“For some” or “Foursome”

I am now nicely ensconced in Shillong, Meghalaya, India. I’ll be here
for a month, doing some learning with the good folk at Martin Luther Christian University: teaching a course, learning a bit about tribal communities, and doing a workshop for PhD students, among other things. I have been hospitably received, this hospitality being a red thread tying together the mystery that is India.

This is my second time to India, and it seems oddly familiar and oddly strange at the same time. Let me illustrate. In order to gain some bearings as I move through the fog of jet lag, I decided to go for a walk after Saturday breakfast in the guest house where I am staying. My walk gave me an appreciation for the geography of the place. Part of the allure of Shillong, is that it is a city on hills, sharp hills, with lovely multi-story housing clinging to the steep like wild vines to a tree trunk. Winding weathered roads hold these homes together like a net strewn over rocks. I made my way along a bit of string on this walk, which took me to the local golf course right in the middle of town.

This being India, a tour through a golf course is, in itself, a revelation. There are clearly worn walking trails crossing the fairways, reminding me of cow paths back on the farm, meandering from a to b, with enough clarity to know where you are going but with enough drift to make the tour leisurely. They seemed a bit out of place on a fairway. In my experience in North America, the public does not generally swing through golf courses, but here the signs on the course make it clear that it is okay to do this, with a handful of provisos: no lunching on fairways, no meandering on the greens, no balls larger than the golfing sort for sport, watch out for golfers etc. In fact, on Sunday evening at sunset the fairways were full of families picnicking (in defiance of rule number one). It was a lovely sight.

On my Saturday walk after reading the sign, I chuckled and then came upon a most interesting scene. On one of the greens, I was surprised to see a part of eleven – yes eleven! – golfers at play. I have always wondered why four was the magic number on the courses I have played (perhaps an altogether too generous verb here). It seems another magic is at work in India. You play with the number of friends golfing. I later saw a party of seven, and so I can imagine there are permutations above and below and between four and seven, when considering a fitting “some.”

I’m not sure which hit me as more enticing, the idea that a golf course need not be dedicated to one pursuit alone, or whether the rules of the game might be bent to the needs of the community. I suppose, both speak to the reality that is Shillong. I trust that this month will give me yet more insights into not only the oddity of this place, but the oddity of my own, that place that prescribes a maximum of foursome and the dedication of expansive space to those with clubs in their hands.

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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.