What is (a) man?

My latest in the Christian Courier.

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Having explored the question “What is woman?” in my last column, it seemed only reasonable to follow up with the question of man. In asking about man, however, we quickly discover an interpretive problem that didn’t arise in asking about woman. In the case of “man” we have to clarify whether we are referring to the human in general (“what is man that you are mindful of him”) or man as a specific sexed/gendered being different from woman.

My interest is in the latter question—man as a specific sexed/gendered being. But this interpretive problem already points to an important issue in any conversation about the identity of man/men. Specifically, that for most of history man has been defined as representative of human being. To speak of men was to speak of the human, and vice versa. At one level, of course, this has been no burden since it has meant a privileging of men’s lives and experiences Yet it is a kind of burden since man must now learn to be himself without also the measure of the human.

Man is what my son is becoming as he learns to play the flute, forgets to shower after a soccer game, studies for an English exam, or talks and argues with his sisters. In these things and many others he is sorting out what he cares about, what he enjoys, what he finds difficult, and what matters to him (or doesn’t). And in all of this we, his parents, encourage him to seek the way and service of the risen Jesus, since we believe that his identity and ours are found in Jesus. Continue reading

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Rocks, boulders, pebbles, alive?

Stones of all kinds were a feature of my family’s vacation this past month – a vacation that included two weeks on the West Coast. We spent time in and around Vancouver, and then up the coast into Alaska. Everywhere there were stones.

With the tide out, wandering on rocky beaches – more stones than could be counted.

On a Sea-to-Sky hike and climb near Squamish – scrambling across rock falls and around boulders.

Along the coast and inland, too, mountains and massive outcroppings of rock – Mount Baker, The Chief, Grouse Mountain.

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Near Juneau, Alaska.

Rocks define our world, the earth, so why would they not define a summer holiday, also?

Sometimes those rocks and stones even appeared to be, somehow, alive. Continue reading

Summer Holidays — Making Memories??

Having just returned from a family, West Coast holiday, this blog post from 4 years ago came to mind. It all still makes sense to me!
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It took me a few years to get it, but I have now accepted the obvious – namely, that summer holidays aren’t about me. Vacations aren’t about me lounging in a hammock as I read a series of novels or about me leisurely exploring the natural world with camera in hand. Of course that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for me in the summer months, but I have realized that summer holidays, for the foreseeable future, are centred on the kids.

But having accepted the obvious (resistance was futile!) there’s another question that has dogged me this summer. The question whether summer holidays are essentially or primarily about “making memories.”

IMG_0379Over the past five weeks I have come across that phrase everywhere: in a PEI tourism brochure, at a Canadian interpretation centre on the St. Lawrence River, in the Facebook posts of friends, and in everyday conversations along the way. Summer vacation, it seems, is about making memories – for the kids, of course: Continue reading

The Limits of Zero Tolerance

This is an excerpt from my longer piece on #metoo and reconciliation.

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The limits of zero-tolerance

Those who champion or implement a zero-tolerance response to Norman Hardie, or those who are similarly guilty of sexual misconduct, have offered little or nothing in terms of what his repentance might mean for the judgment against him. Few have asked what a change in Hardie’s person, behaviour, or business operations should mean for his role as a winemaker and for his public presence. If his open letter is genuine and if his commitment to change is real, what difference might this make? The failure to address this question, or to event countenance this possibility, represents a significant problem from the point of view of reconciliation, which orients us toward both judgment and of grace.

We might also ask: If zero tolerance doesn’t work as a response to bullying, and if zero tolerance hasn’t work in relation to marijuana or drug policy, then why do we think that a policy of zero tolerance (admittedly loosely defined, here) will work for those who have engaged in sexual misconduct or harassment? Why do we think that the disappearance of a winemaker and winery from public will finally make a difference for the renewal of a culture, and of sub-cultures, that have contributed to disempowerment and abuse of women? It seems unlikely that it will. Continue reading

#MeToo and the way of Reconciliation

The #MeToo movement is having an unsettling effect in Canada—we might even go so far as to say that it has been a source of some turmoil across the country.

To use the word “turmoil” is not to criticize the unfolding of this movement, or to undermine its importance. Very often, social disruption is necessary for cultural transformation; such disruption can sometimes get us moving in the direction of renewal in our lives and institutions. In this sense we can only be grateful to those women who have wrestled with the question whether to publicly disclose the sexual abuse or harassment they have experienced—and who have walked through the turmoil that may have resulted from their decision to do so. Their willingness to take this step has been in the service of cultural changes that we hope will make a difference in many lives.

The goal of the #MeToo movement is to overturn those features of western culture that have allowed men freely to objectify, sexually harass, and abuse women. Its purpose is to help us realize that abusive men have used their relative power to both exploit and silence women. The goal of the movement, further, is to establish levels of transparency, openness, and respect that will prevent further instances of sexual abuse, harassment, and pain.

