My latest column for the Christian Courier.
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
I confess to being quite proud of this picture, taken this morning in my back yard!!
My latest column in the Christian Courier.
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
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
A sermon preached today in the Chapel of The Presbyterian College.
Nadia Myre is an Algonquin and Quebecois artist originally from Maniwaki who now lives and works here in Montreal. She’s not well known across the country, but her work is significant enough that she has a solo show at the Musée des beaux-arts here in Montreal right now. That exhibit explores the encounter between the Indigenous peoples and western, colonial cultures – an encounter she actually embodies in her own person.
Nadia Myre is perhaps best known for what she called “The Scar Project.” It was 8-year undertaking that ran from 2005 to 2013. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Myre’s own work. Rather, the scar project was a communal work – a work created by many people over those eight years.
Over those years, the artist invited participants to sew their scars – physical scars, emotional scars, or psychological scars – to sew their scars into a 10-inch by 10-inch canvas. Each participant, each person, was given their own framed canvas, into which they could sew representations of the pain of their lives, the scars of their bodies and souls. Each participant was also invited to write a narrative, short or long, to accompany their canvas. Myre brought this project to schools, to seniors residences, to museums, and to galleries – and over the eight-year period, a total of 1,400 canvases were completed. She then exhibited them in a variety of contexts and a variety of ways. Myre created both a video installation and a book that brought together the images with the stories. Let me give just two examples of the anonymous narratives shared as part of the project: Continue reading
I came across a quote about safe sex, today, from Wendell Berry, and was reminded of this article I wrote for the National Post about 14 years ago. I might change the tone and style slightly today, but the basic argument is one that I think is worth repeating.
Sex-education and school children can be a volatile mix when parents believe the curriculum offers more detail than their children need to know. This perennial debate arose lately in New Brunswick, where parents have vowed to fight for changes to a new sex-education program they consider too explicit. In Marysville and Woodstock, concerned parents have gathered in recent weeks to ask whether their middle-school children need to know the details of erection, vaginal secretion, ejaculation and masturbation.
The new program, based in part on a University of New Brunswick study of parental attitudes toward sex education, introduces abstinence alongside such issues as sexually transmitted disease, masturbation, birth-control methods, teen pregnancy and the nature of a healthy relationship. That isn’t good enough, however, for those parents who want their children’s understanding of their sexuality to be governed by the conviction that abstinence is the best choice, the right choice—dare we say, the only choice—for their sexual health.
Beyond the explicit nature of the New Brunswick’s Human Growth and Development curriculum, there is also a concern that it gives abstinence short-shrift. While abstinence certainly isn’t ignored, a number of parents in New Brunswick want to see advocacy for it given a place of prominence in the curriculum. Continue reading
My latest in the Christian Courier, also found here.
Who would have predicted that the vinyl LP would make such a comeback? But here we are. In 2018 you can get the latest musical release in 12-inch vinyl format, whether Ed Sheeran’s Divide or Kari Jobe’s The Garden. In our digital world, where a thousand songs can be stored on your phone, the cumbersome and bulky LP (long play) record is available again.
There are, of course, important differences between these two musical mediums. When we listen to music on an iPhone or MP3 player, the music has been stored in digital format – parts of the original musical sound waves have been captured or sampled and then converted to a series of numbers for software to interpret. On the other hand, when we listen to a vinyl record, the music has been recorded and stored in analog format. This means that the recording is shaped by the full sound waves originally produced by voices and instruments.
I would be out of my depths if I tried to say much more about analog and digital recording. I’m not even sure I can tell the difference when it comes to the quality of sound – and as you can imagine there’s an animated debate on that question in the world of musical connoisseurs! And to this whole conversation we must add the complicating factor that many of today’s vinyl albums are based on digital recordings – that is, many newer LPs don’t offer a fully analog listening experience. Continue reading
My latest in the Christian Courier, here.
A good number of Canadians are sporting new outfits these January days. We are wearing our Christmas gifts – or, perhaps more likely, we are newly-attired from our own post-Christmas bargain shopping. There are a good many of us who got into a new pair of jeans this morning, or put on a crisp new shirt. A cool new knitted hat to top it off?
At one level this exercise of putting on new clothes is innocent enough. It is, after all, a very common experience. But if we were to turn a critical eye toward this practice, our first thought might be that we have bowed to the god of consumerism. We simply do not need these new things, there was nothing wrong with the old, and our financial resources could have been more wisely spent.
This is an entirely reasonable critique of the compulsion to shop in our culture. But perhaps it is worth attending to another dimension of that experience of putting on a new outfit; of checking ourselves out in the mirror. Specifically, we should pay attention to the fact that putting on new clothing is a practice by which we establish our Self. The capital “S” is intended, since its our identity we are talking about. Continue reading
Advent Psalm (126)
Weary and sleepless,
caught off guard by
racing pulse, panic, vertigo;
rare reprieve to breathe,
Heading for home,
down old Highway 6 through tears,
Aberfoyle, Puslinch, Clappison’s Corners,
steering south on automatic pilot,
college kid’s stick-shift Jetta.
Over Skyway Bridge,
past belching steelwork ugliness,
along escarpment’s familiar lines;
angled off-ramp deceleration
toward welcoming place. Continue reading
My Christmas column in the Christian Courier.
It is one thing to be rebuked for something you’ve done. It is quite another to be rebuked by a complete stranger.
I was in line for a coffee at Second Cup in downtown Montreal – and was checking my phone as I came to the counter. I started to order a small, dark roast, but the guy at the cash paused for a moment, waited to get my full attention, and then said: “I wish we could go back to the days before those phones, when we could have some human contact.” Oof. The feeling of embarrassment and shame was immediate for me. What was I thinking!?
And just to be clear, this wasn’t some cranky baby boomer objecting to smart phone reality in general (we tend, mistakenly, to associate grumpiness with the older set). No, this was a twenty-something guy who was tired of serving coffee to people who wouldn’t even look at him. Continue reading