Monday, September 22, 2014

CMHR again

CAVEAT: I fired this off quickly at the end of a long day. So I'm probably going to come back over the next few days to sharpen and refine it -- or at very least, correct a few inevitable typos. But I wanted to put the pressure on myself to get it out there and not leave it endlessly in draft status. 

My weekend has been dominated by human rights. Mostly, I was hanging out at The Forks, enjoying free concerts held in honour of the opening. And I watched the tail end of the ceremony streaming online, and kept tabs on the Twitter discussions, and read articles about it in the local paper. Even the Sunday sermon was -- coincidentally, I believe, since it simply came in rotation of our series on 1 Corinthians -- on Paul's teaching on the rights of a Christian (1 Cor 9). And to round it out a bit, I attended a Palestinian cultural celebration dance event.

The paper reported our premier describing the protestors at the grand opening ceremony -- who succeeded in being disruptive with their bullhorns -- as adding "vitality" to the event. Politically, a wise move, since it can be interpreted either as dismissive of or attuned to the importance of the issues protestors were trying to raise. Nevertheless, I respect him for his judicious response.

It also quoted Buffy Sainte-Marie taking a measured approach, using the public platform she was given as an event performer (which she declined to forfeit despite calls for it after another Aboriginal group pulled out as protest) to point to Canada's very poor history of dealing with Aboriginal people and continued unwillingness to own up to it.

At the gala evening concert, I listened carefully for others to do the same, and with one exception, they did. Ashley MacIsaac congratulated Winnipeg on our fancy new museum, but reminded us there are still citizens in Canada "looking for their human rights." Hip hop artist/rapper Shad didn't directly remark on concerns that the museum will overlook some groups, but his songs themselves speak boldly and baldly about injustice, hardship, and hope. Bruce Cockburn through both his songs and his commentary spoke to the pain of Canadian First Nations communities, and Buffy Sante-Marie, of course, didn't hold back. She had on stage with her an empty red dress from Jaime Black's REDress project. Only the artist from Quebec, Marie-Pierre Arthur, didn't say or sing anything to the topic -- or perhaps she did, and I just didn't catch it because her event was 100% in French.

(A side note: I love events in the franco-Manitobain community or national events [and this one was both] where commentators and presenters effortlessly switch back and forth between French and English.)

And then there was the Palestinians, on peace day, trying to show the world, or at least, the Winnipeg community, that they have a beautiful and vibrant culture, full of joy as well as suffering; trying to ask to be heard and respected.

But respect. That may be the crux of the matter. That may be the key to why although I support the importance of human rights, I am at times uncomfortable with the conversation. Because it can become strident and -- especially in a litigious, prosperous society like Canada's -- very me-focused. Even when a particular set of human rights is advocated on behalf of another person or group, the champions seem at times myopic to the environment around those they support.

It was only in church that I heard addressed what I had been thinking was missing from what I had heard so far: that rights go hand in hand with sacrifice.

Now, I'll grant this is tricky. I see these opinions flowing through my fingers in a seat of comfort, from a place of privilege and security. I do not know suffering but I do not doubt that it exists.

And yet, I think that if we don't consider human rights, even the most basic ones, in the context of how one person's demand for their rights affects their neighbour, we will always make someone angry. Perhaps it is only to the privileged that we can say that rights require sacrifice, but I wonder if our discourse and our resulting actions would be richer if we resolved to talk about rights in the context of responsibilities.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Beautiful

Or, what these four walls say about my city

The Free Press is doing a Saturday feature series on the architectural history of Winnipeg which I find speaks uncannily to its current social state.

After regaling the reader with the ambitious, lofty, exciting plans for this upstart city -- bursting with promise in the days before the Panama Canal killed freight rail traffic and social unrest spawned a defeatist mindset that still hampers efforts at progress today -- the authors come clean about "the real Winnipeg" the "City Beautiful" plans were trying to banish.

