Righteous Eire

Here in Eire, poetry
floats in the Guinness
and
is baked in the scones.

Ever emerald green and firm fences
edging the roads
make of me a verse
and yet I’m
not quite there:
sorting through the
grammar of bog and mountain,
coast and cill
working on the
vocabulary of
penny flute and dancing with a broom.

But this island is patient,
schooled in hedges.

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Happy Anniversary Canada?

This weekend marks 150 years since confederation in our fair country. Social media feeds, as well as newspaper editorials and such have variously greeted this auspicious occasion: some with celebration, some derision and some hand-wringing. Those who celebrate look at the many ways in which this country works or has worked well in promoting multi-culturalism, universal health-care, a measured presence on the world stage, etc. Those who mark this day with derision are mindful of broken treaties with and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, sordid treatment of Japanese, Ukrainians, Chinese, Jews and others, as well as exclusion laws of the 20th century. Those who wring their hands are living hard into the truth of all of the above, presented here in a summary form that does little justice to it all.

It is interesting to sit back a bit and ponder this matter from the perspective of faith. In my Christianity and Global Citizenship classes I often point students to the seeming ambiguity of the category of citizenship for the early Christian community. On the one hand, Paul claims that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), while on the other hand in Acts 22:25 we have a picture of Paul making use of his Roman citizenship to his advantage. Christians might be forgiven for having a confused relationship with the state. A history of some expressions of the faith demonstrates a tortured attempt to live faithfully in both guises of citizenship, with varying degrees of success. At certain points in history the state and church have virtually collapsed, while there have also been instances of radical discipleship eschewing any identity with “kingdoms of this world.”

Luther distinguished without divorcing church and state with God being seen as the guarantor of order in both realms. This has sometimes resulted in a Lutheran quietism that has been tragic in epic proportions. We have learned that being a citizen of heaven demands of the faithful an accounting of their engagement as citizens of this world insofar as they accrue such a status! In short, people of faith are not to be so heavenly minded as to be either naïve or cynical. A solid accounting of the nation’s commitment to peace and justice is demanded of all.

So, then, what of Canada on this 150th birthday? Is this to be celebrated, or not? But maybe the questions is misplaced. Is Canada really celebrating a birthday? Metaphors pack weight and that of birthday is mightier than first imagined. It proposes a kind of organic history of Canada that might well be deemed destiny. But Canada, as are all nations, is a construct. It is a political creation that resulted from conferences and consultations, backroom dealings and such. It is a legal entity and what was marked on July 1, 2017 was the 150th anniversary of this, not its birthday. Canada was not born on July 1, 1867 because nations are not born, they are made. This entity is both brilliant and broken. Marking 150 years of Canada is more like remembering the anniversary of an institution than the birthday of a child. The latter deserves unconditional love and the former a critical yet appreciative evaluation.

I am happy to live in Canada. I am embarrassed by its failures, many of which have made my life rich. And so I put up a flag on my porch, but when I look at it I remember that red is the colour of blood, and that my pleasure has been other people’s pain, and that the leaf calls me to reconciliation and solidarity, not gloating and entitlement.

A Little More Future in the Pipes

The big tractors are getting closer. Our portion of the street is about to be ripped up, as has already occurred further down the way. We learned of this necessary exercise last year, and have been dreading it ever since. As crews rip out old water and sewer pipes and replace them, mud supplants roads and water lines are displaced by temporary fittings into exterior water hose receptacles. There are new things to trip over on our street!

My father-in-law was chatting with one of the workers the other day, who informed him that the sewer pipes being removed are made from asbestos. I was somewhat taken aback, knowing that asbestos calls for hazmat suits: the school where I work is undergoing renovation these days and working through some asbestos abatement. Asbestos, it seems, is something of a sleeping dragon; once disturbed great problems follow and so this removal of asbestos and replacement of pipes is a good thing, an exceedingly good thing, in fact! So, despite the street getting ripped apart like a piece of cloth being shredded, in due course the street will again be whole with new “veins” worming their way below the skins of asphalt.

