Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Beautiful decay

Touched by Midas,
autumn arms shower gold
and the stench of death.

*I'm not saying this poem is any good, but these images struck my fancy as I rode in the glorious days before winter's cruel skin grew over every surface.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Winter update

Since I've already got an entire transition month of biking notated here, it seems a good place to journal my season switches.

November 11, I was still on my Skyline despite trace amounts of snow and significant chill. The next day, a snow covering and slippery streets advised me to get out the mountain bike.

By Friday, I realized it was dry enough to take out the old Skyline again for a much faster ride (since my seat post refuses to stay at the height it is set. Despite no sign of it even in the wee hours of Sunday morning, by daylight, there was a heavy blanket of snow that convinced me winter is decidedly here to stay.

Welcome back, slowness and fear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On seeing

If we are to love our neighbours, before doing anything else we must see our neighbours. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

--Frederick Buechner

To really see people, as Buechner urges above, is not so simple as telling them the right story.

My boss and I sometimes talk about how in our zeal to "reach the lost," evangelicals sometimes fail to actually like people. Of course, we would all decry treating people as projects, but it's really quite easy to do. We so easily focus on "the need," be it spiritual or material, that we reduce people to what they are not. 

I'm not convinced that the starting place of the good news should be convincing people of their sin and need for salvation. I think we tend to have an niggling conviction, however hard we try to quash it, that there is something broken in us. The good news starts with the fact that we are made in the image of the Creator. Despite the inevitability of things that are wrong with us, there is something inherently right as well. Seeing the Creator's loving fingerprints on us is the beginning of the hope of the gospel.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I hate the #OctoberDressProject

You wouldn't expect it of an eco-crusading, habitually opining, gimmick-embracing (Commuter Challenge, anyone?!) person such as myself, but I don't like the October Dress Project.

It's an initiative, usually celebrated with daily pictures on social media, to wear the same one dress every day for the month of October.

What's not to like about an event described as "anti-consumerism, pro-simplicity, anti-conformity, pro-imagination"? Why do I objection to promoting the humility (in Western culture) of wearing the same article of clothing day after day?

Its execution entirely misses the point.

If only the single dress wardrobe actually meant simplicity, I would champion the project, but  iterations of the dress project I've seen have instead been a celebration of excess. They become a celebration of how many different ways you can dress up that garment so no one will even notice you've been wearing the same one dress for 31 days.

One dress, yes, but 15 different scarves, 5 pairs of pants, 10 pairs of shoes, 31 sets of earrings, a rainbow of coloured tights and a handful of hair accessories. Not to mention different shades of lipstick to match the various colour schemes. And the likelihood the one dress was newly purchased for the project.

If this is a taste of paring down a closet and cutting down and the stuff one owns, I hate to think what the full meal looked like.

And then there's another October project where the same ostensibly virtuous principle is obviated by the execution. This time, to celebrate clothing and conscience, buy a $20 outfit at a thrift store and take a picture of yourself wearing it. Yay, thrift stores.

But the emphasis is still on more, rather than reduce, it's on new (albeit to you) rather than make do (with what you already have).

I'm reminded of a saying usually applied to houses, but which I think holds a kernel of truth for a variety of arenas: the greenest* house is the one that is already built.

As long as our educational initiatives intended to create awareness of simplicity and making do with less are predicated upon getting or showing off more, we haven't learned anything and no real change in our behaviour will occur to help us lead to lasting change in our world.

*(most environmentally friendly/sustainability minded)

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.