There were pawnshops filled with weaponry, bars, and brothels galore. And slums for the hopeful immigrants lured with false promises to call home at the end of the journey. 

"In a book entitled A Social History of Urban Growth, [Alan F.J.] Artibise concluded Winnipeg's shortage of housing, inadequate water and sewage disposal services [in the ever-poor, overcrowded North End] -- combined with the city fathers' thirst for growth (and not coincidentally personal wealth) -- created a paradox," writes FreeP journalist Randy Turner.

In the face of the controversy currently swirling around missing Aboriginal women and especially the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, opening this very weekend, these observations are eerily apt for today. Turner's next quote from Artibise sounds like a warning to the powerful of this city who have just built a beautiful moment to ideals  -- built, in the estimation of some, on the backs of human suffering.

"The campaign for immigrants and industry stands as a monument to the failure of Winnipeg's leaders to develop a mature social conscience."

Add "continued" or "enduring" before "failure." No, despite being a stronghold for the NDP, our fair but flawed city continues to strive for the monumental at the expense of the [hu]man. We build a "world-class" museum dedicated to the ideals of human rights -- on the site of traditional burial grounds, feet from the fickle river whose banks at times shelter the unwanted of society but whose depths have buried many of the same, silently borne out of sight.

When will we realize that building our trophies on the backs of others will never guarantee prosperity?

Local historian Randy Rostecki's blunt observation about the ravages of 1960s Brutalist architecture on the monuments of the past speak to more than building styles. "To me, a lot of progress stinks. A lot of it is based on greed. I'm not anti-progress, but the way it's practised in many cases leave a lot to be desired."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The tower of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights was lit as I came over the Norwood Bridge today.

That got me thinking of how impressed I was by the architecture when I had the privilege of touring the place in the final months they offered interior tours. At the time, I was awfully tempted to purchase a membership just to hang out in the building. And it wasn't only the architecture that was compelling; the vision that our tour guide expressed of a living museum with lectures and theatre pieces and discussion groups or Q&A sessions with experts broke through my wall of skepticism that the Holocaust would dominate in this rights museum which violated Aboriginal sensibilities by building at the Forks.

I pondered this inclination now as I consider the growing furor about the museum's emphasis (mostly its exclusions) from various groups wishing to boycott the place. However, besides the fact that the museum isn't open yet so we don't actually know what is in it (or not) yet, I wonder whether there's any use in that? Will there actually be any effect from a small boycott of the museum by supporters of Palestinian causes or by certain corners of First Nations communities?

I wonder if it mightn't be just as -- or more effective -- for those who feel their perspective goes unrepresented to get involved with the museum, and from the role of a supporter advocate for their cause, rather than from the role of a hostile, outside party.

I wonder if this mightn't be one of those cases where working with is more effective than working against. By supporting the vision for the museum to be a place of learning, dialogue, and advocacy on issues of human rights -- and their denial -- in the present as much as the past, interested parties may find themselves invited to bring their perspectives and concerns at a later date. Whereas, if they frame themselves as adversaries, even when an opportunity to highlight their concern arises, the museum may bypass those groups in favour of other, less unfriendly sources.

I just wonder.

Updated Sept. 17, 2014.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Every time I feel the Spirit

My brother-in-law knows how to manipulate me to make a decision. My sister and I are agonizingly slow at making up our minds, he has cleverly learned to introduce ideas to us with plenty of lead time so that we not only come around, but do so with the conviction of having thought of it ourselves.

Thus it is the more significant that for the second time in nearly 10 years, I made a snap decision without my brother-in-law's help (with relatively little uncertainty, though much trepidation) to do something uncharacteristic – that is, drop everything and go overseas.

When I saw an appeal for participants to join MB Mission’s ACTION France team, something in me rose up and said, “let’s do it!”

Those foreign forays represent two of a small handful of instances when I felt an immediate and clear sense of the Spirit’s prompting. So I’m going to France. For 5 weeks (July 5–August 9). On a French-language summer discipleship program in conjunction with Alsatian Mennonite churches.