In the midst of all of this, another bit of good news is that the uproar has neighbour talking with neighbour. My wife has often lamented the manner in which winter sometimes locks people in their homes. With spring people begin to enjoy one another’s company, and with the activity on the street we now have opportunity to query what the city or the construction firm has been up to. Not only is the street being remade, but so is the shape of the community.

These days, as I wander around the civic mess of my street, the constant noise of equipment is a reminder that things are changing, as they should. Work is advancing, and just today a husky man with a thick Scottish brogue stopped by to give us parking passes that will allow us overnight parking on a handful of streets near us, which we will need when the tractors are at the end of our lane.

We look forward to a new street, and the realization that our asbestos days are receding. In the meantime, we will drive carefully, chew the fat with our neighbours and try to enjoy the knowledge that there is a little less asbestos in the ground and a little more future in the pipes.

About Right

For those of us who live north of the Equator, in climes in which water freezes in winter months, now is the season of preparing boats on the hard. “On the hard” for those who may not know the language of sailors and such, is the antonym to “in the water.” It is, indeed, a sweet season.

Yesterday my wife and I were down doing a little work on Santa Maria. Last month I put in a new water tank since the last one was filling the bilge as fast as I could fill the tank. Water issues have shown up in other places as well, and so my wood-worker wife opted to rebuild a couple of walls that had been ruined. She works wonders, and her carpentry skills were put to task. Yesterday we put these walls in place. She also plans on varnishing the hatch boards, which we have been staining, and while she cut a temporary hatch (so we could take the regular boards home) I cleaned the hull.

I like cleaning the hull. It brings me a deep joy. When my mother (whose blessed memory I honour today!) had me clean anything as a child, I would never have described the experience with the word “joy.” But yesterday I found myself grinning as I wiped away a winter’s worth of grime. As I washed and polished, I wondered about this pleasure: why this joy? Perhaps it is because I do so much work that brings so few concrete results that I see. Perhaps it is because the action itself is a cypher signalling changes in the season. Perhaps it is because I simply enjoy being outside, or the gentle curve of the boat, or the back and forth with my wife. It is probably all of these and more. But as I worked I thought a little bit about the gift of physical labour: how it puts us in touch with our bodies, how it teaches the gift of patience and perseverance, and how it reminds us that those who preceded us knew nothing of the many luxuries we take for granted. There was no heat without wood being hewn, and no food without laboured fields and snare set trails and animal husbandry. Of course, food is still worked for but most of us are distant to the physicality of this truth.

But to return to the mystery of my smile, above all I think this task takes me back to my parents, who valued hard work and meant to teach their children that it is a gift. Of course, I do not want to sentimentalise labour – remembering that many ache from bodies broken by harsh conditions. But still, I am happy for the occasion to remember those who tried to teach me to find some pleasure in work, and so to know that sweat on the brow can be a blessing as well as a curse.

As I caressed Santa Maria with water I imagined the one, after whom the boat is named, caressing her own beloved child, and finding joy in her work. Then I thought on God too, who most certainly – from time to time – cleans this ship that we are, and so I imagined God with a gracious grin and wet hands and a deep joy, and that seems to me to be about right on Mother’s Day.

Tales from my Office

This week afforded me the opportunity to move into the office that I will call home for the next 14 months, or so, while our seminary building undergoes extensive renovation. I wrote of this a couple of weeks ago, and noted that we are moving into residences converted into offices. I have the happy accident of being assigned a former living room, which means that I am now in the largest office I have ever enjoyed, or ever will enjoy.

In my last space, I was able to make use of a large ledge under a generous window in order to create a stand up desk, and so wondered what I would do in my new space. I found it quite helpful to spend the mornings standing at my desk, and the afternoons seated, a happy combination which my then configuration afforded me.