In all of this, the #MeToo movement is an inherently public movement. The acts of disclosure, judgment, and punishment that constitute the movement take place before the public eye. On a nearly daily basis, from various media outlets, we read stories of inappropriate or abusive behavior, along with commentary on related institutions and issues. The movement is also public in the sense that our social media feeds overflow with comment and debate around each new revelation. Continue reading

What is woman?

My latest column in the Christian Courier.

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What is woman?

This is a question we are not supposed to ask. And is certainly one I am not supposed to answer. But in these few paragraphs I will sin boldly, as old Luther apparently suggested Melanchthon should do on one occasion. As I answer, I will write from my own admittedly particular point of view, hoping that the reasons for my writing become apparent.

Woman is what each of my daughters is becoming – what they are and become through swimming competitively, playing the piano, throwing a football, completing math tests, or reading novels. They seem to do these things more confidently and competently by the day. Each is unique in temperament, in self-awareness, and in their approach to friendship, among other things. But they are both discovering  grace and growing in grace.

These two are also each becoming woman in the particularity of their bodies – gaining coordination and strength to test against the world, whether in playful jest or with compelled determination. As embodied, each is also becoming aware of the remarkable capacity to carry life and deliver life into the world, through and for relationship. How will they respond to this gift and gift-giving capacity is at least a question that is posed to them. And they must discern their answer against the backdrop of a culture that says, astonishingly, the body is irrelevant to (their) being/becoming women. Continue reading

Walls that don’t divide?

My latest column for the Christian Courier.

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Can walls do anything other than divide us from each other? Could a wall actually create the conditions for encounter, rather than simply preventing human exchange and conversation?

One of the interesting architectural features of the college where I teach is a wall that accomplishes two tasks at the same time – it opens a space even as it encloses it. The Presbyterian College was constructed in three wings around an open space; the building is U-shaped with a courtyard in the middle. The courtyard has benches, a perennial garden and raised boxes as part of a small urban garden. It opens onto a street running just north of the property. However, this opening (the open side of the U) is not empty or wide open. Rather, there is a free-standing brick wall that runs along that side of the courtyard.

But how can the courtyard be described as open if there is a wall enclosing it along the street? Well, the courtyard is open in two ways. The wall has two iron gates embedded within it – gates that are never closed or locked and which permit a free flow of people. Equally important, the wall is not a solid brick wall – there are cross-shaped (+) openings within it. From the outside, these perforations allow a glimpse into the courtyard and garden. And from the inside they give a sense of the movement, light and bodies just outside the wall. Continue reading

Facebook Fadeout – Why I deleted Facebook

My latest column in the Christian Courier.

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So, I’ve done it. My days of posting, commenting, liking, and sharing on Facebook are over. My account has been deleted, the app is gone from my iPhone, and the social media site is almost nowhere in my life. After years of almost daily engagement on Facebook, there is little regret, and almost no looking back.

Over past months there has been a very public campaign encouraging us all to #DeleteFacebook. That campaign was largely motivated by revelations that Facebook (a massive corporate entity!) has been extremely careless with the personal information it holds in trust for millions of people. Much of that data, it turns out, has been widely distributed, and has ended up in the hands of who knows who. But that corporate carelessness, and the related vulnerability of my own personal information, was not the reason for my dragging Facebook to the trash bin.

Rather, I walked away from Zuckerberg’s social media juggernaut on account of a growing sense that I just wasn’t contributing much to others’ lives through the platform. Certainly, I had a few friends who contributed to my life in important ways as they shared thoughtful reflections or other material (Are you reading this, Andrew Faiz!?). But I had a growing sense that my own sharing via Facebook was decidedly about… me. Posting anything at all entails a good deal of filtering, cropping, editing, and even blurring – and although these concepts comes from the world of photography, they apply equally to almost every Facebook post. Crafting a public persona (a self for public consumption) is the name of the game with social media, and I was playing the game. Continue reading

The language of death – new column #MAID

We all know the power of language within public debates. In such debates, most participants will use language that aligns their point of view with that of the wider culture. And most will try to distance themselves, lexically, from attitudes and actions that have negative connotations. In the abortion debate, for example, both sides describe their own position in positive terms – as either pro-life or pro-choice. We know that our language shapes public perceptions, and will shape the debate, and so we respond accordingly.

The question of this column is how to describe a certain kind of death. The death I’m referring to is that of a person who has a serious sickness that causes her substantial pain and suffering – and that pain and suffering cannot be relieved to her satisfaction. Her natural death is reasonably foreseeable and, at her request and with her consent, a medical practitioner gives her a series of injections that kill her cause her to die.

Within the Canadian context there is now agreement that this kind of death should be called “medical aid in dying.” This is the language now used in legislative frameworks, by most medical practitioners, and in public discourse generally. Continue reading