As I prepare to go, I am reminded of a conversation I had with one mission worker I was  interviewing. He said he values prayer so highly that he would tell his supporters he didn’t care much whether or not they gave him money; what he really desired was their prayers. His entire family of multigenerational mission workers wove their conviction of the comfort, encouragement and catalyst of prayer into their conversations with me.

Their example prompts me to consider that preparation – physical, emotional, and financial – must also be spiritual, and that I must not go alone.

The program is 100% in French, a language in which I am nowhere near 100% fluent. I’m in a different demographic than most of the other participants (who will more closely resemble the young student short-termer type), so I’ll be expected to take leadership and model maturity. (And they want me to drive a car!) Frankly, I’m not philosophically convinced of the value of everything we’re going to be asked to do. Finally, there’s community – that value I espouse so highly while living alone and directing my affairs with almost total autonomy – which will surround me with five weeks of blessings and trials. Yes, there will be challenges.

So I ask for your prayers that I may turn to the Source of grace and love to find the strength to scale obstacle after setback after discomfort after mistake – and that’s just orientation week!

I ask for your prayers that I might open my heart and mind enough to learn about God, people and myself as I’m plunged into a new context with new people and a new culture.

I ask for your prayers that I might also be a blessing to those I encounter, and a mirror to reflect the glory back to God.

It's going to be a summer of learning!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bicycle poetry

There was an irritating wobble in my pedal.
Then a wobble and a catch.
Then a wobble and a catch and a clunk from the crank arm hitting my kick stand.
Then the crank arm fell off with a clatter.

...good thing I was on a deserted street less than a block from home.

This little anecdote actually dates from early winter, before the snow fell, in the first days of riding my winter bike for the season -- I just didn't want to lose it in the backposts of my Facebook.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Singleness recut

Continuing to be the poster-child for singles in Mennonite churches, I was invited to share my testimony at a local congregation as the pastor preached through 1 Corinthians 7. Below is my script, mainly recut from earlier versions.

British author Rudyard Kipling tells a story about how several of the wild animals become tame. The dog and the horse are lured out of their wild-ness by promises of food and companionship but the cat stays aloof, declaring, “I am the cat that walks by herself and all places are alike to me.”

I’ve always identified with that cat. I’m independent – I can recaulk my bathtub by myself, navigate a strange city alone, and make my own schedule. I’m single – I’m don’t have a husband or boyfriend or children to come with me or ask me to go there. “I am the cat that walks by herself and all places are alike to me.”

As the demographic of single adults becomes an increasing part of Canadian population, I suspect there are many others who feel the same.

The line is ironic, however. First the dog, then the horse, then the cow approach the man and the woman, receiving acceptance and care, and finding a way to share their gifts for the benefit of the household. Despite the cat’s claims of independence, she keeps going back to where the others are. She doesn’t want to be left out, so she schemes to secure a place for herself by the fire. Whether she’s willing to admit it, she needs these friends.

As a single person, I need community.

I believe God had given each of us a purpose and place to accomplish it – and people to live it out with. Whether we are married or single, we need the church to model what holiness looks like, and to remind us of what our true calling and identity really is.

The commission Jesus gave to his followers before he left earth was not to settle into families in safe neighbourhoods, but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The apostle Paul tells his readers that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15), and co-workers for God (Ephesians 2:10). In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul’s commentary on marriage and singleness culminates with the instruction for each person to “lead the life the Lord has assigned” – regardless of marital status.

And so I read that the gospel has no special provisions for married people; we’re all grafted through salvation, adopted precious children of the Father, and we’re all called to participate in that family.

And that family of the church is called to be different. The stories we consume through television and movies are preoccupied with finding “the one” true love, and achieving personal happiness.

But holy living that follows Jesus looks different. Whether we’re married or single, followers of Christ make their lives about more than themselves. By teaching us to respect ourselves and others as beloved of God with a purpose to fulfill, the church can equip its people to withstand the temptations to take without giving, exert power instead of grace, and put our desires above God’s calling.

