes. “Mankind” is a perilously uninclusive word (I know “uninclusive” isn’t technically a word, but if our PM can make up words, so can I). Also, “peoplekind” is much more 2018, much more fitting for our enlightened, unshackled times. Granted, a white middle aged man telling a young woman what words she’s allowed to use doesn’t sound very feminist, but I suppose I’ll have to defer to those more knowledgeable about such things. Read more
I spent part of this morning listening in on an assassination plot. Well, that probably sounds a bit more dramatic than what actually transpired but, you know, click bait and all that. I was having coffee with an older gentleman that likes to get together periodically to talk about what he’s been reading in his bible. He speaks quietly so I have to really work to listen. The peripheral noise can quite easily take over. Read more
If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.
As far as quotes go, this well-known offering of unknown provenance could probably raise the ire of people across the political spectrum, particularly on the left. No one enjoys being implicitly told that they do (or don’t) have a brain or a heart. Those are fighting words, right there. Which is of course why the quote is repeated and why it’s memorable. Read more
A Saturday morning tour through news headlines, social media, and personal correspondence has unsurprisingly delivered a steady stream of commentary on the pitiful parade of powerful men behaving badly. Politicians, Hollywood executives, actors, comedians. Everybody greedily grabbing and groping and exploiting and exposing themselves. The list is long and will undoubtedly get longer. And it falls to the rest of us to howl and moan in outrage and keep the Internet busy for a few days. Read more
As far as sins go, a rich older dude using his power and influence to sexually prey upon young women is about as unoriginal as they come. As long as men and power imbalances and women have been in existence (which is to say, forever), the former have been indecently and inexcusably forcing themselves upon the latter. As depressing as the story of film executive Harvey Weinstein is, it is also about as predictable as they come. Read more
Over the last few years, I have found it interesting to observe where we turn in times of crisis. Increasingly, it seems that the answer is, “talk show hosts.” Every mass shooting, every natural disaster, every crisis now seems to be followed by a rather predictable ritual. In the hours immediately after the event in question we scurry online and busy ourselves with changing our profile pictures and hash tagging and wearing out the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” Later that night or, perhaps, the next night, we all tune in to the talk show hosts (and then share clips of whate they said the next day). Yesterday, CBC ran a story devoted entirely to what the talk show hosts were saying about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, complete with video clips of each one. They “decried it,” evidently. Whew. Read more
Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more
There’s a fascinating episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast that looks at the issue of truth and how we tell it. In the episode, Gladwell explores the history behind a statue in a park in Birmingham, Alabama that has come to be among the most iconic images of the civil rights movement. It’s called “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham” and shows a fearsome looking white police officer turning loose a ferocious wolf-like beast upon a defenseless young black protester. The sculpture was the creation of an artist named Ronald McDowell and is based on a photo taken by Bill Hudson at a protest in Birmingham on a spring day in 1963. It captures in a visceral and devastating way the malevolent racial injustice of the American south at that time. The only problem is that the moment the sculpture is based upon seems not to have happened. At least not that way. Read more
The last few days have been full of expressions of patriotism and anti-patriotism. Canada’s 150th birthday was on Saturday. Today, obviously, is the big day for our American neighbours. The internet is, predictably, aflame with either nationalistic chest-thumping or withering criticisms thereof. There is, of course, plenty to be critical of. Canada continues to come to terms with and be confronted by its treatment of indigenous people, historically right down to the present. The USA struggles with all things Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda that seems content to kick a whole bunch of people to the curb. I suspect that no matter the insignia on our passport, many of us feel at least a little bit conflicted when it comes to waving the flag. And if we don’t, we should. Especially if we are Christians. As followers of Jesus, our national identities ought always to be worn loosely given our primary convictions and commitments to Christ and to his kingdom. Read more
We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are… We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
I don’t know the original source of this quote, but I came across it in Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. On the face of it, these words could be taken as expressing little more than the tired refrain of postmodernism. We don’t have access to anything like “objective truth,” only to ourselves and our own inner states. The stories we tell are little more than the laborious outworkings of our own biographies. There cannot and could never be a genuinely true story, only stories that are true for me, true for you, true for whoever. Which is of course another way of saying that there are no true stories. Read more
This morning I was half-listening to CBC radio interview with a Colorado journalist who was suing a local politician for describing a piece he had written as “fake news.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. As I said, I was only half-listening. But there was a lot of discussion about truth and power and the stifling of dissent and questions like how do we even know what’s real or true or reliable anymore when people like Donald Trump can just pole-vault over traditional media sources (which are, of course, all corrupt and biased against him) and present his own version of the story via Twitter bursts which are then gratefully seized upon by his adoring followers? Poor truth doesn’t stand much of a chance in conditions like these. Read more
I had just dropped my daughter off at high school this morning and was gliding gingerly on snow-covered roads toward the intersection. I looked to my left and saw a car approaching the same intersection at what seemed to me to be a rather unrealistic rate of speed if it hoped to negotiate the turn that its flashing signal light indicated it was attempting to make. The car predictably began to slide, its teenage driver frantically (and fruitlessly) cranking the wheels as far as they would go. The car mercifully slid just past my driver’s side door and the crisis was averted. Read more
The shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people has been on many of our minds over the last few days. There has been the predictable outpouring of support and outrage on social media. There have been vigils and prayers and marches organized in response. There have been expressions of love and care for our Muslim neighbours taking place far away from the bleating headlines. All in all, it’s a narrative that our world is growing regrettably familiar with in light of all the religious and ethnically fuelled violence that has unfolded over the last few years. Read more
So, words like “truthiness” and “post-truth” are rudely and forcibly inserting themselves into our collective consciousness and public discourse. The former, according to an article today in Macleans, refers to people’s “preference for concepts they wish were true over ones that actually are true” (sometimes referred to in distant bygone ages as “illusions” or “lies”); the latter points to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.” Neither addition to the Oxford dictionary flatters us much as a species. Is it possible to repent for making such additions necessary? Read more