While moving in, I had need to remove some excess chairs from office to one of the residence quads serving as storage for our pilgrimage. As I walked about the flotsam and jetsam of this and that about to spend 14 months in hiding, I came up the display case that used to house a rather old German missal. It can also serve as a lectern, with a glass front on an incline that you can look through to see whatever is on display. Fortuitously, the height of this magnificent piece of solid oak was exactly the height at which I type, and so I decided to migrate it to my office after chatting with my Principal Dean, who gave me the thumbs up. I built a small stand on the wall behind it, to hold my 2nd monitor, which, with a second keyboard, provides me opportunity to stand and type.

20170428_153424

But as l thought about using this glorious wooden work of art merely to hold my keyboard, I wondered if it might serve a dual purpose. I then came upon the idea of using the case to display, one by one, the various art books I have in my office. In addition to putting them, one by one, on my desk, they will now cycle their way into the display case. This will give me the occasion, from time to time, to glance down from my screen to see sights, sacred and not, looking up at my fingers dancing across keys.

Something seems right about this: pictures picturing me squirreling away with words, all the while knowing that our happy pilgrimage together will one day end when the display case returns to its former glory, and me to a new office. For now, it joins me in the peculiar glory that is at the crux of teaching, researching, administering and doing the odds and ends that lend a curious concreteness to my day, every day.

20170428_153437 Soli Deo Gloria!

Without Pause

It is best, I
think, to write
without pause; to
push pen to paper and
spill its ink before
this wand betrays
its sacred task and
mine too.

Pens cannot
sin – exactly – but
they can be lazy and
so it is mine to call
it to its task:
to summon it to its joy
to raise it up for its occasion
to rid it of its insufficiencies,
which are finally naught
but lies it
tells itself and
sometimes me
as well.

Pilgrim Moves

Earlier this week my Dean popped by and asked if I might like to join him and another colleague for a little stroll, to our new digs for the next 14 months. At the end of April we empty our building, and the insides of this 55 year old building will get a major overhaul. It is badly in need of the same, with asbestos here and there, and everywhere a dearth of electrical outlets. Other issues abound and we look forward to a rejuvenated building. The plans for the renovation look stellar, and while we look forward to the move back in, we also know we are about to begin a bit of an institutional pilgrimage.

Our interim offices are on the top floor of an early 70s residence – repurposed in the manner of converting bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms into offices. I have the happy pleasure of inheriting a living room that is larger than my current office, and so have been allotted the kind of space that admits the dangerous temptation of adding bookshelves, and so more books. Pray for me since I will return to a smaller office.

Our chapel will be an “L” shaped room that eats up the better part of a former quad, and will do quite well for our weekday prayer services and our weekly Communion. For special services, the just off campus Roman Catholic parish, St. Michael’s, has agreed to make space for us and Inshallah, the seminary and community global music choir conducted by our Dean of Chapel Debbie Lou Ludolph, which will meet there late Tuesday afternoons. Classes will be spread out across campus by the fiat of the university allotment system, but the powers that be hope to keep us in common corridors.

All in all, things seem to be coming together.

Still, by all accounts, a pilgrimage remains a pilgrimage. It involves a wager that the journey is worthy of the costs. The costs, in this instance, are not insignificant and risks are clear: how will we keep the community connected without the our building playing host; how will worship work without the familiar spaces that facilitate our experience of the holy; how will we be in a new location since we both shape and are shaped by the places we go; will all the fund fall in place?

Scholars of pilgrimage speak of the role of narrative in the ritual of pilgrimage. Holy journeys draw upon stories of travel and trial – stories of manna and water from a rock, and they create stories that feed the future. I have no doubt that when the history of our school is told to subsequent generations, this will not be an insignificant marker in the history that we are becoming. Pilgrimages hold great possibility: dislocation allows a fresh appraisal of identity and provides opportunity for both the retrieval of lost or forgotten resources and the arrival of possibilities that cannot be imagined in the comfort of well-trod trails.

Only time will tell what will be told about the years 2017-18, but I am sure of one thing: grains of sand will reckon in the accounting, and these will be reminders of both irritants to pilgrim feet and the accounting of Abraham’s blessing.