A short note

Dear Blogging Friends,

I leave tomorrow for Saskatchewan. I will spend a few days with some family, and then my wife and I will catch up with a pilgrimage of reconciliation taking place in Southern Saskatchewan arranged by a dear friend and pilgrim scholar Matthew Anderson. You can check out some of his comments on his experience thus far at his blog, “Something Grand.”

I am not altogether sure if I will blog along the way. These things are not always easily pre-determined.

If I do, be sure they will be short since I will have but my cellphone. If not, you will hear from me in a couple of weeks time.

Best,

Allen

Being at Home, Being Away

I am just now home. I went to Alberta, my home province, last Wednesday for a church convention and then I took advantage of the travel to visit some family members these last few days. It is always an interesting experience to travel “home.” While I was at the convention I spoke with a couple of people – one who was originally from France and the other from the Philippines – who spoke of the odd feeling of having resided in two different countries and feeling as if you really belonged in neither. I’m not quite sure that this describes the experience of living some 4000 kms away from your home town yet in the same country, but it might approximate it.

In some ways going back to Alberta is and always will be a homecoming. This is the province of my birth, youth, marriage, and the birth of my children. Moreover, people I love are buried here and so there is land there that is, in a fashion, holy to me. Yet it is no longer my province. Much has changed since I left some 14 years ago. Ontario is home, and yet my roots here are only 18 years deep. I am a sapling in this province, and so find existence here a bit more tenuous – not in the sense that I worry about my health, a roof over my head, or having food in my cupboard but in the sense that calling this place home seems more like a wager, more a gesture than a hard fact.

In a way, I feel spread across the country. I am sure many have felt this way and can better explain it than me. But it seems that this stretch is of a piece of my identity. I am quite certain that it is utterly unlike the experience of immigrants in many ways, but oddly enough, it also reminds me of my immigrant origins – having a mother born in Europe and paternal grandparents from Europe as well. My people are from away and I am from away even while I stay in the country: dislocation is where I dwell. I think this a good thing. A sage from an earlier time tells me and those with ears to hear that the faithful are ever foreigners and aliens. Being a guest is my vocation. I am “rooted” in the hospitality of others, an experience revisited time and time again at the convention.

The theme of our convention was “Liberated by Grace.” As we pondered this theme, many speakers reminded us that liberation is found in our experience of being freed to serve; in our experience of reciprocating the gift of hospitality with generosity. We pondered how this grace catches us unaware in the embrace of a circle, in the beat of a drum and in the song of the land. We remembered that returning the gifts encountered on this land with generosity is simply “grace upon grace.” Giving itself is a gift and so, we are blessed in discovering ourselves at home in serving others.

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.