The World Beneath my Feet

It has been a wet June, and somewhat cold too after a warm dry May. Yesterday I rushed out and mowed the lawn aware of an impending rainstorm. My timing – albeit prompted by my wife’s observation of the light’s shift– was exquisite. The heavens opened just as I put away the lawnmower. Our lawn these days is rich in colour and complicated in content. “Weed and Feed” and such were outlawed a few years back, and so folk have the option of hiring lawn professionals (who can still use such products), or going au naturel, or converting grass to something else: a rock garden, a perennial bed, etc. Ours is a rather large lawn and so the conversion option is not so very attractive. We are not inclined to go with lawn professionals, and so wild is our style.

Our lawn gets a little more interesting each year. It hosts many sorts of plants, including grass. From a distance it looks a lovely green of various hues. Up close the breadth of selection is staggering. I generally like this, and am very happy with what must be a small wild strawberry that grows below the generous height I have set my lawn-mower. It begins with a lovely, tiny butter yellow flower that turns into a rock hard red fruit that is utterly inedible. From my perspective, its value is all in the beauty it brings to the lay of the lawn. Last year, a pretty little purple flower came along as well. I cheered it on, of course. But in due course I realized that it was strangling everything. It didn’t play well with others, and so I pushed back. This year it pops up here and there and I round it up with my hand rather than “ “Round Up.” Clover spots the lawn, and feeds the rabbits, and there are the odd dandelions that I did not dig up manually in the spring. I leave them be until next spring.

As you can tell from the above, I know my lawn a bit better than I did, say five years ago, when we would fertilize and apply herbicides in the spring and cut like crazy through the summer. Now I wander around, with my eyes on the ground wondering what I might find in this microcosm of multiculturalism. Scientists tell us that diversity is the building block of a healthy eco-system. That seems sound, as long as that diversity is ready to push back when certain species have “monoculture” as their watch word. Social scientist tells us that diversity is also the mark of a healthy culture, where room is made for the many or few who are different from the rest. That Christian sage of old seemed to have this in mind when he compared the church to a body, a harmony of disparate parts needing a diversity ordered to the common good of all.

Dealing with diversity in human community, however, is frightening. We imagine that if others look like us they will think like us and then all will be well. This, of course, is one way we put our heads in the sand. The pathway of the common good does not demand everyone look the same, or say the same thing, or even believe the same way. Common good comes from good community where people take time to be with one another, to find out what it is that divides and unites us, and to respect the difference and the distance we all need. In this week of national celebrations north and south of the border, we do well to recall that we all need one another because we can only be individuals together.

There are no Mirrors in Heaven

There are no mirrors in heaven, no
self-reflection on
    tied tongues, pride
    rung and hung before
    eyes to see or
on ears marred by wounding words;
no deer-in-head-light fright staring
me in the face
of demands remanding my freedom.
No, none of this in heaven.

There are no mirrors in heaven, only
windows and doors
neither locked nor exit-ready;
no need to capture,
no need to bolt,
no need to be back-against-the-wall
because there are no walls in heaven, only
bridges where
    righteousness and mercy meet, where
    justice and peace kiss and
        all is the biggest word of all.

Of Forests and Trees

The photo below chronicles an event of some significance on my neighbour’s lawn. This last spring he took out a very old, and weary maple tree from his front yard. It had reached the end of its days and was no longer much more than a tall stump with a few way-laid branches. We all were beginning to worry about its coming down at an inopportune time on a unfortunate car, or even person.

In early spring, an arborist took down the tree, ground out the stump, and planted some grass on the re-soiled spot. Alas, the effort seemed to be in vain, and so a few weeks ago my neighbour re-seeded the area. He has been hard at work trying to coax the grass to rise: alternately watering and watching with care. In the interim, a huge – and very healthy – maple in my front yard has been in the business of blanketing the neighbourhood with maple keys, those glorious little helicopter like things that float down. My tree is “sowing its wild oats” – yet cyclically. Every seven years or so the tree is a bit more libidinous than normal. This was one of those years. Our front lawn and driveway has been blanketed in keys in a manner akin to the fall flurry of leaves. Indeed, it is not only our lawn that has been so very blessed, but our neighbour’s as well. The other day he was laughing at the fact that even though he is rid of his maple, he still has maple work to do. I grinned awkwardly.

Just this last week, however, I grinned gratefully as, getting out of my car, I glanced out and looked upon my neighbour’s yard: what once was a bit of lawn with tenacious grass had become even thicker in green. But upon closer inspection, I realized that the lawn had, in part, become a forest of miniature maples. The picture below does not quite do it justice, that bit of the lawn is really vibrating with energy!

I’m not sure if our neighbour will choose to let one of these babies grow; if I were him, I would be sorely tempted. He certainly has many to choose from and the price is right. But he may have other plans for his yard, and the lawn mower may well spell the end of this canopy in miniature. In either event, I have been once again gob smacked by the ways in which earth’s fecundity sometimes appears formidable.

The green is rich in our yards these days, and colour is bursting forth in unexpected places bringing unrivalled pleasure. It is a beautiful world for those with occasion and willingness to engage it. Yet June is also a busy time for many, including me. Thankfully, this curio-canopy reminds me of the need to wrench myself away from the so many “important” tasks that rob me of both forests and trees. Jesus once told us to “consider the lilies of the field,” and may very well still be inviting us, too, to feel the trees between our toes.

