Sixty and Holding

I am only just now back from celebrating my in-laws’ 60th wedding anniversary. A quotable quote from the event was noted by my wife. She said that when she picked up flowers for this auspicious event, the clerk upon hearing about the anniversary, told her that her parents “came from the era when you didn’t throw things away.”

We talked a bit about this around the table. At a literal level this was true. I remember my Omma’s basement, once rife with the things that my mother would have thrown away in a heartbeat, and think on my mother’s basement, once rife with things that I would have thrown away in the day. With every generation, it seems, comes a little less anxiety about tomorrow’s basic needs. And yet other anxieties accrue.

I was chatting at this event with a relative who has worked for the same company since his twenties. I commented that it is becoming a very rare thing that someone should live out their working days with one company. Of course, in his instance, it actually wasn’t the same company since this company had been bought out along the way and he had somehow managed to ride out the waves of downsizing, rightsizing and outsourcing that more commonly characterize the “rationalizing” of resources in a globally competitive world. The “logic” of this economy is expediency: the image of the economy as a reflection of the household is sacrificed to the image of the economy as a reflection of a well-oil machine: rid of excess. If something is not needed, then, toss it out: an employee, a friendship, a faith, a relationship, a whatever.

I am not being nostalgic for the past here. I know that the days of my grandparents where marked by lack and loss. They hoarded because they (barely) lived through the Great Depression; but still, they held onto virtues that are not only too rarely present today, but too often forgotten. These virtues include, among others, patience for delayed gratification and fortitude for commitment. You stuck with something believing it would pay off in the end; and a promise was a promise. I am fully aware that this too often resulted in commitment to loveless, and even abusive, marriages and more. Such simply cannot be countenanced, and yet, in our life together we need to re-imagine what it might mean to think twice before throwing things away and tossing people to the winds of change.

The upcoming generation gives me hope in diverse ways. I think, for instance, of the awareness of some of my students of global issues, or the growing popularity of board games against the onslaught of video games or the arrival the zero-waste movement. Some seem well aware that technology is not enough to meet humanity’s deepest needs. I am heartened by those in my children’s generation who seek after something beyond the quickest way up the corporate ladder, somehow intuiting that the bottom line is simply that: the point from which we begin to be by moving beyond “me”. My generation has been seduced by technology, but theirs – I think – might well be able to take some distance in knowing that know-how needs to be replaced by know-who: know who you are, and know from whom you come. They may yet become the generation that refuses the quick fix and a throw-away way of being in the world. Perhaps we may yet see the proverb come to fruition: “a little child shall lead them.” We can but hope.

Silent Might

Last Sunday the global song choir to which I belong, Inshallah, sang at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on the Six Nations of Grand River reserve, some 60 km south of Kitchener. We were there a couple of years ago, and happy to make a return trip. Father Norm Casey, the local priest knows us well, and has been a remarkable host to folk from the Kitchener-Waterloo area on a number of occasions. The seminary where I work has made numerous trips that Father Norm has coordinated. Two of our students have done internships there, and the folk from Six have been to visit us many times. Slowly we have developed a significant relationship and coming to the reserve is always something of a sacred journey for me.

I offered to drive my colleague and his wife, who also sing in the choir since I know the area a bit. Alas, I did not know it quite as well as I thought, and made a right turn one road too late. We had given ourselves plenty of time, and so were able to re-orient and get to the church on time. Father Norm and the folk from St. Paul’s were busy getting ready for all of us. The church has recently received a significant bequest, which has enable the community to do some substantial repair, and so the church was shining, nicely dressed and ready for the party.

Our choir is rather large, and we exhausted the chancel and choir area of the sanctuary. The nave soon filled and the evening began with a traditional prayer, honouring and thanking all the creatures of the cosmos, as well as the Creator. This was done by Mike Monture, a gentle man whose prayer in Mohawk was done in a chanting fashion. He translated his prayer for us as he welcomed us to the territory. The evening then proceeded as we sang our songs, and heard as well the music of the Mohawk Choir of the Six Nations of the Grand River. This was lovely, and touching as well. At the end, Father Norm thanked us, and invited Mike to give the traditional closing thanks. He walked to the mike and spoke slowly, so very slowly, telling us that in the songs and words he heard the Creator remind us of the gift of children, and this touched him deeply because he taught Mohawk to children on the reserve. He thanked us for this, saying he would carry this evening into his classroom the next day. He also noted that he felt a deep peace in his heart and with the community there, and he was glad for this. And then he sang again the prayer of honour and thanks for Creator and all the creatures. It was a profound moment.

I discussed this bit with my colleague, Debbie Lou, the director of our choir. We both noted the profound power in Mike’s words, and how this power came as a truly being with us, evident in the ponderous pauses between his few and so very carefully weighed words, which were as potent as could be. It was the exact opposite of my experience at Ebenezer Baptist church a few weeks ago, but in a way it was the same experience. I felt God in that place and in that time in the authenticity of the speakers. Certainly I believe God is always with us, but every now and then, we have these moments that feel just a little like a veil is pulled back, and we are ushered into a new reality: where wounds are being washed, and memories are being honoured, and bridges are being built and friends are being made.

When we left, we discovered that the road I missed was closed because a bridge was out, and so my detour was, in fact, the most direct route. This seemed a fitting lesson as we slipped away from that holy moment into the fog that accompanied us all the way home.

An Experience of Communion

Hi All, I was invited to provide a guest blog for the Lutheran World Federation website.  It was to be a reflection on my experience at the recent consultation on the nature of the Lutheran World Federation – especially in light of its self-definition as a “Communion of Churches.”  The blog can be found here.

Just Singing

I just returned, late last night, from a worship symposium held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I belong to a choir called Inshallah, based at the school where I work: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Inshallah sings the songs of our neighbours around the world, especially – although not restricted to – the global south. The songs reflect the reality of the communities of their provenance: poor and yet rich with a deep joy; marginalized and yet attentive to a sustained realization of hope; victimized and yet marked by a sure grasp by and of the Reign of God. Our choir is led by Debbie Lou Ludolph, who inspires and coaxes beauty out of some 120 voices, which includes some – such as mine – that have little or no formal musical training. About 70 of us made our way to Calvin, where we gave two workshops and led one evening prayer service.

We travelled by bus, which is always a rich way to be together as a community. A certain comradery evolves in the gift of losing control of our transit and handing it over to the bus driver and tour coordinator. A kind of ebb and flow ensues between busy chatter, and then hushed attention to books, or the scenery, or the evolving landscape of a mind en route. The odd nap envelops those so inclined. You have opportunity to know people differently in this venue.

The symposium was rich. I learned much, met some wondrous folk, and had opportunity to grow more deeply into our repertoire and its community of singers. It strikes me, increasingly, that at the heart of justice is the task of simply being together. Song enables the singers to be together, a phenomenon we experienced anew over the weekend. But as our choir director regularly reminds us, the songs themselves also provide us with a bridge to those who sing them in their own context so that we can be with them, in a fashion. She asked me to provide a blessing which reflected the content of some of these songs at the end of the Vespers service we led. I offer it here for you.

May the creating God, who covets your brokenness, meet you deep in the world’s wounds.
May the crucified God, whose arms wrap the world round, draw your circle wide.
May the spiriting God, who is our grace, our peace, make of you peacemakers.
And may you rest forever blessed in our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.