We conform to Jesus’ different pattern by shifting the focus off ourselves and what we want, and onto God and his purposes.

In Romans, right after Paul instructs his readers in holiness, he gives a picture of the church – the body of Christ. This picture is of an interdependent aggregation of parts. As members of one body, we have different gifts; married or single, none are complete on our own, yet it is the body, not a partner, that makes a whole.

As Paul points out, a single life may offer more opportunities to minister: my time isn’t constrained by a husband’s meetings nor a busy schedule of children’s extracurricular activities; I can pour myself into many activities, and make sudden decisions. But who will be my discerning community as I make those decisions? Who’s around to provide a listening ear at the end of the day? Who will remind me to consider needs beyond my own and be part of family lives – both modelling and learning about what it looks like to follow Jesus?

As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the MB Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”

Will you remind the cats in your community that we don’t walk alone, and encourage us to come in by the fire, to help purr the baby to sleep, to catch the mice, to be part of the family – to follow Jesus together?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Many woes from one stem

Well, that was a day!

If it had been any other morning, an unexpected omission with my transportation wouldn't have been of much account, but this morning, I was supposed to be at a meeting in NK at 9 a.m. So I displeased (and flabbergasted) to discover my stem missing when I went to unlock my bike this morning.
It's a tad difficult to ride like this.

I rushed upstairs to my winter bike, hoping, after a conversation with a bike-riding (and bike-fixing) coworker, that a simple application of grease would partially address the problem that caused me to park the steed. After some lubrication, the chain was sagging like a plumber's pants and I realized the pushing and pulling in my drive chain was caused by the slack catching up with a start. In the drizzly back alley, I finally realized my rear derailleurs were at fault for shifting forward, got my fingers good and greasy fiddling with the chain, and, after a few false starts up and down the street second-guessing whether continuing or throwing in the towel was a better idea, I was on my way, albeit cautiously and slowly. I was spinning like crazy in a low gear but afraid to change anything for fear of causing chain sag again.

All things considered, it's not too bad that I arrived only 24 minutes late. If you walked into your garage and found a wheel missing from you car, would you still manage to get where you need to go within half an hour of the proper arrival time?

The bike shop was encouraging on the phone about the possibility of a same-day fix if I got it there by 6, but they made no promises, so I left quickly after the meeting wrapped. Sailing along Gateway, I dared to switch gears but a big bump on Watt set the chain off again. Repeatedly, nothing appeared wrong when I dismounted, but it still caught every time I tried to pedal, so I walked it over the Louise Bridge, muttering and grumbling. There was also some yelling and kicking before I realized playing with the gears might help. I finally got things working to a modicum of satisfaction as I bumped along the treacherous sidewalk on Higgins (still safer than the road, especially with the occasional unexpected jerk nearly throwing my feet from the pedals).

Did I mention it was raining all this time? And the zipper on my pod also chose that morning to break completely, so my purse was hanging open to the elements on my back.

My mood did not improve with the discovery that the removal of handlebars changes the stability of the front wheel and the absence of a stem means there's nothing to keep the fork in place. I dropped a bunch of bearings several times and abandoned one plastic shim in a puddle over the course of my 2 km walk to the bike shop, as I alternated between awkwardly steering one-handed by the frame, and hosting frame in one hand with front wheel in the other.

To top it off, it was snowing by the time I emerged from Natural with a new, differently configured stem. My slightly more upright posture wasn't the best match for the snowflakes pelting my face and eyes, and the dropping temperature chilled me under a sodden jacket and sopping filthy gloves.

The happy ending to this story is that the super (whom I dreaded calling to apprise of the theft, in case records are kept) happened to knock on my door about a water problem in the building (and was suitably shocked and dismayed at my loss) so I avoided a dreaded, awkward phone call.

Let's just hope my bike is still all there tomorrow morning!