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“The Reign of God is like this: it is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprout and grow even while the person knows not how it happens.” Jesus

I Hear My Name

This poetry, this poem
drives me hard. Quite
disinterested in a cherubic muse
it lurks near by my vulnerability.
At night’s fall
it ditches reason
and shadows the tongue: rolling
red wine in cheek while
setting the table for a tale.

This poetry, this poem
is no laureate; no, more a pirate.
It sets sail surreptitiously.
It holds no truck with waiting on luck,
but tacks into the word;
hope heeling hard.

I hear my name.
I cannot but write.

#time4reconciliation

The above title is one of the many hash tags being used on Twitter to promote and report on the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, which I am attending. The TRC works with the mandate to bear witness to the stories told by survivors of the residential schools in Canada. In sum, residential schools were established by churches under contract with the government, which had the expressed purpose of assimilating the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The TRC recorded countless instances of abuse – sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual – perpetuated on children taken by force from their parents and “raised” by an institution. A conservative estimate of the number of children (not to mention their families) affected by this atrocity is 150, 000. As can be imagined, the blunt effect of this ripples across society in generations of indigenous peoples, and will do so for some time to come. This afternoon I had occasion to participate in a march that was meant to honour the survivors of this tragic history, to mourn its victims, and to pray that reconciliation might come from the courageous truth telling that has happened over the course of the TRC.

I spoke with a few survivors during the walk. Their experiences were varied, but one gentleman, who has done some work with the process commented that all of the victims share at the very least the traumatic experience of being taken from home. Even those who had positive experiences (not common by all accounts, but not altogether absent), still faced the hardship of such a rupture and then going through trying and difficult experiences without the love of family and the support of cultural and spiritual practices that had sustained their families for generations.

I heard a survivor speak yesterday about his horrific experience. His courage in sharing a memory that must pain him in its recollection was remarkable. More remarkable still was his lack of malice directed at the church, whose symbols have now become cyphers for sexual abuse. Moreover, he even spoke of hope as he thought upon the indigenous children now reaching adulthood – children who have not grown up in residential schools, and so know the kind of love that a parent gives. This generation, he noted, are learning their ancestral languages, soaking up their culture, and practicing their ceremonies. If they are doing so well, he said, imagine how their children will shine!

I tasted something of his optimism at a Kairos conference happening alongside of the TRC, in which some young indigenous adults made presentations. I experience them as people whose minds are on fire, and whose hearts are both tender and fierce. Their presentations demonstrate that justice is dripping from their fingers and the words from their lips are seeping with respectful righteousness. They can sniff out pretension, privilege and entitlement, and have eagle eyes that spot inequality while on the fly. Some might call them idealists; I call them prophets. These will lead us into reconciliation and teach us the path of peace, if we care to listen

I have a suggestion

Do not fear being unimportant.
Instead, broach the crevice, the crack,
those unimportant corners
lacking life and
fill them with
outrageous claims, with
exotic names, and
stories that make
rocks sing and shadows sing
chorales and such.

Yes, we may fade into
obscurity after the fashion of
matches burned to end.
But know this: as we are spent
and darkness engulfs us, a
finger will drop us,
with singed flesh
remembering fire – and
we will be seen in a
hand’s retreat, a
face’s grimace as
indifference dies the
ignoble death it is.

Buying Time

We are in the middle of car shopping right now. My wife and I find this to be a rather stressful event. We simultaneously experience a bit of hope and despair; imagining that we will find just the right car to meet our needs and even our wants, but then realizing that such a car is out of our price range. And then there is that human desire – I think – to set the self apart from the rest. Most of us want to make some mark in the world that says you end there and I begin here. We do this variously: with fashion, lifestyles, taste in art, etc. For better or worse this bit in life plagues and prods us, albeit in different modes. Some people are utterly utilitarian when it comes to cars and use other means to say who they are. While my wife and I do not define ourselves by our automobiles, we also surmise that our car says something of whom we are. That being said, I generally strive to spend as little time as possible in my car. To get to work I either bum a ride with my wife in the morning, and make my way home by walking or taking the bus, or cycling both ways (this new for me). Still, a new car …

I remember remarking when we bought our last car that we had the choice of a smaller or bigger bubble, a van, or a matchbox-like car. Things have changed a bit since then with, for example, crossovers slowly crossing out vans. The options, oddly, are both multiple and severely limited. There are more players in the game than in years past, yet they are all beholden to aerodynamic designs that push their products in the same direction. It seems that, aesthetically, differentiating automobiles is restricted to small details that sometimes seem trivial, or moot. Of course, this “problem” of finding a car that says “me!” is one that most people in the world cannot afford. Yet it makes me think of how this wish, like so many in our world, is manufactured. Plenty of air, byte and video time is invested by marketers desiring to shape my desire. Subtle and not so subtle messages aim to make me take my vehicle very seriously. This effort is not unique to the car world. We see this story played out with cell phones, with hand bags, with anything you can imagine.

I wish I could say that my transformation by the renewing of my mind – rather than conformation to the world – means absolute freedom from market forces. Alas, it seems that we are bound to commercialization, and this is not about to end. Yet this need not mean resignation. In buying cars, and so much more, we can try to buy ethically. We can endeavor to see our desires shaped by love of the planet (looking for a car both economically and ecologically sound), and attention to community (using a car in a way that serves the common good), and ethical trade (honest dealing in selling our vehicle). If what we most love, if what we most value is something divine, we will divine the need to bring choice to that throne where cherubim and seraphim remind us that this car – like all things we “own” – is not ours. It is ours to use for a time. The kind of care we take in buying, owning and selling a car might alert even others to this incontrovertible fact: how we see our “stuff” says more about us than we might first imagine.